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03/07/1999
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Majority took right moral stance on Lewinsky matter
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Majority took right moral stance on Lewinsky matter
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key editor

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THERE HAS BEEN a lot of hand-wringing about the moral deterioration of our society based on the fact that the majority of Americans did not want the President impeached and continue to give him high marks for job performance. One author, William Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, even published a statement and repeated it on television that we no longer care about character.

There is another possibility. It may be that the American population's moral instinct is better than these critics give it credit for.

There are many indications of alarming disregard for morals in our society. Outstanding among them is the greed and rapacity that results in despoliation of our natural resources and exploitation of workers, as in the maquiladoras of Mexico and other sweatshops. Another example would be our direct disregard as a society for life in abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and the refusal to extend health-care to large numbers of our poor.

Crime statistics are alarming by nature, but so are the statistics showing a growing number of families shunted into poverty, hunger and homelessness by our callous reduction of programs to help the needy.

There is no shortage of situations that ought to alarm us, but the attitude of the majority of Americans on the 13-month agony over President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky is not one of them. Paradoxical as it may seem on the surface, I think the majority took the correct moral stance when viewed from a Christian point of view of morality.

Christian morality has for centuries allowed exceptions to the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." Moral theologians have traditionally maintained that a person may kill in direct defense of oneself or another.

But while there are conceivable circumstances where one might be morally justified in killing another human being, there are no exceptions to the moral prohibitions against hatred and character assassination.

Jesus amplified the commandment against killing when he said, "You have heard it said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:21-22).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that anger is a desire for revenge, and quotes St. Thomas Aquinas as saying, "to desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit." Hatred, too, is a grave sin when one deliberately wishes evil upon another.

There has been no shortage of hatred and desire "to do evil to someone who should be punished" during the 13-month Clinton-Lewinsky ordeal. The latest allegations by Juanita Broaddrick have refreshed those appetites just when the country looked forward to relief with the conclusion of the impeachment process.

Far from approving the immoral behavior of the President, which is what the nation's Cassandras would have you believe the American people did, the majority recognized a couple of greater evils, and refused to go along with them. They refused to ratify the hatred and vengefulness of those who were the most persistent and virulent in their attacks on the President. And they refused to side with those who assumed a sanctimonious, "holier-than-thou" attitude toward the President. The latter included not only his political enemies, but a host of hitherto unknown television commentators and "experts" who heaped scorn on the President virtually every day for more than a year and are posturing as great moralizers to this day.

The hypocrisy of so much of the hostility and sneering just did not sit well with any fair-minded person, and way down deep the majority of Americans are fair-minded.

Sexual transgressions and lying are serious breaches of the commandments, but there are worse things. Jesus reserved his harshest words for those who thought they were better than others, like some of the Pharisees. Speaking to the chief priests and elders who, in their own minds, were among the most respectable members of their society, Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven before you" (Matthew 21:31).

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