October 22, 1997
Rev. Walter J. Burghardt, S.J.
Woodstock Theological Center
P.O. Box 551137
Washington, D.C. 20057-1137
Dear Father Burghardt:
Thank you for coming to Gonzaga for the Red Mass. I heard many
favorable comments about your homily and I was pleased that you showed
the connection of our faith to the practice of law.
However, I write because of a puzzlement about what seemed to
be a glaring omission in your homily. Since I recently received the typescript
of your homily, I will quote the pertinent passage:
You are an incredibly powerful group. For this nation is founded
on law, and so in large measure it is founded on you. True, our legal hands
are not lily-white. We look back with shame on a Dred Scott decision that
declared slavers to be property. We blush that in this "land of the free"
women have been second-class citizens, that it is taking us longer to free
women than to free the slaves. We weep because justice is so slow, weep
when human beings rot in jail for months before they can be tried, weep
when the men and women we imprison return to society more brutal than before.
We get cynical when the powerful can delay or gerrymander justice. And
you must surely cry for those colleagues of yours for whom the law is a
game whose name is victory or wealth, where the prize goes to the brilliant
and the prestigious, to the crafty and the manipulator.
This list seems to detail those aspects of human justice for which
we (as members of the legal profession) should feel shame. No list of course
can be exhaustive, but it would seem that the most significant area for
which the legal system is shameful is its enforcement of a so-called right
to kill the unborn. Although the law is not the only institution in society
to blame for the murder of 30-35 million Americans over the last 25 years,
it has played a very prominent role. Yet it does not appear anywhere on
your list. As I thought about this, I speculated on two possible explanations.
One was that you were simply unaware of the fact that as a result of Roe
v. Wade and similar kinds of legal opinions, millions of Americans have
been denied the protection of law and have become victims of our American
holocaust. That seemed unlikely. The second explanation was that you were
very much aware of it but thought it inappropriate to mention on such an
occasion. That too seemed hard to believe. When I go to Jesuit facilities
I often see the pictures of the Jesuits from Central America who were murdered
by a right-wing death squad. That event shocked and saddened Jesuits around
the world. I imagine what a Jesuit might say if given an opportunity to
address the police academy from whose ranks the death squads came. Would
he, in reflecting on the shortcomings of the police, lament nepotism and
gender discrimination, but pass over in silence the killing of religious
workers whose political ideas threatened the status quo?
Yet if some courage were required to "speak truth to power" in
the case of a Central American dictatorship, surely we might hope that
in addressing the American legal profession you would not spare us from
coming to grips with the responsibility of our profession for the murder
of millions of helpless Americans.
I apologize for any stridency in this letter. I repeat my appreciation
for the many fine observations that were made in your homily. But I was,
as I said at the beginning, puzzled. I would very much appreciate illumination.
Very truly yours,
David K. DeWolf