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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 17:55 GMT
Should Catholic lawyers refuse divorce cases?
Pope John Paul has urged Roman Catholic lawyers to refuse handling divorce cases.
In an unprecedented move the Pontiff said divorce was "spreading like a plague" through society, and lawyers should refuse to be part of the "evil".
Speaking at an annual meeting with Vatican magistrates, he said that Catholic lawyers should not even try to help non-Catholics obtain a divorce.
The indissolubility of marriage was not a "simple private choice", but one of the fundamentals of all society, he added.
What is your reaction to the Pope's comments? Should Catholic lawyers refuse to litigate in divorce cases in accordance with their religion's teachings? Is the church right to get involved in the legal process?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
What people tend to forget is that marriage for life isn't just some sort of random middle-class social norm - it was a radical change instituted by Christ and as hard a teaching in the first century as it is today - just look at the ancient Romans. The love and respect any group or society needs to maintain for marriage for life to be the norm is like a beautiful piece of architecture - you need generations of toil to build it up but it can be destroyed almost instantaneously. This is why the Pope is right to encourage the Catholic faithful to nurture it even among their non-Christian neighbours.
For 15 years I visited a Catholic church and on the notice board was an invitation to attend the local club for 'divorced and separated Catholics'. Apparently this was a thriving social event which had the blessing of the priest. Those who blindly adhere themselves to the Pope's every word should get a large dose of reality.
Jack Burge, UK.
Nothing lasts forever and for people to be trapped inside a loveless marriage because of guilt imposed on them by a religious dictatorship is wrong, whichever way you try to paint it
The plague of divorce has reached even these Asian shores - another import from a decadent west that has failed again to understand that human relationships - especially the relationship between a man and a woman in marriage - are the foundation of a moral, just society. Divorce too easily granted makes for a dangerously unstable society potentially ruled by individuals who do not know the value of fidelity and unstinting love. That is what the Pope is talking about - and is as contemporary and cogent to the building of a modern, just society as any other opinion, probably more so.
Accepting the authority of the Pope is what it means to be Catholic, so there's not much point in complaining on that score. But some people seem to have missed the point: the Pope has said that Catholic lawyers should not help non-Catholics to obtain divorces. Catholics obviously shouldn't even consider asking for one, from any lawyer!
Christians of all denominations should support the position of the Pope on this issue of marriage.
To Mr. Whittaker: just for your information, the Orthodox Church allows divorce. Hence not all Christians should be even morally inclined to support the Pope's initiative.
I don't understand why people think that the Pope is forcing them to anything. He just made a statement. It seems that some people are aggravated by it because deep inside they agree with him, but they don't want to rethink the matter. Anyway, I love the Pope for his outlook on marriage.
So many people say that it's too easy to get divorced. However, surely the fact that so many people feel the need to shows that it's actually too easy to get married.
Good on him for speaking out against divorce. No one's saying divorce is entirely to blame for today's ills, but surely anything that leads to the erosion of the family is to be discouraged. The only thing people seem to be bothered with in today's day and age is individual rights and not individual responsibilities.
One of the scary things about this statement is that, yet again, the Pope is seeking to force absolutism into moral teaching. Divorce is not a good thing in and of itself - but then again not all marriages are good things either. To forbid Catholic Lawyers from participating in this line of work flies in the face of reason and reality. Even the Scriptures give cases where divorce is permissible. We must remember that before a Catholic seeks to have his/her marriage annulled the Catholic church REQUIRES that person to first have a divorce. This position makes no sense whatsoever!
Although I am no catholic I agree that divorce is a blight on society and should be resisted by all. The greater the difficulty to get a divorce the less likely they would occur.
This argument is a total non event. If you're Catholic and practising you neither condone nor participate in divorce. It's a tenet of faith. Consequently, for Catholic Lawyer this isn't even an issue. I'm sure couples can find plenty of non-Catholic lawyers to carry out the work.
The Pope should stay out of civil law. The principle of separation of church and state is a solid one. The church does not represent every person's rights and beliefs. Let the church lead by persuasion, not coercion.
Yet again the "established church" seeks to disrupt the personal lives of millions of people with inane rules and regulations which have no legal force.
Although I wholeheartedly agree with divorce being available for all, I believe that the head of an organisation has the right to state that its members should not aid the process of divorce - after all Catholic belief does not support divorce. If people disagree with it, they should be brave enough to leave the Catholic Church and join a grouping that more suits there views/beliefs.
Yet another example of how completely detached from real life the Catholic Church is. Does anybody still bother to listen to someone who's been locked away in a Ivory Tower with blindfolds on for the last thousand years?
