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The Greater Sins in the Covington Incident

I dislike writing about failure and sin, and dearly wish that the leaders of my Church would give me less occasion to do so.

Everyone by now has heard about what happened to boys from Covington Catholic High School.  They were at the Lincoln Memorial, waiting for the bus home to Kentucky.  They were in Washington, of course, to protest the murder of unborn children.  In other words, unlike almost everybody else who goes to Washington to protest, they were there not to campaign, not to condemn a political party, and not to demand something for themselves, but to protect human lives that are now vulnerable to destruction.  Some of them were wearing a Make America Great Again cap.

Then they were harassed, in the vilest terms, by members of what appears to be a lunatic group, the “African Israelites.”  They did not respond in kind.  They began to chant school chants, to drown out the insults.  At that point another protest group came into the picture.  They yelled at the boys too, telling them to go back to Europe.  This one was led by an American Indian (I too am native; I was born in the United States), beating a drum, within inches of the face of a boy he had apparently targeted.  The boy, nonplussed, held his ground and smiled a frozen smile.

Let us enumerate the sins that followed.  The Diocese of Covington, along with many another organization and person, leapt to condemn the boy in harsh terms.  They did so without knowing what happened.  After all, they were not there.

This is called PREJUDICE, or RASH JUDGMENT.  You have the tree and the noose ready, and you say so publicly, before you know a thing.  What prompts the sin of PREJUDICE?  A variety of things, in this case.  One was race hatred: many people leapt to judgment because the accused were white.  One was our endemic contempt for boys.  One was political faction: people who do not believe as I believe about X – fill in the blank – are not simply mistaken, short-sighted, ignorant, or simply possessed of a different judgment about what is possible or advisable for the common good.  They are wicked.

That was shortly followed by VINDICTIVENESS.  People called for the boy to be expelled, and they were glad to subject him, his family, and his school to national disgrace.  The glee of vengeance causes people to lose all sense of proportion, and to forget their sins.

Unless I am much mistaken, this is not a land of saints.  To be rude to an old man is bad, even when the old man is behaving in a disgraceful way.  Place the worst construction upon the boy’s action.  Each of us has done plenty of things that are a hundred times more wicked, vile, and destructive than is that sin in question.  If the boy deserved expulsion for that, we should all deserve, for our worst sins, protracted torments followed by slow hanging.  The very call for a wildly disproportionate and ruthless punishment was such a sin.

A lot of people began to have second thoughts.  Others roamed over the Internet to find something, anything, that would cast the school in a bad light.  Some said that the boy did not himself write his sometimes ungrammatical apologia, explaining what happened.  They had, of course, no evidence for their accusation.

This was the sin of CALUMNY.  By this time, people knew quite well that the boys had not sought out any confrontation, and that they had been already abused by grown men aplenty.

To abuse the weak – children, women, youths – is at least a sin of COWARDICE, and to call them “faggots” and “incest kids” compounded the abuse with the sin of OBSCENITY.  To withhold the truth about the context of the incident, truth that would mitigate any guilt, or exonerate entirely, is to commit the sin of DETRACTION.

The Indian with the drum and his group showed up at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception the next evening, attempting to disrupt the Mass.  This was a sin of SACRILEGE, against the holy place and the worship of innocent people; in the context of what they had already done, it was the sin of CONTUMACY, and of SOWING DISCORD.

The school had to remain closed the following Monday, and the boy and his family have received plenty of threats of violence and death.  I have seen some of these.  Incitement to a felony crime is nothing for police to take lightly.  These are, at the least, sins of MALICE, not of intemperance; sins committed not in the heat of a situation that has come upon you suddenly, but in the cold; deliberate, calculated, intentional.

At the worst, they are sins of VIOLENCE, and of vicarious participation in the evil that is wished, if someone should be so mad or so wicked as to burn or kill.

I am not calling for the prejudicial, the contumacious, the cowardly, the deceitful, the vindictive, the factious, the malicious, and the violent to be strung up.  The point is that, surrounding these boys and taking their words and actions in the worst way they can reasonably be taken, are crowds of people committing the sins I have named, sins that are many orders of magnitude more miserable.

That people can commit them and not be aware of the trap they have set for their own feet is simply astonishing to me.  I do not understand it.  I’m not a saint.  I daresay they are not saints, either.  But they think they are.

They must think they are, because nobody, knowing that he is steeped in moral sewage from head to toe, would rave and rage at the filth on his neighbor’s shoe.  It would be worse than nonsensical.  It would be like begging for the vengeance of God to come down upon you.

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, and most recently The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.