Integrity demands doing right, Nuncio tells legal profession

Apostolic Nuncio celebrates Red Mass

Apostolic Nuncio celebrates Red Mass

Homily by Archbishop Yllana, Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, during the Red Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral on 1st February 2016.

Brothers and Sisters all in Christ Jesus,

The words of Scripture we have just heard from Luke’s gospel describe the mission of Jesus. This is the mission of the Church and the vocation of every Christian – to bring liberty to captives, to set the downtrodden free, and proclaim the good news that God is love.

In the time we have this morning I can only offer a few brief thoughts on how these texts can guide you in your important task in the coming year.

You are called, the prophet Isaiah says, to act with wisdom and insight, to judge the wretched with integrity, with equity to give a verdict for the poor.

DSC_7879There are three basic temptations that constantly confront humanity. They are the temptations which faced Jesus in the desert at the beginning of his ministry. They are what we might describe as false gods – power, materialism and popularity. Each has the potential to undermine the integrity of your work in the service of the law.

Judges, lawmakers, legal professionals are vested with power by the office they exercise to promote the good of society. We need to take care that such power is not misused lest political or economic self-interest override the legitimate rights and freedoms of others.

DSC_7884Materialism, an unhealthy preoccupation that seeks happiness in possessions, can distort our choices and priorities, sometimes at great cost to personal and family life. An uncomfortable question which we need to confront is whether the practice of law is a profession or a business. The business has customers and its priority is profit. The profession has clients and it is the client’s good that is the priority. The professional, acting with integrity, will make choices that serve the client, in the service of what is just and right, even at the expense of the opportunity for more profit. Your generous work pro bono and well-resourced legal aid programmes are indeed very commendable so that everyone can have the protection of the law.

_DSC7333Thirdly there is the false god of popularity. We all want to be liked. Facebook, they tell me, will even measure your ‘likes‘. If you are as old as I am, and do not know what I am talking about, perhaps your grandchildren would be able to explain. Difficult decisions are often unpopular. But right and wrong are not measured by opinion polls. In a democracy this creates serious tensions. Lawmakers may risk re-election if they act against public opinion, yet integrity demands doing right. Judges run the risk of upsetting the public, often stirred by ill-informed media commentary, if a sentence shows mercy or takes account of prospects of rehabilitation. We no longer have crowds cheering at public executions, not at least in this country, but more subtle pressures can lead to a clamour for even harsher and harsher treatment of those some consider beyond redemption.

In a society such as Australia different world views and cultural and religious perspectives need to co-exist in peace. The abuse of power or a mistaken craving for popularity put this ideal at risk.

The Catholic Church here and internationally is committed to engaging with all people of goodwill to promote values that protect individual liberty and enable people to live in peace and security.

In his address in the Vatican to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, two weeks ago, Pope Francis referred to the agreement with Chad on the juridical status of the Catholic Church in that country, as well as the agreement signed and ratified with Palestine.

The Holy Father mentioned how these two agreements, together with the Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretariat of State and the Foreign Affairs Minister of Kuwait, demonstrate, among other things, and I quote: “how peaceful co-existence between the followers of different religions is possible when religious freedom is recognised and practical cooperation in the pursuit of the common good, in a spirit of respect for the cultural identity of all parties, is effectively guaranteed.”

In his letter to the Romans, which we read today, St Paul speaks about acting in accordance with the mind of God. True religion should reflect the mind of God that humanity be at peace and flourish. Good law, well made and well applied, serves that same purpose.

I cannot forget to mention and commend the worthwhile endeavours you employ in your profession and how they help not only the individuals citizens, aggrieved or not, but promote the good of the society as a whole, when justice accompanied by truth prevails.

In the year ahead it is my prayer for you, taking the words of today’s Psalm, “may you find your joy in the Lord” in the invaluable service you render in your honourable calling. May God bless you and your loved ones.

Photos by Catholic Communications, Archdiocese of Sydney.