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Letters to the Editor

fall/winter 2003

Unexpected Reunion

Upon receipt of BC Law Magazine, I always stop whatever I am doing and turn to the Class Notes section. I was especially pleased to see in the Spring/Summer 2003 edition the photograph of two classmates, Fred Haelstrom and Fred Hopengarten. My best guess is that the photograph is circa 1969 at the Grimes Moot Court Competition. What surprises me is the number of women in the photograph. Presumably, the classes of 1971 and 1972 had more than the four women in my class.

Michael J. Hutter, ’70
Professor, Albany Law School, Albany, New York

A Fallible UN

In “US Turns Blind Eye to Global Unity” (Spring/Summer 2003), Professor David Wirth takes America to task for not further relinquishing its national interests to the tender mercies of the United Nations. He complains that the “United States has too often evaluated the UN primarily by asking whether it is effective strictly as an instrument of US foreign policy without regard for the concerns of other states.”

Can Professor Wirth believe that there is any nation that evaluates the UN in any way other than based on national interest? Does he believe that France supports the UN out of some selfless sense of international fraternité? Or does it support collective action because without it, France would have no influence at all in the world?

Surely Libya, currently the head of the UN Human Rights Commission, gains immeasurably from its participation. Not only does this serial abuser of human rights and supporter of terrorism gain legitimacy, but at the same time it gets to make a mockery of the very principles it has been accused of violating (by the UN itself). The list of such nations goes on and on.

The UN is not simply ineffectual; it is consistently a tool of evil—providing legitimacy to the corrupt regimes that make up a majority of its membership. The problem is not that the US pursues its own interests through the UN, but that its naïve (or cynical) critics are blind to how effectively other member states do so—with horrifying consequences for their oppressed populations in particular, and for the cause of human rights in general.

Hal Goldman ’90
Assistant Professor of Historical Studies, State University of New York, Empire State College

Spiritual Medicine

I read with great interest th article “A Legal Cross to Bear” (Spring/Summer 2003) about the clergy sexual abuse scandal. The sexually abused are the primary victims, but scant attention has been given to the church’s failure toward the abusers. In a very different way, abusers were also victims at the hand of the episcopate. In a church that preaches the necessity of temporal punishment (even positing the existence of a post-mortem purgatory) the clergy-abusers received none of the spiritual medicine they needed; the church provided no ongoing accountability, no “tough love.” Had the church done so, it could have spared any number of children from the horrors of sexual abuse. No less significantly, the church could have saved many of its ministers in the process.

So now it is the church itself that is need of “tough love.” In the delicate balance between church and state, the church has always been expected to act as a good citizen. Church buildings cannot be firetraps; the church bus must be safely maintained. That the state should impose consequences for the church’s failure to secure the safety of children in its care would hardly raise constitutional concerns were it not for the fact that the conduct in question involves hiring and supervising its ministers. To complicate matters, sexual abuse is not only a crime and a tort, but it also is a sinful act that was infused in the apostolic work of the clergy involved. So, the line is blurred.

I believe, however, that the compelling nature of the interests at stake makes the role of the state—through civil litigation, injunctive oversight, and even criminal prosecution—appropriate in these cases. When not acting solely within its precinct, the church can be accountable to a secular standard. But the compelling interest at stake limits that role where clergy selection and supervision are concerned. It will be the courts’ task to ensure the state’s role isn’t exceeded in other contexts.

John S. Brennan ’84
Professor, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing, Michigan
(Brennan recently published an article on clergy sex abuse in the Thomas M. Cooley Journal of Practical and Clinical Law.)

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