Pope's comments on divorce lawyers prompt outcry

Italians unhappy with his criticism of practice

January 30, 2002|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ROME - Rarely do people rush to the defense of divorce lawyers, but Italians did yesterday, the day after Pope John Paul II called on Catholic lawyers and judges to abstain from handling divorce cases.

Newspapers and commentators across Italy criticized the pontiff for telling an audience of attorneys that they "must avoid personal involvement in what could be seen as cooperation with divorce."

An editorial in Corriere della Sera, Italy's most respected newspaper, characterized the pope's views as fundamentalist.

"There are many reasons to respect this pope," the Milan daily said, "but his appeal for conscientious objection against divorce by lawyers and judges is the same as the one made to the Taliban to resist in Afghanistan, and by the anti-globalization movement against the internationalization of trade and the economy."

In comments to lawyers who belong to the Roman Rota, the Church tribunal that can grant marriage annulments, the pope said "the value of marriage cannot be regarded as an object of mere personal choice; it is one of the cornerstones of society as a whole."

"I think the pope should mind his own business," said Mirella Pellegrini, 57, a twice-divorced Roman who considers herself a Catholic. "And regarding my own sins, I will discuss this with God when my time comes."

"The question of divorce has to be a free choice," said Fausto de Bonis, 61, a divorced businessman. "I, as a Catholic, believe that God is forgiving. I don't understand why the church thinks divorced people can't receive Communion, but criminals can."

Conservative politicians in Italy criticize the Catholic Church at their peril, but the pope's attack on divorce appeared to touch a nerve.

"No one can deny John Paul II the right to his own opinion and to speak out on such a crucial issue. At the same time, however, I know that as a Catholic I must oppose divorce, but as a political leader I know that it is the law of the land," said Marco Follini, head of the Christian Democratic Center Party.

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