Jerald terHorst died the other day. You may ask “Who was Jerald terHorst?” The following obituary will give you the facts. I will then provide you with the legacy:
As I was reading the paper yesterday, I came across terHorst’s death notice and went on to read the entire article. I was quite surprised and taken aback by the blatant show of conscience and principle by terHorst. Imagine reaching the pinnacle of one’s career and then resigning because one could not be a traitor to one’s own beliefs. It hit me how rare that behavior is today, especially with some public figures such as elected politicians and the clergy and leadership of the Catholic Church.
terHorst could not rationalize or defend President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon for his role in Watergate. As if excusing such amoral and offensive acts perpetrated by Nixon wasn’t bad enough, the pardon failed to excuse the like behavior of the “burglars”, which made Nixon’s pardonable actions therefore, supposedly less harmful. Wrong. President Nixon should have been held to a higher standard than his underlings, not a lesser one. Similarly, terHorst’s moral barometer was doubly turned on its head because the conscientious objectors to the war in Viet Nam were also not given an equal reprieve as Nixon was. terHorst thus resigned his position as Presidential press secretary: a man of principle.
In a similar vein, a few days ago there were protests outside the National Cathedral in response to the Catholic Church’s refusal to offer corrective measures, punishment and removal from their jobs of those priests who abused little boys over the decades. Repeat offenders were sent back to their parishes, as if ignoring the criminal acts would make people forget them. The Church, in their quest for survival, thought it would actually be restorative to just sweep the bad news under the carpet. And that theory and practice almost worked. I don’t think that is going to work for much longer.
Washington, D.C. Archbishop Wuerl yesterday joined these protesters and acknowledged the reality of their complaints. Again, another man of principle rising to the occasion of his moral backbone. True, Wuerl has not taken his defiance to the heights that terHorst did, but nevertheless it was a step in the right direction.
So there is reason to rejoice that, even though too few in numbers, we still have people who feel a deep pull, a passion, for doing the right thing. In their own minds, silence is no longer the answer. I am so pleased to have read about these two men who lived by what they truly believed. For one moment in time, terHorst and Wuerl stood up for all that they were. And because they acted on what was in their hearts and minds, these men became more than just that moment. People of principle may be rare, but they still exist. In this season of renewal, maybe we are seeing a swing back to moral behavior simply for the sake of living by one’s convictions, responsibility and values. How refreshing that would be.