Cardinal urges lawyers to defend Christian ideals
by Peter Stanford
CATHOLICS have a duty to follow Thomas More in boldly proclaiming fundamental principles which laws cannot transgress in the face of the moral and ethical challenges of a changing world, Cardinal Hume told a congregation of distinguished lawyers in Westminster Cathedral last Sunday.
Drawing a likeness between More's times and our own, with the "old order passing" and "new learning to savour", Cardinal Hume held up the example of the martyred Lord Chancellor as a yardstick for a society "buffeted by the storms of change". "We are no longer capable of a concensus on ideals, moral values and social priorities" he warned, and have "cast aside the inner restraints required by traditional Christian morality".
Society has become "insensitive to the sanctity of human life, casual in our wholesale destruction of the unborn; we are confused and uncertain in the way we treat the handicapped, often denying them status and dignity as real people; we have come to accept the pitiless slaughter of millions in the two World Wars of this century and preserve a fragile world peace only with the threat of mutually-assured destruction; we pity but do too little to alleviate the plight of millions who starve each day. We have compromised with permissiveness. Refusing to accept the discipline of love, we have cheapened human relationships and in the search of pleasure have found frustration and much despair. What is most frightening of all is the emptiness, the lack of meaning, at the heart of our society".
In the face of such moral disintegration, Cardinal Hume told his congregation, Ahich included Lord Rawlinson of Ewell and prominent representatives of the English legal profession from the Thomas More Society as well as delegates from the American Bar Association who were in London this week for their Annual Meeting, Thomas More has a "special contribution" to make through his "integrity".
Not only in his personal integrity, with his "sense of over-riding purpose, of vocation", but also in his professional integrity More can guide us, Cardinal Hume said.
"For Christians professional integrity must go beyond professional conventions. You are required to reflect deeply on what you are about as practioners of the law", he emphasised to the crowded Cathedral. "You have to think about what the law is for and the philosophy which lies behind it. If there is no concensus on the meaning and purpose of human life and on our manner of living in society, then the law will often be inadequate, narrow and shortsighted".
"Moreover, not only will it fail to defend Christian values. but it can even be in contradiction to them. It can be used to prosecute and destroy a man like Thomas More", the Cardinal continued. In the "decade of new knowledge" Christians must beware of following a public opinion which is easily confused, the Cardinal warned. The law too can be left "groping, making ad hoc judgments because there are no agreed moral norms".
Turning to new areas of science and technology embryo research, data manipulation and nuclear safety — the Cardinal appealed for a "wider jurisprudence" integrating "a sound and consistent philosophical approach to lawmaking".
The law is not ready as yet to face up to the particular challenges that these areas posed. In doing so, the legal profession on both sides of the Atlantic should take note of Thomas More's rejection of "legal positivism. He appealed beyond particular laws to a higher law. He appealed from the contemporary to the inheritance of the Christian past, from the narrowly national to the universal".
Outlining the distinctive contribution which Christians can and should make to the debate within the legal profession, Cardinal Hume highlighted that "the Church is not a pressure group enrolling all Catholics in a lobby to enact laws which it has previously devised. Rather it gives witness to the principles which true law should not transgress".
Such principles were, in the Cardinal's mind, a, "touchstone" outside the confines of the legal system, and based on an understanding of human nature and human society.