Catholic lawyers have a responsibility to actively participate in the Church and society, and to live their faith in their work as well as on Sunday, Archbishop José Gomez told a gathering of more than 100 lawyers at a recent “get-acquainted” dinner in downtown Los Angeles.

“Your identity as a Catholic gives you a responsibility to participate actively in the political and economic debates of our time,” the archbishop said at the Feb. 15 dinner, where he shared his viewpoints on several challenges the Church is facing nowadays and requested the legal community’s support on defending “our faith and our rights as Catholics.”

The first “Evening with the Archbishop” was conceived by Judge Lawrence Waddington, co-founder of St. Thomas More Society and president of the Catholic Lawyers Association.

“The purpose of the event was to introduce the archbishop to as many members of the legal community as possible,” Waddington told The Tidings, “and for him to be aware of the resources available to him. We hope he will understand that the Catholic legal community supports him and his staff.”

The gathering was also an opportunity for lawyers to introduce themselves to others they do not know to “cement relationships and form a strong Catholic presence,” said Waddington.

Several attorneys stated they were interested in learning the archbishop’s viewpoint on religious liberty, the laity’s role in the Church, and support for projects that would benefit the community at large and the Catholic community in particular.

“Lots of people talk as if he [Archbishop Gomez] is liberal or conservative,” said attorney Bonifacio “Bonny” Garcia. “I would be more interested in learning whether or not he is trusting in the seminarian system or in the laity.”

 Garcia said he sees a need for increased laity leadership in the Church due to declining vocations, and because “there is a lot of laity to be trusted in their faith. I would like to know what special steps he would take in that regard,” he said.

Addressing that issue, Archbishop Gomez told the attentive participants that “the actual work of building a changing society is your job as members of the lay faithful. Lay people have the duty in their different fields of expertise to apply Church principles to the political, economic and social realities.”

He identified the mission of the Church as preaching, teaching, healing and caring for others.

 “Our Catholic Church exists for only one reason: to fulfill the mission that God entrusted to her,” remarked Archbishop Gomez. “That mission is to go out to all the world to proclaim the Gospel of love and life to the ends of the Earth.”

Highlighting the Church’s efforts of partnering with the government and others in building a “more just and peaceful society,” he emphasized the importance of the laity’s role in bringing the teachings of the Church to where there is ongoing interaction --- family, work and other social relationships.

Your identity as Catholics gives you a responsibility to participate actively in the political and economic debates of our time.---Archbishop José Gomez 

Lawyers, he stressed, play a key role here. “Especially in this country, because we are a society of laws, your particular vocation is very very important,” he said.

“I admire that you have decided to do your work as true Catholics,” he told the audience. “I know that’s not easy, especially in your line of work and is indeed a challenge for you personally in our current culture, because our culture is always pushing us to privatize our faith, to keep our beliefs to ourselves; to separate our beliefs from our work and from our participation in society.

“More and more we are told to leave our faith at the door before we enter into the political arena. We cannot fall into that trap; we cannot compartmentalize our faith or live some kind of a double life. God, as you know, doesn’t call us to be Catholics just Saturdays or Sundays and then live according to different standards the rest of the week.”

The archbishop stressed that the bishops’ role is to offer guidelines regarding moral and religious values based on Scripture and Catholic teachings, and not to tell people what to do or think, as many people would want.

Nevertheless, he stated that there are certain non-negotiable issues such as abortion, euthanasia and marriage as the exclusive union between one man and one woman, according to the Catholic definition.

Citing Pope Benedict XVI, he underscored the need of “engaged, articulated and well-formed” laity with a “strong critical sense in relation to the dominant culture,” and the “courage to counteract” secularism, “which will delegitimize the Church’s participation” in current events.

He said the preparation of lay leaders is a priority in the new evangelization in America. The federal mandate governing employer coverage of contraception and sterilization under the health care law is an example of how the Church’s mission can be “threatened.”

The archbishop urged the lawyers to actively participate in the defense of religious freedom.

“We need your help to make political leaders and opinion leaders understand what is at stake in this debate,” he said, noting that the media is trying to portray the bishops’ objection as focused on the use of contraception. Primarily, he said, the issue “is about religious freedom; it’s about who we are and especially who we are going to be in the future.”

He shared his concerns regarding the next generation’s low participation in the Church and urged participants to share their faith with all they interact with and stated that education in the faith is the first priority of his ministry.

The archbishop’s remarks were welcomed by the lawyers present, most of them seeing him up close for the first time.

“I was delighted with his sense of humor and inspiration and his call to action for Catholics in Los Angeles to build up a church that needs our help,” said Scott Wood, Loyola Law School’s clinical law professor. “He’s a very engaging and likeable person; we’re lucky to have him.”

“I believe in social justice and I think the mission of the Church is to promote social justice by how we live, not by what we say or what we do,” said Tom Scolpman, trial lawyer and former president of the State Bar of California.

The archbishop’s reflections provided food for thought to the lawyers that could be addressed in lectures hosted by the St. Thomas More Society, according to president Rolando Hidalgo.

“I’m hoping that we can explore all the aspects of the Church --- art, history, religion --- in the St. Thomas More Society,” he said. 

Gary Williams, a law professor at Loyola Law School who manages an outreach program for inner-city students, said he hoped the archbishop would visit the law school and support the inner-city program by promoting the involvement of more Catholic schools in the project beside Verbum Dei High School, the only school currently involved.

“We would like to see more inner-city schools participating,” said Williams.

For more information about the St. Thomas More Society of Los Angeles, visit  HYPERLINK ""

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