Saturday, May 06, 2006

Who gets "justice," who gets "mercy"?

A comment left by Matthias on my last post, about the Mundelein seminarian who was given probation for killing two other seminarians while driving drunk, is worth bringing forward, though it's long, so I'll ask you to click the comment button on the previous post. The heart of his argument was that the judge, though inclined to give jail time, accepted the petitions for clemency offered by the mothers of the two victims, who had been in contact with Robert Spaulding over the past year. Clemency, then, wasn't the result of white or any other kind of privilege, but clearly an act of mercy granted by the judge on behalf of the two mothers.

Matthias' argument is both compelling and compassionate, and I don't do it justice. Please read it before continuing. I still have to ask, however, whether probation sufficiently acknowledges the social damage done by Spaulding reckless behavior. The victims of drunk driving are not just the ones in a single accident; consider, for example, that Mundelein's property sits across the street from Mount Carmel High School. What if the school had been having a function that evening? The common good demands a serious response to drunk driving, and I'm afraid many who have directly suffered its effects will see this as a slap on the wrist, even favoritism to would-be clergy.

Further, though, I don't doubt that similar pleas by mothers and even victims' families have echoed in the urban courtrooms of Chicago when the defendent is an African American male in the same circumstances. Yet over and over our "justice" system punishes black males far more harshly. As Catholics committed to both justice and mercy, I think we need to recognize an injustice, even when we may agree with a merciful result, as Matthias does. Would that our justice system would show such mercy when a black adolescent makes his first big mistake! But it generally doesn't. And I think we have to acknowledge that in this case, while at the same time we honor and applaud the two courageous women who showed mercy to the man who killed their sons.


At 2:34 PM, Blogger Shannon said...

I would just like to respond. I first heard of this accident when I was researching my classmates for our upcoming class reunion. I googled Rob Spaulding and found numerous articles about the accident. I was in complete awe.

I haven't seen or talked to Rob since our junior year at the University of Wyoming. I found out that he entered the seminary a few months ago. I was pleasantly surprised. Robert Spaulding was always a kind, generous person and a devout Catholic. I thought that he would make a perfect priest (I still do). Robert Spaulding is a good person who never had a drinking problem. I had never even seen him take a drink the whole time I've known him. He made a huge mistake that many of us have made. He got behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking. I know that I have done it before. It could have easily have been me. I have four kids now, so I don't dream of doing it now. But, I have. He owned up to his mistake by pleading guilty. He didn't expect to be treated any differently because of who he was. As catholics we preach about forgiveness. The mothers of the victims have forvigen him. Shouldn't we?


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