Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Catholic privilege?

Quick, call Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. He may want to applaud Lake County, Illinois, for pro-Catholic bias. In this case Judge Victoria Rossetti gave former Mundelein seminiarian Robert Spaulding probation for a drunk-driving accident that killed two other seminarians and injured a third. Spaulding had a blood-alcohol level of .135 (the legal limit in Illinois is .08) and was driving 57 MPH in a 25 MPH zone on seminary property. Rowlands was also required to donate $5,000 to Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists and do 250 hours of public service. And his attorney said he might return to the seminary if the diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming would readmit him.

The judge claimed there were exceptional circumstances: Spaulding's remorse and lack of criminal record, and the testimony of the mothers of the two seminarians he killed. And perhaps you're surprised, that I, a bleeding-heart liberal if there ever was one, would want jail time for Spaulding.

To be honest, I'm not sure what a just punishment would be in this case--and I have to be honest here and say that I have probably driven a car when I shouldn't have myself--but I'd be willing to bet my savings account that if Spaulding had been a black Chicago teenager equally hopped up on an illegal drug, he would have served more than a year in prison, if not ten. But Spaulding is a white seminarian who was dead drunk on a legal drug, so he gets probation. And that's not just, no matter how much remorse he shows.

Some people call that white privilege, and it may well be, but I bet there's more than a little seminarian privilege, even Catholic privilege. How else do you explain probation, $5,000, and 250 hours of community service for reckless vehicular homicide?


At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Mathias said...


I respect you and your blog, but there is a crucial factor in this case that I think you are giving far too little credit. The turning point in the sentencing of Robert Spaulding was not the color of his skin, but the testimony of the mothers of Matty Molnar and Jared Cheek.

If you had been there (and let me clear: I was not. I simply have the testimony of first-hand witness. Perhaps you do too, if so please forgive my presumption), you would have heard Judge Victoria Rossetti - immediately before giving her sentence - lay out all the reason that she saw for giving Robert Spaulding jail time. Those with whom I spoke told me that they were convinced - both by her explanation and the conviction with which she spoke - that jail time was the sentence.

Obviously it wasn't. Yet this speaks to Judge Rossetti's own serious discernment as to what would be the correct course of action.

The true crucial variable wasn't Judge Rossetti, though. It was Pam Molnar and Joan Magette. They have been in contact with Robert Spaulding throughout this entire year. If anyone can - or perhaps better said, should - judge his future, it is them. They flew out to testify on his behalf on the day of his sentencing - something that is practically unheard of in drunk driving cases. Furthermore, for those of us who watching avidly from the sidelines, it seemed clear throughout the past months that Robert was going to receive at least five years of jail time - no question about it. Some of the community, no doubt, were not opposed to that decision.

Now as as (bleeding-heart liberal or not) Catholics, we agree on the demands of our faith when it comes to the scales of justice and acts of mercy. No discussion is really necessary there, I think. But it needs to be pointed out that it is not the color of Robert's skin that determined this case. It was the action of the mothers of those who died. Despite the terrible loss that they suffered, they want to extend to Robert the love that they had for their sons. To place the credit for Robert Spaulding's light sentencing on his skin color is not simply wrong (as might be argued) - it denies the power of the love that these two mothers have expressed in an unbelievable way.

Most respectfully,


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