January 7, 2020
By Phil Lawler
As a minor public official in the little town where we live, I am required each January to re-read a summary of conflict-of-interest laws in Massachusetts, and sign a statement indicating that I understand them. So every year I am officially reminded that I cannot participate in a zoning decision involving property that abuts my own, and I cannot accept employment with a firm that needs my board’s approval for a development project. Above all—first and foremost—I am reminded that I cannot solicit or accept gifts because of my official position.
Maybe you have great confidence in my integrity. Maybe you believe that I could render a fair and impartial judgment, even after having been handed an envelope full of cash. But some people are suspicious, and the government of Massachusetts drives home the message that the appearance of impropriety is itself impropriety. So I don’t accept cash gifts (not that any have been offered).
But in recent weeks we have learned about Catholic bishops who lavished gifts on Church officials whose decisions could influence their ecclesiastical careers. Former cardinal Ted McCarrick gave $600,000 to ranking prelates. Bishop Michael Bransfield spread around another $350,000. That’s nearly $1 million in gifts—cash gifts—provided by two prelates who are now living in disgrace, to other prelates who remain in good standing.
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