Dallas Charter Culture and the Covington Controversy
National Catholic Register, 29 January 2019
COMMENTARY: That new culture has achieved a lot of good. But it makes things worse for the falsely accused.
How could the bishops of Kentucky get it so wrong?
It’s partly another consequence of the sexual-abuse crisis, wherein the protocols for handling allegations have created an environment where immediate action precedes investigation. That post-Dallas Charter culture is well-known inside the Church, but can be a bit surprising when encountered by the general public.
And it was only because there was video evidence to exonerate the students that the bishops were forced to reverse themselves. Otherwise, an investigation would have ground on for weeks or months while the students’ reputations were effectively destroyed. That would not have been an accident, but business that now is usual.
Still, despite the quick exoneration, it was a very bad week for the boys of Covington Catholic High School. It was a worse week for the bishops of Kentucky. It is a terrible thing to be the victim of slander due to rash judgment. It is morally worse to perpetrate slander because one is guilty of rash judgment.
The bishops of Kentucky were lightning-quick to condemn the conduct of the Covington Catholic students after the March for Life. The Diocese of Covington, led by Bishop Roger Foys, and Covington Catholic High School condemned the students the very day the original video came to light, without waiting to view the entire recording or even hear alternative explanations.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville piled on within hours. Later in the week, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington wrote an entire op-ed for his local paper, castigating the boys for their general political views, while declaring that whether they had been falsely accused or not was secondary.
It was an error-ridden performance, acutely embarrassing for Kentucky Catholics.
More than embarrassing and unjust, it might be costly. On Jan. 24, lawyers for Nick Sandmann, the young man at the center of the controversy, served Bishop Foys with a “preservation of evidence” order, laying the legal groundwork for a libel suit against the bishop, part of what they promised was a “multitude of civil lawsuits” to come.
Bishop Foys issued his public letter of apology the next day.
Archbishop Kurtz, who associated himself with the initial rash condemnation, likewise associated himself with the apology. Bishop Stowe has made no public comment on the mistreatment of the Covington students by the media or the Church.
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