The right relation between mercy and justice is something I’ve been mulling lately, because I’ve experienced personally the harm done by the confusion about it rampant in our society, including in the Church. I’ve witnessed many others experiencing it too, in large and small ways.
It came up again this morning, as I read an article at Catholic Light by canon lawyer Peter Vere critiquing a long-winded letter sent out by Fr. Alvero Corcuera, LC, to Legionary priests and Regnum Christi consecrated women. (An unofficial translation of the Spanish letter with some commentary can be found here.)
The letter drips with piety—piety of the vaguest and most generic kind. It is effusive in gratitude for the service and fidelity of the Legionaries and Regnum Christi members. It is boundless in its expression of ardor for Christ and anguish over the suffering his flock (that is, the Legion) is undergoing because of the “present difficulties”.
Believe me that I would give my life, or whatever it would take, so as to soften the cross of each one, and that I feel very unworthy of being able to offer you my whole life and renew to you my gratitude, support and brotherly closeness.
Peter Vere responds:
Nobody is asking Fr. Alvaro to give up his life. We’re simply asking him to apologize publicly to Maciel’s victims. It’s a debt of justice owed to those who were victimized at the hands of Maciel, then victimized again by having their reputations shredded when they came forward with the truth. Yet this is the one course of action Fr. Alvaro keeps avoiding. Why?
He avoids it because admitting the truth would (he must know at some level) discredit him, his way of life, and his cherished institution, which, I suppose he tells himself, is so important to the Church. He seems to hope that he can make up for the lapse in justice by “going the extra mile” in his expressions of Christian humility and piety.
It backfires. He aggravates the original wrong, by putting the moral onus on the victims and those standing in solidarity with them. “I’m sorry that even though I have given you so much and professed so ardently my Christian love and concern for you, you remain bitter and unforgiving.”
First of all, justice. Ubi societas, ibi ius: every society draws up its own system of justice. Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it. Justice is the primary way of charity or, in Paul VI’s words, “the minimum measure” of it, an integral part of the love “in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18), to which Saint John exhorts us.
It’s not okay to take what doesn’t belong to us. Nor can we make up for it by offering ever so much of what does belong to us, while we refuse to return what doesn’t. Nor is that person fairly accused of being bitter or vindictive or unforgiving, because he asks to have it back and refuses to give up his claim to it.