The Letter Of The Law

In the news today was the all-to-familiar story of a Catholic priest pleading guilty to sexually molesting an altar boy. The Rev. Robert V. Gale admitted to abusing the boy on an average of twice a month between 1980 and 1985, when the boy was 10-15 years old.

I’m not going to go too deeply into the particulars of this story, but I do recall that at the height of the priest sex abuse scandal, I heard the horrifying statistic that 117 of the 175 Cardinals of the Catholic Church in the United States (or perhaps Bishops — I’m not that up on the Catholic hierarchy) had been involved in a child sex abuse scandal, mainly in covering up the incidents.

That’s right. An almost perfect 2/3 proportion of these exemplars of moral rectitude, these Princes of the Church, these pillars of the community, had arranged for children’s families to be bought off and for pedophile priests to be transferred away from the scenes of their crimes and foisted off on other unsuspecting communities.

I was outraged at the time. I demanded to know why the hell they weren’t themselves arrested and hauled before the court, and why the Church itself wasn’t being investigated under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970) statutes. I was full of righteous outrage, and I wanted blood. That’s when it was explained to me that Cardinals had no legal obligation to report such crimes to authorities, and were in fact perfectly within the law to arrange private settlements with the families and shuffle serial predators around the country.

This morning, Wizbang was deluged with spam in the comments sections. I deleted and banned them as fast as they could, but still at 15 sneaked through in the span of seven minutes. Running high on outrage, I followed the spammed link and lo and behold, there was an 800 number on the page. I called them up and read them the riot act in high dudgeon. The company insisted it wasn’t them, but a rogue affiliate, and they vowed to “deal with” the offender. They were short on specifics, though, and wanted to make perfectly clear that what they (or their affiliate) had done “wasn’t illegal.”

We have a fax machine where I work. We regularly get junk faxes for vacations, home refinancing, health insurance, and a bunch of other crap. I’ve called them on occasion and ripped them new ones. They kindly offer to take us off their list (never bothering to explain just how we got on that list in the first place). They refuse to admit that the faxing is illegal, however. In fact, many of them cite the ruling by Judge Limbaugh (Rush’s uncle, lending credence to the theory that asshattery might have a genetic component) overturning that law. They fail to note that Limbaugh’s ruling itself was overturned by a higher court. But the one thing they keep insisting on is that what they are doing “isn’t against the law.”

The general tone of our society has grown more and more coarse. It seems whenever I’m in a place where younger people congregate (teenagers especially), the most frequent word tossed around is the infamous “f-bomb.” It’s “f this” and “this f’in that” and “I’m gonna f’in do something” all over the place. And on the rare occasions I’ve spoken up about this to the offenders (usually asking them to respect the presence of young children, the most frequent response is “f you, there’s no law that says I can’t say whatever the f I want.”

A little while ago I came to a tremendous insight. “It’s not illegal” isn’t an excuse, it’s a confession. When someone says “there’s no law against it,” what they are really saying is “I know what I’m doing is wrong, that I am offending and quite possibly infringing on your rights and your property, but since nobody has bothered to spell out in the law exactly what I’m doing and why it’s wrong, I don’t care.” As far as I’m concerned, the instant someone uses the “it’s not illegal” argument, they’ve lost all credibility and standing.

Of course, I’ve used it myself on occasion, but at least i’ve had the decency to feel bad about it…


Mr. Tea and the batteries of NiMH
Begging for a Wizbanging


  1. Puddle Pirate December 1, 2004
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