What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: October 26, 2006
A couple of months ago I received a summons to appear for jury duty at the Fulton County Court House. Perhaps, like many of you, my first reaction to this directive was to consider how I could get out of the obligation. Once I was assured that there was no graceful escape, I decided to perform my civic duty with as much decorum as possible.
I was quite certain that I would never be selected for a jury because of my occupation as the Archbishop of Atlanta. However, a lawyer acquaintance told me that I should not be too certain that my office would necessarily render me an undesirable juror. Depending on whether I was asked to serve on a criminal or a civil case, either the plaintiff’s attorney or the defendant’s attorney might find my presence on a jury a quite beneficial addition.
I appeared at the designated place at the predetermined hour and then took my seat among about 60 other potential jurors as we awaited our fate. In fact I had been summoned for jury duty once before when I was the Bishop of Belleville. There again, people at the courthouse gave me those knowing looks as they snickered at seeing the bishop taking his place in the pool of jurors. After waiting for about five hours, we were gathered together in the early afternoon and told that our services would not be needed. I was relieved that I would not be called upon to serve on a jury and went home feeling acquitted.
Nevertheless I also gave some thought as to why I was reasonably certain that I would never have been selected to serve on a jury. I do bring a lot of baggage with me as a potential juror. I am a cleric in a Church with some clearly articulated religious positions about a lot of “hot button” issues.
Our Church believes in the “preferential option for the poor.” That means we believe that human beings have a dignity that belongs to them no matter what their condition, age, background, or state in life.
We believe that every human life is sacred—no matter what its state within the womb, in a hospice setting, or within a prison. As Catholics we believe that the death penalty should be a rarely utilized punishment since we can protect society from dangerous felons without recourse to taking another life—even the life of a horrible criminal.
As a priest, even more so as the Archbishop of Atlanta, I would be presumed to have a compassionate heart for immigrants, for people trapped in poverty, for those who live on the margins of society. An attorney might have to think long and hard if they would want someone with those credentials judging a case.
I bring an unambiguous set of principles and religious convictions with me to a jury, and not each of those beliefs would be a welcome factor in the minds of some people to serve on a jury. I bring my Faith with me—and in the minds of some folks that would be the explicit liability.
In a few weeks we will all be asked to enter the polling booth and to cast our ballots for the elected officials and political initiatives that are up for a vote this year. I urge each and every eligible Catholic voter in North Georgia to make time for this vitally important activity. Above all, I ask each one of you to bring your Catholic Faith with you into the voting booth.
Catholic social teaching is an organic listing of principles that flow from our Faith itself. Primary among those values is the protection of human life. Without this foundational birthright all subsequent rights are mute. But there are subsequent rights, to be sure, that flow from the protection of human life—these include the rights of workers, the dignity of marriage and family life, and the rights of those who may be poor but who are always and foremost human beings.
Our Catholic Faith is a beacon that sheds light on the most complex social issues. Don’t forget your light when you cast your vote.