Pope urges Catholic lawyers to shun divorce work

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The Pope has urged Roman Catholic lawyers and magistrates to refuse to handle divorce cases.

The Pope has urged Roman Catholic lawyers and magistrates to refuse to handle divorce cases.

He warned that divorce was "spreading like the plague" and lawyers should decline to use their profession for, "an end that is contrary to justice".

Pope John Paul II has in the past insisted that Catholic doctors not perform abortions or assist women with contraception. But this is the first time he has tried to tell the legal profession what to do.

The reaction from politicians and advocates in Italy has been one of dismay at such open interference in civil issues.

The Pope's comments came in a speech to lawyers and judges involved in the Sacro Ruota, which decides on marriage annulments.

He said the "effects of divorce were devastating" and lawyers should refuse to be part of the "evil".

"Marriage is indissoluble... it makes no sense to talk about the imposition of human law as it should reflect and protect natural and divine law," he said. "Those working in civil law cases should avoid being personally involved in what could be understood as co-operating in divorce ... they should look for effective measures to favour marriage, above all mediating conciliation."

The Catholic Church is vehemently opposed to divorce and homosexual unions, which, it says, threaten the "natural institution" of the family.

He urged Roman Catholic lawyers not to help even non-Catholics obtain a divorce, and, while magistrates may find it more difficult to avoid being assigned marriage cases, the 81-year-old Pope said they must strive to prevent divorce.

Vatican watchers point out that the ailing Pontiff frequently lumps together three ethical issues – contraception, abortion and divorce – but doubt that the lawyers and magistrates among the world's one billion Catholics will take great heed of his call.

The Pope's outburst will be a blow to hundreds of thousands of divorced couples who are excluded from the sacraments and feel like outcasts from the faith. The reaction in Italy, where divorce levels are steady, has been swift and critical across the political spectrum.

Alessandra Mussolini, a right-wing MP and granddaughter of the wartime dictator, said the Pontiff was trying to turn back the clock and the idea of saving marriage at all costs was hypocrisy.

"Divorce is sometimes a salvation as it interrupts a spiral of hate and terror for children," she said.

Livia Turco, a former social affairs minister with the centre-left government said: "We find ourselves dealing with interference in the very principles of the secular state."

Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, is a divorcee, as are many other cabinet ministers and political leaders, even those in the so-called Catholic parties.

For Italy, the historic battle to legalise divorce during the Seventies was achieved by a referendum. The Christian Democrat party, under heavy pressure from the Vatican, tried to overturn the ruling and was soundly defeated.