Legal Ethics and Reform

Should Priests (or Lawyers) Serve as Political Leaders?

In ancient Israel the priests were a special people set apart by God's revealed directives. The priests were drawn from descendants of Aaron and were members of the tribe of Levy. They were not allowed to own land or serve as civil or military leaders . They lived off the sacrificial offerings of the people and served as judges in the more difficult cases. They were not allowed to marry women of questionable background. They guarded the Ark of the Covenant, served in the Temple, and ran towns of refugee where fugitives could seek protection before having their cases heard. (Over 1200 years after God directed this special status for priests in the Pentateuch, Christ was tried and condemned by the priests at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest. It was Roman Law which forbade the priests from carrying out their sentence before obtaining the approval of the Roman authorities; that is why Christ had to appear before Herod and Pilot.)

In Medieval Europe, a similar situation obtained. Priests ran courts where a common man could obtain a fair hearing of his grievance according to the Canon Law. The churches were "places of refuge" where a fugitive could be safe until a proper Canon Law Court could hear his case. Priests were a class apart. They did not marry; they took vows of chastity and obedience to the bishop and Pope. Many even took vows of poverty. Most important, priests were not allowed to accept positions of temporal leadership. No matter how "high born", priests were not authorized to serve as a king, duke or baron. They might aspire to the office of abbot, bishop, cardinal or even Pope, but their influence over the hearts and minds of the people rested on their special connection to God and their special expertise in the area of faith and morals. (A vestige of these century old limitations was seen recently. Even though priests and bishops have lost their special standing relative to the total community, a few years ago, Rev. Robert Drinan, S.J., a U S Congressman from Boston, was forced to resign his seat because the Pope did not want a Catholic priest holding a position of temporal power.)

In America today, lawyers (and judges) serve these "priestly" functions. They are the arbitrators of society's morals, providing guidance on such things as homosexual marriage, abortion, proper places of prayer, etc. They run courts and represent fugitives seeing to it that they get a "fair" hearing. They offer advice, formal opinion, and dicta about "right" and "wrong", seek the "truth", and work in awe inspiring chambers from which they dispense "justice". However, in America the lawyer-priest is also allowed to serve as both a civil or military leader, he is allowed to amass great wealth, and there are no special restrictions on his personal life or behavior.

In earlier societies select people possessing these special powers where required to accept major restrictions on the scope of their other activities. There were expected to live modestly with few worldly goods or pleasures, to cultivate learning and virtue, and to put themselves at the service of their fellow man. In America, however, this class of people uses its special status as a spring board toward positions possessing greater honor, power, wealth, and worldly pleasures.

The priests of ancient Israel were directed by God's revealed word. The priests of Middle Ages were directed by God's revealed word refined slightly by a careful, conscientious study of the God's plan as revealed in nature (i.e. The Natural Law). Departing from this tradition, the modern American lawyer-priests are mostly directed by their own intellects as formed primarily by America's remarkable "values free" educational institutions, most notablly its law schools.

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