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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Opinion Column

The mighty fall, arrogance still intact

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

As Humpty Dumptys of power and wealth tumble into piles of shattered egos and destroyed careers, and perhaps head for the slammer, it’s tempting to explain scandalous behavior by dusting off the biblical chestnut from 1 Timothy 6:10—"For the love of money is the root of all evil."

However, there’s an edgier reproach in Proverbs 11:28 covering a multitude of sins: "He that trusteth in his riches shall fall, but the righteous shall flourish as a branch."

Riches mean power and position as well as indefensible wealth pilfered from the corporate till.

The mighty are taking big falls from their high perches of self-importance whence they felt insulated and entitled to privileged immunity from civility and honesty.

Not in modern times have so many titled men and women of power been exposed as so callously crooked and cruelly indifferent to those whose lives and meager assets they victimized.

(Deception in politics is a whole different story.)

For sheer moral bankruptcy, few equal Cardinal Bernard Law, of the Boston Catholic diocese, and Bishop Thomas O’Brien, of the Phoenix diocese.

Both spent major parts of their lives as princes of the church covering up criminal molestation of children by parish priests, shifting predators in collars from one parish to the next just ahead of the cops, then had the effrontery to blubber and beg for forgiveness when exposed.

However, O’Brien outdid Cardinal Law: he struck and killed a pedestrian, skipped the scene, hid out from the cops who tracked down his car with the pulverized windshield, aloofly claimed he thought he’d "only" hit a dog (wouldn’t a bishop stop even for a dog?). Now facing felony jail time, O’Brien haughtily insists he was wronged at trial and will appeal.

Small fry Martha Stewart could’ve admitted to profiteering on an inside trade to the tune of about $45,000 and paid a paltry fine. But, no, from her imperious perch, she figured she could beat the wrap by lying. Now she faces jail time for cover-up, the inevitable undoing of criminals. Shades of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, titans of Enron, ImClone, WorldCom, Tyco International and lesser commercial lights face judgment day for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars to support their bacchanalian gluttony for company-paid yachts, jets, penthouses and luxurious perks financed on the backs of shareholders and employees.

Even with that, yet more dodges unfold. The oil giant, Royal Dutch/Shell, admits it lied by overstating petroleum reserves by a billion barrels to keep investors happy but deceived. And the academic giant, UCLA, admits its medical school illegally sold parts of cadavers donated for research—for handsome profits, naturally.

The great mystery is this: Why have so many men and women in so many positions of responsibility chosen to be common thieves and shameless liars and so pitilessly uncaring about robbing fellow citizens?

If men in religion, academia, business and politics can’t be trusted, who can we believe?


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