In a recent viewpoint by Madison Pravecek (SFS ’19) about the college admissions scandal, the author confuses the Catholic sacrament of penance with Christ’s teachings on love and compassion, citing a lack of atonement as justification for heartlessness. Penance allows Catholics to be reconciled with God and His church, but the absence of this reconciliation does not rob a sinner of his or her human dignity.
In fact, the example Christ sets is one in which even egregious sinners are welcomed. While the Pharisees were content to cut sinners out of the community, Jesus frustrated them by sharing His table with sinful tax collectors and prostitutes. And when they brought him an adulterer to be stoned in accordance with the law, He prevented her condemnation by the mob, instructing her to go forward and sin no more.
The author writes that “compassion in this situation is therefore misplaced” and calls for the continued humiliation of accused students. It is, in her view, the only justice they may face. We should of course demand that justice be done, but St. Thomas Aquinas warns us that justice without mercy is simply cruelty: the wanton trampling of the dignity of the person.
Jesus is clear: We are called to love even our enemies. This love does not include sneering callousness. Indeed, Paul writes that love “does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). If we are to be glad, let us be glad that we now know the truth and that justice can proceed. But let us not rejoice in an opportunity to create more suffering. And as for those who want nothing more than to lob condemnations, then they without sin can go first.
Richard Howell is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.