Lawyers and Judges Must Not Act Against Marriage, Pope Says

Rather, They Must Be at Service of Family, He Contends

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 28, 2002 ( What must a lawyer do when a client asks his services to obtain a divorce, at times for shameful reasons?

John Paul II answered this question today when he met with lawyers and judges of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the Vatican institution empowered to pass sentence on declarations of marital nullity.

The Pontiff addressed a common situation: Lawyers are paid to put an end to marriages, a circumstance that also troubles the conscience of judges, who must pass judgment on such sentences.

The Holy Father began by expressing a basic principle: «Agents of law in the civil area must avoid being personally involved in anything that might imply cooperation with divorce.»

«In exercising a liberal profession, lawyers can always decline to use their profession for an end that is contrary to justice, such as divorce,» the Pope clarified.

«They can only collaborate in an action of this kind when, in keeping with the client´s intentions, it is not directed to the rupture of marriage, but to other legitimate effects, which can only be attained by a specific juridical ruling through the judicial avenue,» he said.

No. 2383 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that «if civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.»

So the Holy Father made it clear that the lawyer´s task is not to destroy families, but to help people «undergoing marital crises» to be reconciled.

In this way, «lawyers truly become servers of individuals´ rights, and avoid becoming simple technicians at the service of any interest,» John Paul II clarified.

The situation of judges is more complicated because, as the Holy Father acknowledged, «juridical rulings do not recognize an objection of conscience that would exempt them from pronouncing a sentence.»

«Therefore, for grave and proportional reasons they can act according to the traditional principles of material cooperation in evil,» the Pope explained. «However, they must also find the effective means to favor marital unions, especially through a wisely conducted effort at conciliation.»

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