The Word vs. The Law

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Lawyer and priest

In today’s Inquirer, Monica Yant Kinney writes about Anthony Bevilacqua’s Grand Jury testimony, given over a nine month period between 2003 and 2004.  I’m sure most of it is as exciting as watching paint dry, but Monica does manage to come up with an interesting tidbit about the Bible.

 Now, for those who are not Catholic, please know that we have a rather loose attachment to the Good Book.  That’s not to say we don’t read it.  Of course we do.  It’s the playbook for our spiritual game time, so to speak.

 But unlike Evangelicals and other Protestants who can quote chapter and verse at the drop of a miter, um, hat, Catholics who have not actually studied theology or become members of the clergy are rather limited in our reliance on King James, Gideon, and the rest.  We remember our parables, some particularly interesting psalms, the Commandments, of course, and a general idea of what the gospels say (oh yeah, and that Letter from Paul to the Ephesians or the Corinthians, can never remember which, that they always trot out for weddings. You know, the one about ‘love is patient, love is kind, love is a Hallmark card’)

 We’re more generalists, if you get my drift.

 As I once said to a Presbyterian friend of mine, “Catholics don’t do Bible verses, we do rosaries.”

 Still, we definitely believe that what is written in the Bible is the Word of the Lord.  A lot of that is based on faith, of course.  But few of us would take everything in there on a literal basis Which is why I was a bit confused as to why Monica Yant Kinney would be surprised at Bevilacqua’s response to a question from attorney William Spade.

 Spade was trying to make the rather tenuous connection between believing that what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote was the ‘Gospel truth’ and disbelieving secondhand, anonymous  testimony that a child had been abused:

 Bevilacqua insisted he needed "evidence in order to ask someone to step down."

And not just any evidence. Anonymous reports, Bevilacqua said, had "no value at all to me."

"Secondhand information," he added, lacked credibility.

That puzzled the jurors, who then asked Bevilacqua if he believed in the Gospels.

"Yes," assured the cardinal.

"But," Spade pressed, "it's the jurors' understanding that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written many years after the actual events," by those not present at the time.

"Yes," Bevilacqua agreed.

So, using the cleric's own logic, wouldn't that make the Gospels "secondhand information"?

With all due respect to the columnist, the lawyer and the Apostles, there’s a big difference between believing, on faith, in what is written in the Bible (or even taking it literally if that’s your tradition) and using anonymous hearsay as the basis for accusing someone of a criminal act, one for which he could face decades in prison and an irreparably damaged reputation.

Any good lawyer should know that.  After all, due process-like original sin-is non-negotiable.