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Lawyers And Traitors

This blog’s Iranian reader Mohammad had a great comment on the “War on Christmas — and Yom Kippur?” thread:

The worst path that Muslims in the USA in particular, and the west in general, can take is to follow the PC people and civil right groups, and take these issues to the court. I do not know if the Muslim community in question had an intention of litigation, and I hope it didn’t, even if the number of Muslims in that county equals to that of Jews. However, the USA system of justice is such an allure! It invites you to sue. One reason is that you can get money this way. The first thing I was taught in the USA (a lesson I did not learn) was to seek occasions for suing people. I was treated like trash couple of times, and I had the golden opportunity to cash in, but I decided it was totally unethical.

However, there are other reasons why litigation is so sexy in the USA. The system gives you a profoundly stupid idea about what is just and what is not, and about your entitlement to your rights.

Brother, you speak the truth. Your words came to mind when a Catholic reader in Spokane sent this local newspaper story about a high-ranking priest of the local diocese who quit his job rather than go along with what he says is a plot by his bishop, Blase Cupich (who is headed to Chicago soon), to shake down the law firm that represented the diocese in its sex abuse litigation. Excerpt:

Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich’s former top lieutenant told attorneys that Cupich has attempted a money grab against the law firm that guided the church through bankruptcy proceedings.

The allegations leveled by the Spokane Diocese against Paine Hamblen, the downtown Spokane firm that represented the church in bankruptcy proceedings sparked by multiple cases of priest sexual abuse, came seven years after a settlement designed to limit the diocese’s liability in future claims. In January, the diocese asked a federal judge to overturn an order to pay attorney fees to the firm.

The church also is asking for damages after several unexpected claims were lodged, exhausting a fund set up through the bankruptcy settlement to compensate victims through 2016.

In its response filed Monday in federal Bankruptcy Court, the law firm says Cupich’s lawsuit caused fractures among the diocese’s inner circle, many of whom disagreed with the decision to go after Paine Hamblen. Former Vicar General Steve Dublinski, who resigned in August after what he called “irreconcilable differences” with Cupich on several matters, said in a recorded interview with attorneys last month that Cupich told him the complaints against Paine Hamblen were a designed money-grab.

“We are throwing mud at Paine-Hamblen to see if any mud sticks,” Dublinski recalled Cupich saying after the pair discussed the complaint. Dublinski also said he was pressured by the church’s attorneys into supporting the lawsuit, which was part of the reason he resigned.

 Read the whole thing.  If Father Dublinski’s accusation is true, it reminds me of why Dante put traitors in the lowest rung of his Inferno. Hear me out on this.

In the Tuscany of Dante’s day, civic life was lashed constantly by factions. When one party would take control of a city, it would often throw all its enemies out, and even destroy their property. When the displaced faction would marshal its forces and regain power, it would do the same thing to its enemies. There was always someone in your city whose loyalty could be bought at a price, and who would be willing to open the city gates, so to speak, to the enemy while his fellow citizens slept. This is why no one was more despicable to the Tuscans of the High Middle Ages than traitors. You could never rest for fear that somebody in your community was looking to make a buck, and would sell the rest of you out to your enemies.

I think there is a parallel in the litigious culture we have developed in the United States. People are so afraid of being sued — and rightly so! — that civic trust has eroded significantly. You never know what innocent act, or honest mistake, you might make could bring a lawsuit down on your head, one that could ruin you financially. Walter Olson’s Overlawyered blog keeps track of the high cost, social and financial, of American litigiousness.

Now, for all I know, Bishop Cupich has a good case against the law firm that represented his diocese. My point here is simply that if his top lieutenant is right, and the bishop intends to go after the firm he hired to work for him because he sees the possibility of recovering cash from them, then this is our contemporary American version of the dynamic Dante condemned as treason. If you never know who among your clients, neighbors, or fellow citizens is going to come at you with a lawsuit, how can you trust anybody?

UPDATE: I can’t believe I have to write this, but here goes: I do not believe that lawyers belong in Hell, at least not by virtue of being lawyers. I’m writing figuratively here, and sarcastically. Please, go back to your wives and children. Nothing to see here.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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