There are certain occupations that are obviously incompatible with being Catholic. For example, a doctor who performs abortions or assisted suicide; any business involving prostitution or pornography; selling illegal drugs or performing any other work that requires you to engage in illegal activity. But what about other occupations that might have a whiff of moral downside? I am interested in this question because I am a lawyer. Real estate law is my specialty.

Real estate is a tough and dirty business here in South Florida. Unfortunately, bad behavior is the norm. It is difficult to stay above it all when so many people you deal with are looking to gain an upper hand at your or your client’s expense. My greatest challenge has been figuring out how to be “tough” in litigation and in negotiations without going too far. As charitable as you may strive to be, when you threaten to sue someone on behalf of a client, you are threatening to take them to court. There’s no nuance there.  I cannot help but wonder if my work and my faith can easily integrate.

Of course, I am not required to pursue frivolous cases. Nor am I required to do anything that is unethical or immoral. I often review my day and think about the times when I could have done better as a Catholic lawyer. It is not easy to be a good lawyer and a good Catholic at the same time. Not because I find myself engaging in bad behavior, but because as a Catholic I am called to a higher standard than just doing what barely passes as ethical by a licensing board. Catholics are called to love others heroically. How is that possible when you are someone’s advocate in an adversarial legal system? I might behave in a loving way toward my client as their legal representative and advocate. But what if my client was less than honest with me about their case? And what do I do about the opposing attorney who is abusive, unethical or unprofessional? When is it acceptable to ”fight fire with fire“ as the saying goes?

So, I continue to wonder. Are certain occupations like the law simply incompatible with being Catholic?

While the law is not per sean immoral or unethical occupation, the profession opens the practicing Catholic up to many challenges every day that people in other occupations never have to worry about. If you are a lawyer who plays by the rules, for example following the rules of civil procedure, and you are accommodating and understanding with opposing counsel, but opposing counsel breaks the rules of civil procedure, fails to meet deadlines, ignores your calls and e-mails, delays, postpones, lies to you and behaves unprofessionally, all of which cause your client to spend more money, this puts occasions of sin in your path. It could even be argued that a lawyer who does not “fight fire with fire” or submit to the occasions of sin might be less effective than other lawyers who have no scruples about bending and breaking the rules of procedure, ethics and professionalism.

So, what does a Catholic who finds himself in an occupation like the law do?

Pray. If your occupation interferes with your Catholic faith, then God might be asking you to make a choice. You cannot worship God and mammon and you must take up your Cross and follow Jesus. That might mean that a career change is in order even though you may not know how to make that happen. So,pray.

  • Carol Goodson

    I left a job in a library because I was in charge of purchasing books for children–and many of today’s books for kids contain content–mainly advocating immoral lifestyles–which violates my Catholic Faith. I realized that this was just not a job I could do properly in the public arena, and still have a good conscience.

  • Thomist

    I appreciate your thoughts. Living your life by ideals that our Lord Jesus Christ gives us certainly makes many “morally neutral” jobs a challenge. I see it all the time in business, regardless of the field. I can’t imagine the challenges an attorney faces. Thanks for sharing the struggle, it’s good to hear other striving for something more…

  • Well, we are a Catholic Apparel brand so we hope not!

    That said, our jobs that actually pay the mortgage are a different story. It’s tricky and there are lots of gray areas that pop up on a weekly basis. This article points out something that almost all Catholics run into at the workplace and there isn’t usually a clear answer. At the end of the day though….trust God, fear not and do his will.

  • Matthew McCormick

    They crucified the Son of God. Go from there.

    I’m glad I’m an engineer. I love being an engineer. I do. There is a lot (total?) nonsense in corporate, too. But, the one thing I always have to look forward to is 1) facts are an inconvenient thing, and 2) computers can just make dumb happen faster and MUCH, MUCH BIGGER!!!! I just feed ’em rope. Don’t worry. They ALWAYS hang themselves!!!!!! YEAH!!!!! Schadenfreude, no doubt. God is merciful. He is also just, in this life. We shall ALL come to the mercy of God, even in this life!!!!

  • Doug R.

    An excellent reflection, sir.

    My wife is also an attorney, and I’ve watched her navigate this tightrope for more than 20 years, although it may be easier for her than for you, since she practices exclusively in the field of child welfare law. Having watched her for this time, I can certainly say that it is possible in the practice of law.

    With the exception of some of the obvious examples, such as you noted, most professions are morally neutral; its entirely where one chooses to devote one’s efforts. As an example, look at IT, a profession that’s certainly morally neutral. Does one choose to practice one’s profession for a company that pushes pornography or, as the husband of a former coworker does, does one work for the Red Cross, travelling from disaster to disaster to support the IT infrastructure used to save lives?

  • Dominic Vieira

    This is a thought-provoking article, Mr. Garofalo, thank you.

    As a law student, I agree that the practice of law does open one up to many considerations that are otherwise alien to other professions. However, the system was created to provide the honest lawyer with all the tools necessary to gain a fitting outcome for his client and to protect him and his client against the machinations of less scrupulous actors, whether they are alien to or an integral part of the system.

    A lawyer who “awakens” to the siren-call of unscrupulous conduct that permeates the atmosphere of the world should take stock of himself and his aims in the circumstances that gave rise to the call. A sincere appraisal of the situation and one’s behaviour in it will lay essential groundwork for future action. No lawyer should ever resort to unethical or immoral conduct. Ever. To do so would injure not only the lawyer, but also his client, the opposing side, the judge and the system as a whole.

    Lawyers who find themselves or their clients on the receiving end of mischief can handle these situations in disparate ways. A lawyer who finds himself the target of an unscrupulous colleague can choose either to report this misbehaviour or to turn the other cheek. However, one should never “turn the other cheek” of his client. Take all reasonable steps to accommodate the failings of opposing counsel (treat other lawyers as you would wish to be treated), but never countenance letting a client just take one on the chin. Without a doubt, report the misbehaving lawyer to his bar and make some note of this to the judge (if that is possible).

    But without prayerful consideration, these simple tasks are sure to become impossible.

    All the best.

    • Andrew Garofalo

      Thanks for your comments. In my experience I have found most judges in state court unwilling to get involved in maintaining civility and order between opposing lawyers. If one complains about an opposing attorney, the complainer is likely to get an eye roll from the judge and something like “Figure it out yourselves.” I don’t necessarily blame the judges either. After all, they are not our babysitters.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        Most professions are neutral but the chance to be vicious, unethical and corrupt is everywhere, especially in the realm of law. Doctors, lawyers, etc. were stereotyped in the past as leaning toward playing God, but today law has become the Devil’s Den in self-deification, even pushing our Nation toward immorality through judicial despotism. To overcome this in any practice of law, I refer you to the devotion to Bartolo Longo, who became saintly through God’s Grace after having consecrated himself to Satan. He stood firm through the Holy Rosary. It helps to add the prayer of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate. It helps to see those corrupt ones in the eye for who they are; a false, pathetic, exalted, elitist, demonic royalty which your True Royalty in Jesus Christ absolutely demolishes (Eph. 2:6, Rev. 1:5-6). When they read that Absolute Truth in your eyes, even their arrogance will turn against them, one way or the other. One more: ask God to put His Most Holy Silent Presence in the center of your heart, mind, body, soul, spirit and life. Evil is noise.

  • Jed Levron

    Maybe you can turn the other cheek. Good ethical lawyers are needed. You may lose a lot but think what you will gain in heaven. Will pray for you.

    • Andrew Garofalo

      Thank you.