Moral Briefs – Chapter XCV – Undoing the Evil

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonWhenever a person, through a spirit of malice or grossly culpable negligence, becomes responsible for serious bodily injury sustained by another, he is bound, as far as in him lies, to undo the wrong and repair the injustice committed. The law of personal rights that forbade him to lay violent hands on another, now commands that the evil be removed by him who placed it. True, physical pain and tortures cannot be repaired in kind; physical injury and disability are not always susceptible of adequate reparation. But there is the loss incurred as a result of such disability, and this loss may affect, not one alone, but many.

Death, too, is of course absolutely irreparable. But the killing of the victim in nowise extinguishes the obligation of reparation. The principal object is removed; but there remain the loss of wages, the expenses necessitated by illness and death; there may be a family dependent on the daily toil of the unfortunate and made destitute by his removal. One must be blind indeed not to see that all these losses are laid at the door of the criminal, a direct result of his crime, foreseen, too, at least confusedly, since there is a moral fault; and these must be made good, as far as the thing is possible, otherwise the sin will not be forgiven.

Slander must be retracted. If you have lied about another and thereby done him an injury, you are bound in conscience to correct your false statement, to correct it in such a manner as to undeceive all whom you may have misled. This retraction must really retract, and not do just the contrary, make the last state of things worse than the first, which is sometimes the case. Prudence and tact should suggest means to do this effectively: when, how and to what extent it should be done, in order that the best results of reparation may be obtained. But in one way or another, justice demands that the slanderer contradict his lying imputations and remove by so doing the stain that besmirches the character of his victim.

Of course, if it was by truth and not falsehood, by detraction and not calumny, that you assailed and injured the reputation of another, there is no gain-saying the truth; you are not justified in lying in order to make truth less damaging. The harm done here is well nigh irreparable. But there is such a thing as trying to counteract the influence of evil speech by good words, by mentioning qualities that offset defects, by setting merit against demerit; by attenuating as far as truth will allow the circumstances of the case, etc. This will place your victim in the least unfavorable light, and will, in some measure, repair the evil of detraction.

Scandal must be repaired, a mightily difficult task; to reclaim a soul lost to evil through fatal inducements to sin is paramount, almost, to raising from the dead. It is hard, desperately hard, to have yourself accepted as an angel of light by those for whom you have long been a demon of iniquity. Good example! Yes, that is about the only argument you have. You are handicapped, but if you wield that argument for good with as much strength and intensity as you did for evil, you will have done all that can be expected of you, and something may come of it.

The wrong of bodily contamination is a deep one. It is a wrong, and therefore unjust, when it is effected through undue influence that either annuls consent, or wrings it from the victim by cajolery, threat, or false promise. It becomes immeasurably aggravated when the victim is abandoned to bear alone the shame and burdensome consequences of such injustice.

Matrimony is the ordinary remedy; the civil law will force it; conscience may make it an obligation, and does make it, unless, in rare cases, there be such absolute incompatibility as to make such a contract an ineffective and ridiculous one, an inefficient remedy, or none at all. When such is the case, a pecuniary compensation is the only alternative. A career has been blasted, a future black with despair stares the victim in the face, if she must face it unaided; a burden forced upon her that must be borne for years, entailing considerable expense. The man responsible for such a state of affairs, if he expects pardon for his crime, must shoulder the responsibility in a manner that will repair at least in part the grave injustice under which his victim labors.

If both share the guilt, then both must share the burden. If one shirks, the other must assume the whole. The great victim is the child. That child must get a Christian bringing-up, or some one will suffer for it; its faith must be safeguarded. If this cannot be done at home, then it must be placed where this can be done. If it is advantageous for the parent or parents that their offspring be raised in ignorance of its origin, it is far more advantageous for the child itself. Let it be confided to good hands, but let the money necessary for its support be forthcoming, since this is the only way to make reparation for the evil of its birth.

I would add a word in regard to the injustice, frequent enough, of too long deferring the fulfillment of marriage promises. For one party, especially, this period of waiting is precarious, fraught with danger and dangerous possibilities. Her fidelity makes her sacrifice all other opportunities, and makes her future happiness depend on the fulfillment of the promise given. Charms do not last forever; attractions fade with the years. If affection cools, she is helpless to stir up the embers without unmentionable sacrifice. There is the peril. The man who is responsible for it, is responsible for a good deal. He is committing an injustice; there is danger of his not being willing to repair it, danger that he may not be able to repair it. His line of duty is clear. Unless for reasons of the gravest importance, he cannot in surety of conscience continue in a line of conduct that is repugnant alike to natural reason and common decency, and that smacks of moral make-up that would not bear the scrutiny of close investigation.