Public Humiliation, Forgiveness and Cardinal Cordileone

Public Humiliation, Forgiveness and Cardinal Cordileone September 1, 2012

I do not drink when I know that I will have to drive later.

By that I mean I do not take a drink. Liquor does not cross my lips. I will not touch the stuff.

The reason? I don’t want to end up like Cardinal Cordileone of San Francisco.

According to an August 27 CNA article, Cardinal Cordileone was driving his mother home from dinner with friends when he was stopped in a DUI checkpoint. He was subsequently arrested for having a blood alcohol level over the legal limit.

Any arrest for driving under the influence is humiliating and expensive. For those of us who’ve never been through it, I would imagine that it’s also frightening. It would certainly scare me.

Public figures face a whole other level of humiliation and terror if they are caught drinking and driving. I am sitting here in Oklahoma. Cardinal Cordileone is over 1500 miles away in California. But I know all about his recent troubles. I know about his dinner, the drive with his mother, the DUI checkpoint and subsequent arrest. I also know that he is now issuing anguished press releases about the “disgrace” he thinks he’s brought on the Church.

Since he is a strong supporter of Church teachings on same-sex marriage, abortion and other hot-button issues, those who disagree with him may latch onto his embarrassment as a means of punishing him. He could end up drubbed and defamed from coast to coast. His only hope to slide by relatively unscathed is if other news — hurricanes and political conventions come to mind — prove more interesting.

I feel for every public figure who gets caught in one of these nasty little messes. This is partly because I know that there but for the grace of God go I. As I said, I won’t touch liquor when I know I’ll have to drive later, even if the later is hours in the future. I don’t even want to smell the stuff. But I am aware that there are plenty of other ways that I can walk out my front door and end up on the front page of the newspaper, looking like a fool, or worse. All it takes is a moment of inattentiveness and I am toast. We live in such an unforgiving world, and the media is so harsh in the way it treats people that the most innocent mistakes can and do become instruments of personal destruction.

This brings me to my second reason for feeling sympathy for those caught in these public traps. I’ve seen this kind of thing happen to enough people that I know that these mistakes and mishaps don’t reflect what kind of person they are or even how well they do their jobs.

I am sympathetic with Cardinal Cordileone. I would guess that he is telling the truth when he talks about feeling shame. I think he probably means it when he says he regrets what he sees as the disgrace he’s brought on the Church. But in truth the public facts of this situation are just not all that terrible. Having one too many at dinner with his mother and then getting caught with too much beer under his belt while driving her home is just not the worst story I’ve heard.

I know that driving drunk is dangerous. I am as aware as anyone that automobiles can inflict lethal damage. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have been caught and then get the same punishment as anyone else. What I AM saying is that, in truth, nobody was hurt. He is going to pay the fine or whatever. I have a feeling that this is a lesson learned.

And he was driving his mother home from dinner.

It’s a terrible experience to have your private embarrassments become a source of public humiliation. The possibility of that happening is an omnipresent reality for public figures. Cardinal Cordileone has put the wrong foot forward in his new job, and he’s done it a very public and embarrassing way.

He says in his public penance press release that he hopes, “some good” will come out of it. Frankly, if his embarrassment does nothing more than underscore that California law is no respecter of persons, that’s quite a lot.

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