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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
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ON THE VOCATION OF THE CATHOLIC LAWYER 3

In order to make love present in the judicial process, the Catholic lawyer must be guided by conscience formed by the Gospel and by the teachings of the Church interpreting the Gospel.  We cannot claim to be Catholic lawyers if we are not conversant with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.  The social doctrine of the Catholic Church is a body of teachings to which it is possible to subscribe even without sharing the Catholic faith.  Conscience is the application of knowledge in the passing of judgement in a given situation. 

I have already alluded to a Catholic understanding of the law inspired by Thomas Aquinas' philosophy of law, that is, the purpose of the law is the promotion of the common good in the promotion of the dignity of every human person, and the promotion of the dignity of every human person in the promotion of the common good.  This linkage of the law to the common good presupposes that the law is at the service of morality.  It is important that we bear this in mind as Catholic lawyers.  The fact that the law is subservient to morality means something is not right simply because it is legal.  Legality is not morality.  Legality must conform to morality.  A law is immoral if it is not at the service of the good, the common good.  This is an area where many Catholic lawyers may find challenges.  The temptation is almost irresistible to conclude that once an act conforms to the law such an act is right.  But that can only be true where the law in question is not immoral.

 After this necessary clarification, the two pillars of Catholic social doctrine, as well as the other two-the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity now need to be explained.

As Catholic lawyers, your participation in the judicial process must be informed and formed by the Catholic definition of law and by these four pillars of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. namely, human dignity, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity. Regarding the corpus of Catholic social teaching, it has been said that:  "While the Church does not pretend to offer scientific solutions to economic or social problems in the form of public-policy recommendations or precise legal prescriptions, what it does offer is far more important-a set of ideals and moral values that uphold and affirm the dignity of all.  The application of such principles to economic, political, and social realities can result in justice and peace for all, genuine development, and the liberation of people from oppression, poverty, and violence" [Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, "Preface" in Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, The Social Agenda: A Collection of Magisterial Texts (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000) viii].

At the heart of Catholic social teaching is a strong affirmation of the dignity of the human person from the womb to the tomb.  The regulation of our common life must protect and promote the dignity of every human person.  That is why torture of any kind would be immoral.  And that is why, as Catholic lawyers, you must be interested in the way suspects are treated by the police in Nigeria.  It is a question of sacred reverence for the dignity of conscience, freedom of choice, freedom to fulfill one's legitimate aspirations, and freedom to actualize one's God given potentials.  Where this dignity is violated or abbreviated, where countries have abysmally low standard of respect for human dignity there cannot be authentic development because the ability to do good is severely impeded.   What is at stake in the task of development is the recognition, respect, and promotion of human dignity as a transcendent value gifted to us by the Creator when he made each human being, male and female, in his image and likeness.  Pope John Paul II, apostle of Christian humanism, repeatedly made this point in all his social encyclicals.

This strong affirmation of the dignity of every human person has a concrete application that is relevant to Nigeria.  As a multireligious and multiethnic country, the implication of the affirmation of the dignity of every person means no one is to be discriminated upon on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, or gender.  The humanity of each citizen is to be acknowledged, protected and promoted.  No one is to be denied any right that pertains to him or her as a human being.  Discrimination is antithetical to human dignity.  No one is to be made to suffer on account of his or her ethnic or religious affiliation, no one is to be dehumanized on account of gender.  Past and recent cases of ethnic and religious cleansing in Nigeria, especially cases in the states of the middle belt, point to utter violation of human dignity.  Catholic lawyers can neither be silent nor inactive in the face of such violation.

The second principle of Catholic social doctrine is the common good.  The common good is the roof that protects human dignity.  Human dignity can neither be promoted nor protected outside an intelligently regulated common life.  Consequently, Catholic social teaching also espouses respect and work for the common good, that is, the fulfillment of the human person in our collective fulfillment, the actualization of the potentials in each person in the actualization of our collective potentials.  The common good is "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily" (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 26.  See also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1906-1909). 

Concretely, Catholic lawyers have an obligation to deploy their skills and competence in legal matters to ensure that perpetrators of acts that are inimical to the common good are sanctioned, and victims protected.  We must bear in mind that without protecting the common good, a society cannot have citizens who actualize their potentials.  And an undeveloped society is one inhabited by citizens of unactualized potentials.                          To be continued.

 


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