This month we look at whether Catholic lawyers can take on divorce cases, what the Church says about affirmative action, and what attitude a Catholic should adopt towards the modern economic system based on usery.
Q. Is the position of a Catholic lawyer with respect to a client wanting a divorce akin to that of a Catholic doctor with respect to someone wanting an abortion? In other words, would the lawyer be bound to refuse such assistance or advice on the grounds that he would be co-operating in "putting asunder what God hath joined together"?
A. To quote from H. Davis S.J.: "Catholics may apply to the Civil Courts for a decree of judicial separation after submitting the case to the ecclesiastical authorities. They may also apply for declaration of nullity after submitting their case to their ecclesiastical authorities, and getting from them such a declaration. It is obvious that Catholics may not under any circumstances petition for an absolute divorce with the intention of remarriage. Catholics may, however, petition for a divorce in the Civil Courts in order merely to obtain the civil effects of a civil divorce, but they should first submit the case to the local Ordinary. Since Catholics may, with due permission, do these things, a Catholic judge may pronounce a decree of civil divorce, and Catholic lawyers and solicitors may undertake such cases, but with due submission to ecclesiastical authorities, who will be the best judges as to whether or not grave scandal might arise from such a practice."-Moral and Pastoral
Theology, vol. IV. In present circumstances a Catholic lawyer should consult a priest whose judgment he trusts if he is confronted with a doubtful case.
Q. What is the Catholic position on affirmative action? Does it have any foundations in justice, or is it totally against the social teaching of the Church?
A. I have not been able to find anything in the Church's social teaching directly treating affirmative action, however one can take more general principles and apply them to this case.
Those who advocate affirmative action contend that, in the past, one race would be preferred in employment over another, purely on grounds of race. This was unjust, and must now be corrected by giving the other race preferment in employment. One must note that in both cases the qualifications and competency of those to be employed do not have the prime say in who gets the job.
In dealing with employment in general, H. Davies, repeating the Church's teaching, says: "Every man has a right to a decent livelihood if he works. Since most men cannot directly get at the fruits of the earth, their only method of winning sustenance is to work for wages. The workman's wage, therefore, must be the first call on the employer's turn-over, after payment for raw materials and depreciation." The minimum wage owed to a workman “is that amount of wage that will keep him and his wife and family in frugal comfort, commensurate with the conditions of life of the normal worker of his class." This is as much as is required by justice from employers.
The healthier the economy. the more there will be jobs available. Two things go very far towards making an economy healthy: filling jobs with the most qualified and competent people one can find, and making the availability of jobs dependent on one's willingness to work. Ideally, there should be a job for everyone, but if there is not, then making those jobs available to those who can best do them will, in time, result in an increase in available jobs. Hence, employing people on the criterion of race and not of competency or is wrong, since it ultimately harms the good of all.
Q. What would the correct attitude be for a Catholic today with respect to interest charged by banks? Bank loans are unavoidable, but surely their interest rates are usurious in some cases. What true Catholic alternatives, practicable in today's economic system, are there, if any?
A. This is rather like the question on usury that appeared in the August 1999 Nova et Vetera. Let me reproduce part of my reply to that question: "Hiliare Belloc in his essay On Usury, makes a distinction between the productive loan, which is morally justifiable, :and the unproductive loan, which is not.
A productive loan is one in which the money borrowed is used to found some enterprise that will produce wealth. The interest required on the loan comes out of the profits of the enterprise. An unproductive loan is one used for something does not produce any wealth itself. For such a loan one cannot in conscience demand interest, just repayment. Belloc gives an example of such a loan: "Now let us suppose that [a] man comes to you and says: "I know the case of a man in middle age who has been suddenly stricken with a terrible ailment. Medical aid costing £1.000 will save his life, but he will never be able to do any more work. He has an annuity of £100 a year to keep him alive after the operation and subsequent treatment. Will you lend the £ 1000? It will be paid back to you on his death, for his life has been insured in a lump payment for the amount of £1,000." You answer: "I will lend £1000 to save his life, but I shall require of him half his annuity, that is £50 a year for every year he may live henceforward, and he must scrape along as best he can on the remaining £50 of his annuity." That answer would make you feel a cad if you have any susceptibilities left...." Unproductive loans requiring interest repayments generally put a heady and even intolerable financial burden on the borrower, and hence have always beers condemned by the Church."
In the present economic situation, however, it is very difficult to acquire the necessities of life without making loans and contracting debts. As one wag put it, the more money you owe the more successful you are. There are not many who can make money quickly enough to pay cash far the larger necessities of life, like a house or, for some professions, a car. :one is obliged to take out interest-bearing loans that are unproductive and hence burdensome, ultimately paying far more for the item than it is in fact worth. The only provisio is to do so with prudence, not taking on more debt than is strictly necessary, and peeping at a minimum the consequent burden of debt and worry about money that can be very harmful, morally and spiritually.