Mona Young, USA
I am a child from a broken family and I still think that Pope is crazy to suggest such a thing. What authority does a single bachelor have when it comes to marriage, family, sex or having children? He has no wife or child so what dose he know? It is very easy to make rules that you never have to obey. If all people followed Catholic Church doctrine we would still live in the dark ages believing that the earth was flat.
As a Catholic, I am a bit appalled that this is all he is worried about. People are killing each other all over the Middle East and this is what he's worrying about? Divorce is something that happens, it's a part of life. The church has no right interfering in how a person makes their living. Remember what President Kennedy once said: "I don't speak for the church and the church does not speak for me."
A few comments: First, to Marie, this is not "all" that the Pope is worried about. He makes statements on a broad range of topics, including conflict in the Middle East, and these statements are publicized. Second, the principle of separation of church and state does not exist in every country. When it does exist, it applies to the government of that country, and not to religious bodies. People who cry "separation of church and state" in response to papal statements are simply demonstrating their own ignorance of the subject. Third, this is just something the pope would like to see happen, not an infallible statement. It is no different than his preference that all faculty at Catholic universities be practicing Catholics.
As to the question of whether or not Catholic lawyers should work on divorce cases...well, that sounds like question of conscience to me. It would be interesting to hear from lawyers--surely there are defined ethics regarding when you can turn down a case because it conflicts with your own principles.
I am divorced and I would not wish anyone to go through the trauma my sons and I experienced, but refusing to deal with a problem does not make it go away. The Pope is completely out of touch with the practicalities of modern living, as already evidenced by his views on contraception.
Being a recovering Catholic, and hearing this makes me better understand why I left the church in the first place. The one part of the Pope's statement that I don't understand is if the church does not recognise non-Catholic marriage, why does it care if non-Catholics divorce? Just another example of the Catholic Church still thinking that anybody listens to it.
Josh, Hawaii, USA
I think the Pope is right. A conscientious Catholic should not affiliate himself to the divorce industry. In cases where there is spousal or child abuse, divorce might be the only practicable civil law remedy. In that case one would have to use the remedy to protect innocent parties. Otherwise it should be eschewed. Divorce is an evil that has a terrible effect upon children.
Attorneys have the choice to practice whatever type of law they care to practice. So, if they are truly true to their faith, they can choose to not be divorce attorneys. Just as Catholic doctors can choose not to perform abortions.
Presumably the Pope will get out his chequebook and reimburse Roman Catholic lawyers for their imminent loss of trade. Having already banned contraception and abortion, it seems rather odd that the Vatican is about to hand the consequences and profits thereof to the non-Catholic legal fraternity. To be fair to his holiness, whatever world he is communicating to over such issues, it definitely isn't the modern world.
Catholics adhere to a faith whose founder clearly stated that divorce is only permissible in cases of unchastity. This cannot be interpreted to tailor to modern attitudes. God bless his holiness.
And they wonder why folks desert the church. The Pope's opinion on anything is pretty much irrelevant to this former seminarian turned atheist 35 years ago.
Iain Bainbridge, Newcastle, UK
Few people wed with the anticipation that the marriage won't last. People fall out of love, people change, people make mistakes. Yes, even Christians. The fact that a celibate bachelor thinks people should be trapped in loveless marriages only illustrates how redundant religion has become. Fortunately, most people are choosing to think for themselves.
Catholic lawyers should at least refuse any payment for divorce cases.
Mark Dowe, Scotland
If correctly reported, this view is truly bizarre. Before an annulment petition can be proceeded with through the Catholic Church's own canon law system of setting marriages that both parties and witnesses should not have been entered into,a divorce has to have been finalised - because the Church's policy is not to go against the temporal law. So if Catholics are denied the right to consult a Catholic lawyer they will have to go to a non-Catholic lawyer or do it themselves (as I did) before dealing with the Tribunal canon lawyers (mostly priests). Is this a modern equivalent of having to knock three times at the monastery door?
The Pope is 100 per cent right. One's faith should be shown in deeds, and therefore, Catholic lawyers should demonstrate their faith because basically they need to act according to what their faith teaches. The Society of today needs to re-discover the meaning of marriage and not to be taken by modernity.
The Pope's advice is not practical, but he's right to warn us of the terrible cost of family instability.
Glenn Siebert, USA
Believe it or not, there are many people including lawyers and judges who care what the pope has to say about marriage rather than what pop culture has to say about this issue. People who believe marriage is merely "a piece of paper" without a lifetime commitment tend to get divorced more often than not. Also, the pope is clearly not forcing lawyers and judges not to take divorce cases in absolute terms. He is simply suggesting that Catholic lawyers should abstain from taking such cases in general since divorce has been proven to be a destabilizing factor in our society. The only exception should be in cases where there is a physically abusive or adulterous spouse.
