“We’ll take a short recess, and I’ll come back and give you my decision.” It only took Judge Wapner the convenient length of a commercial break to pass judgement back on the original version of The People’s Court. And yet we judge others even more quickly each and every day.
The litigants for our first case are now entering the courtroom.
Case #1: The Drunken Priest
This is the plaintiff, Jane Doe. She was walking to her car outside the emergency room at the hospital after getting treatment for her sick child. That’s when she says she saw the defendant, a priest, staggering on the sidewalk and vomiting in the bushes. She’s accusing him of being drunk, disorderly and unholy in public.
This is the defendant, Reverend John Doe, a priest at the local (fictional, of course) Catholic Diocese. He says he’s never been drunk in his life and was simply overcome with grief and got sick after visiting a gravely wounded parishioner.
Plaintiff’s Evidence: This is based on a true story that I heard on Relevant Radio, but obviously there was no court of law (or television) involved. A priest from outside of Texas recalled an incident where a diocese received a complaint from someone who claimed to have seen a drunk priest staggering outside a hospital around 3 a.m. and vomiting in the bushes.
Defendant’s Evidence: Yes, the priest really did stagger and throw up outside the hospital. But it’s not what you or the accuser may have thought. The priest was awakened to go to the hospital in the middle of the night to administer anointing of the sick to a person who suffered catastrophic injuries in an accident and was near death. The wounds were so gruesome that the priest could hardly even tell at which end of the bed was the patient’s head. On the way out of the hospital, the priest felt ill from having seen such tragic injuries and suddenly had to rush over to the bushes to vomit.
Judgement: Defendant. I can see how people would have passed a quick judgement if they had witnessed the same thing. But hopefully some of us would have run over to the priest and asked him if he needed help. No matter what we see, it is impossible to know exactly what’s happening.
The litigants for our next case are now entering the courtroom.
Case #2: The Red Light Bandit
This is the plaintiff, John Smith. He was approaching the intersection of Main Street and 1st Avenue when he saw a car coming the other way drive through the stop sign without slowing down. He’s accusing the defendant of being a maniac and running the stop sign on purpose.
This is the defendant, Jane Smith. She acknowledges that she ran the stop sign but says it was an emergency, and she looked to make sure the intersection was clear.
Plaintiff’s Evidence: This one also comes from Relevant Radio, although I had to embellish quite a bit. If one person sees another run a stop sign, perhaps you might think the other driver is a maniac too.
Defendant’s Evidence: For the sake of this court theme, I’ll make up the defendant’s story. She was was a block away from the hospital, in labor and could tell that her baby was coming NOW. She saw that the only other car at the intersection was stopped, so she kept going to get to the emergency room without further delay.
Judgement: Defendant. A priest on the radio used a similar example to explain his interpretation of making a judgement versus being judgmental. If you saw someone run a stop sign, based on your experience as a driver and understanding of traffic laws it would be a reasonable judgement to think that the other person broke the law and did something dangerous. But to assume that the other driver was a maniac (or worse) would be judgmental because you don’t know what was really happening in the other car.
If there were a Catholic version of The People’s Court then “Father Wapner” could cite many places in scripture that he consulted before reaching his decisions. Here are just a few, excerpted from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite.
Stop judging by appearances, but judge justly.
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.
While Doug Llewelyn used to sum up things at the end of the classic version of The People’s Court, I’ll conclude by turning to a higher authority. Pope Francis addressed this issue of judging others in a homily last month, as reported by Vatican Radio:
The first step is to judge ourselves. Without saying anything out loud. Between you and your conscience. Walking down the street, I pass by a prison and say: “Well, they deserve it” – “Yet do you know that if it weren’t for the grace of God you would be there? Did you ever think that you are capable of doing the things that they have done, even worse?” This is what judging yourself means, not hiding from the roots of sin that are in all of us, the many things we are capable of doing, even if we cannot seen them… But, who am I to judge, if I am able to do things that are worse?