Notre Dame Law Review, Catholic Lawyer and Divorce Cases
- Posted by Mary's Advocates
- On September 30, 2017
- Scholarly Resource
A synod held in the diocese of Providence, R. I. [Rhode Island] on October 8, 1952, issued the following significant decrees (National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service, Nov. 3, 1952.):
Catholics may not, under pain of mortal sin, approach the civil courts to obtain a civil separation, divorce or annulment for any reason whatsoever unless the permission of the bishop first has been obtained. Furthermore, a Catholic lawyer may not, under pain of mortal sin, approach the civil courts as attorney for a plaintiff seeking either a separation, divorce or annulment of a marriage which has been contracted before a Catholic priest unless the plaintiff or the lawyer has first obtained the permission of the bishop to institute proceedings.
A Catholic lawyer may represent the respondent in cases of civil separation, divorce or annulment of a marriage which has been contracted before a Catholic priest only on condition that both lawyer and respondent will do their utmost under law to protect the bond of marriage and sincerely contest the action of separation, divorce or annulment which was initiated without the required permission.
In localities where the diocesan statutes do not legislate the practice of the Catholic lawyer in so detailed and explicit a manner, his position is none-the-less very much the same as in Providence. The statutes of the Third Council of Baltimore bind all Catholics within the United States, and that Council laid down that the permission of the ecclesiastical authorities must be obtained before the civil court may be approached for the purpose of obtaining a divorce. The Catholic lawyer would be cooperating in a seriously sinful act, if he went ahead and pleaded a case for divorce knowing that the permission has not been obtained. If the prospective client seems to be unaware that such ecclesiastical permission is necessary, the lawyer has the obligation of giving this information and advice.
If the party requesting the lawyer’s service refuses to put the case before the proper ecclesiastical authorities, and above all, if he or she is seeking a civil divorce in view of a subsequent marriage, the Catholic lawyer must almost always withhold his services. It is hard to conceive of a good that might come out of his cooperation to compensate for the serious evil that is sure to follow. The fee that the lawyer stands to lose in rejecting the case can under no circumstances justify such action on his part.