The Pope is encouraging Catholic lawyers to be true to their faith in action as well as in belief. This is similar to previous requests to doctors and nurses not to assist with abortions or euthanasia. In the medical profession, there is an established "opt-out" from assisting abortions if you disagree ethically; the same could apply here.
The Catholic Church has never objected (in my lifetime)to separation where the relationship breaks down. Within this context, a civil divorce can resolve many legal issues. Clearly, however, a civil divorce does not relieve anyone of the responsibilities arising from solemn vows taken before God during the religious wedding service - but that is a different issue
If lawyers had to take into account the religious ramifications of any case before accepting it, the only lawyers we would have would be atheists!
Whilst I am firmly of the opinion that couples hit the "divorce button" much too readily these days, I think the Pope has shown how out of touch with reality the Catholic Church must be with his comments. Apart from anything else all that would happen if people followed his advice would be a loss of business for Catholic lawyers as people would simply go elsewhere.
I agree that people should only enter into a commitment like marriage if they are 100% clear about what it entails. Marriage is not about just the day of the wedding it is for life, this means compromise, good times and bad, but what about people who are abused by their husband/wife or people who commit adultery? I think that by just saying Roman Catholics should not be able to divorce is ludicrous, although it is a very easy "get out clause". I know of people who live together and are fine, but the minute they marry it all goes wrong. But the pope is generalising. Every case is different. It should be harder to get a divorce - for people who just got bored or grew apart - but not ruled out all together.
The Pope does not have the right to impose Catholic doctrine on non-Catholic people in the same manner that no one has the right to tell someone how to think and what to believe in.
BJ Abolt, USA
The Catholic Church does not approve of divorce. If Catholics in the legal profession choose to follow the teachings of the church and the pontiff then it is their choice and one they have made for religious reasons. If a lawyer refuses to deal with a divorce case on religious grounds then people should respect & tolerate their decision, no matter how much they disagree with it.
It is the Popes responsibility to lead Catholics in their moral choices. The church has always been against divorce and always will be. It is stated quite clearly in the gospels and no change of pope will make any difference there.
I fully support what the Pope has said and I hope that more people have the courage of their convictions to do the same.
Truth be known, I think the people of the world are more interested handling their own problems on their own terms than listen to what some old guy in a far removed sanctuary has to say about how life should be according to his interpretation of the bible. Really, the stubborn commitment to large prolific families as prescribed in the Catholic faith just isn't reasonable in this modern day and age. People these days would rather get on with their lives than struggle through a pointless, loveless marriage for the sake of appeasing the church. I feel that people should be in control of their own lives, laws, and relationships, not the church.
Lawyers should be free to follow their own consciences, provided only that legal assistance is available for people who really need it. If a lawyer who follows the Catholic religion, or any other religion, is called upon to act in a divorce case (or any other case he or she considers unjust) then the lawyer is perfectly entitled to refuse. There is nothing unclear about that. The question whether the Pope's blanket ban on divorce is wise, or justified, or sufficiently grounded in religion is an entirely distinct one.
Di Stewart, USA
The Pope is certainly right about the widespread incidence of divorce. In the US, if attorneys listened to the advice of the Pontiff, it might lead ultimately to fewer attorneys, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Realistically, the Pope may be a bit out of touch, since Catholics, as much as any other group, seem to be getting divorced. Marriage seems no longer to be treated as a serious commitment, so I don't think the Pope's comments will have much effect.
The sheer ridiculousness of the Pope's comments amply demonstrates why the office of Pope should go when he does.
I don't understand why anyone cares what the Pope thinks any more.
It's good that someone is speaking out on behalf of marriage as the government is keen to appease all people by saying it's okay (or even cool) for children to be raised with the exclusion of their father. However in saying that, if the Pope requests Catholic lawyers to avoid cases that offend the Catholic sensibilities, then surely there won't be any work for Catholic lawyers to take.
Dave, Kent, UK
If God is opposed to divorce or anything else why doesn't he just write it in letters one mile high in the sky? That would make it pretty unequivocal. The fact he doesn't shows that marriage (and everything else) is a secular issue and religion is nothing more than an irrelevance and annoyance to most freethinking modern societies.
He isn't married, so what does he know?
Lawyers should be free to choose who they take on as their clients, just like any other profession. But what is the moral justification for keeping a marriage going that has clearly failed? I doubt that people who suffer domestic abuse would appreciate being refused the chance to get out of that situation, and I don't think the Pope truly understands the reasons some people have for divorce.
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