A See of the Second-Rate
There is an interesting contrast between the incident at this year’s March for Life involving Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann and a memorable scene in the film Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). The latter pits the future president against a lynch mob in the backwoods of Illinois. Standing on the steps of a jailhouse where two men falsely accused of murder are being held, Lincoln (played by Henry Fonda) disperses the rabble through a combination of threats, humor, and an appeal to better angels:
We seem to lose our heads in times like this. We do things together that we’d be mighty ashamed to do by ourselves. For instance, you take Jeremiah Carter yonder. There’s not a finer, more decent, God-fearing man in Springfield than Jeremiah Carter. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, when he goes home, he takes down a certain book and looks into it. Maybe he’ll just happen to hit on these words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
The film, of course, is a fairytale about a real man who possessed superior powers of discernment and was perhaps the greatest figure in U.S. history. The Covington episode is a nightmare about supposedly discerning men who, like the prairie ruffians in the movie, rushed to unjustly condemn a 16-year-old caught up in difficult circumstances.
Sandmann and some of his Covington High classmates, who are Caucasian and were donning red “Make America Great Again” hats, were confronted during the March for Life by Nathan Phillips, a drum-beating American Indian, after being threatened by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites. The least surprising thing about the overreaction to the incident is that a bishop disappointed Catholics across the nation. With a few notable exceptions, the norm among the men who wear miters — men who are supposed to possess powers of discernment, which aids them in teaching their flocks — appears to be gaffes, ill judgment, and an apparent blindness to reason.
Consider the initial statement issued by Covington’s Bishop Roger Foys. Speaking for his diocese and the high school’s administration, he said, “We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students,” and “we extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips.” He said the boys’ “behavior” — they stood their ground and refused to be intimidated by Phillips — “is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.” (Later it was revealed that Phillips had tried to disrupt a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.) Worse still, not a single bishop came forward to counsel patience or criticize their colleagues’ erroneous summary judgments. They were suckered by the mainstream media’s spin on the incident as an episode of racism.
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