International Catholic Bar Association launches

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann meets with a group of 30 people at the Polsinelli law firm to found the Catholic Bar Association.  Photo by Doug Hesse.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann meets with a group of 30 people at the Polsinelli law firm to found the Catholic Bar Association. Photo by Doug Hesse.

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — At a time when the Catholic faith is facing increasing challenges in society and the courts, a new international organization has been formed to support Catholic attorneys.

On March 6, a group of approximately 30 individuals — with another 15 or so joining by phone — met in a conference room at the Polsinelli law firm in Kansas City, Missouri, to found the Catholic Bar Association.

The meeting is the culmination of two years of work, said Joshua McCaig, a Polsinelli attorney and lead organizer.

“In 2007, I started the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Kansas City,” said McCaig, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Kansas City, Missouri. “Before that, there wasn’t a formal Catholic lawyers entity here.”

McCaig then began to establish contacts with similar guilds across the nation and even in Europe.

“Once I started down this road, it became quickly apparent the Holy Spirit was at work,” he said. “I was contacted by other Catholic attorneys across the country who were working on similar initiatives, although not as far along I had gotten, and they wanted to join in the effort.”

The founding steering committee included representatives from the Catholic Medical Association, the Canon Law Society of America, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, state Catholic conference representatives, attorneys from several states, and deans and other officials from various Catholic law schools and universities.

Episcopal representation included Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas; Bishop Robert W. Finn, from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph; Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, from the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois; and Bishop Keven W. Vann, from the Diocese of Orange, California.

“The ultimate purpose of the Catholic Bar Association, as I envision it, is to provide a community where legal professionals can grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ — that’s first and foremost,” said McCaig, “and where its members can challenge each other to live out the Catholic faith, not just in their private lives, but also within their profession.”

Ellen Dorn, past president of the Thomas More Society of Dallas, was at the meeting. She discovered that many attendees were already thinking along the same lines.

“We talked about the common sentiments that brought each of us here,” said Dorn. “There has been a similar desire among Catholic lawyers throughout the country for a similar means of associating.”

“Increasingly, the Catholic perspective on the law and legal system is not in vogue right now. It’s being challenged in the courts and challenged in society. Every lawyer in his or her practice encounters that,” she continued. “Those lawyers who were not educated in Catholic law schools need some tools and resources to be able to effectively present and promote Catholic perspectives on the law when those are being challenged in the courts and society.”

William Kirk, vice president and general counsel of Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, sees the organization as a “big tent” for Catholic attorneys.

“There is absolutely a need for this,” said Kirk, who is McCaig’s brother-in-law.

His vision of a Catholic Bar Association is that it will be a place for all Catholic attorneys — all who self-identify as Catholic, even if only in a cultural sense — to learn more about their faith and how their practice of the law can help build up the kingdom of God.

“My goal is that we create an organization that would be a resource on the practical side for Catholic lawyers,” he said. “But I think the organization we’ve founded would be a resource for folks who have any interest in Catholic education and life generally, and religious freedom issues. So, I think we have a broad mission.”

Mario Dickerson, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, was invited to attend the meeting so he could share the experience of his 80-year-old organization.

“When Josh (McCaig) was looking to form the Catholic Bar Association, he looked to similar kinds of Catholic professional organizations — who they are, what they’re about, how they are organized and structured,” said Dickerson. “It helped him discern how best to structure the Catholic Bar Association.”

Like the Catholic Medical Association, an important part of the Catholic Bar Association will be encouraging personal growth in holiness.

“Once you have the attorneys formed in their own holiness and spiritual journey, and ethics and values, it’s going to permeate no matter what field of law they are in,” said Dickerson. “When you’re in a tough spot making those difficult moral and ethical choices, you’ll be able to do the right thing.”

Dickerson sees the significance of the bar association’s founding in the context of lay Catholics.

“I think more and more what you’re seeing . . . is a revitalization of lay faithful taking pride, joy and ownership in their vocation and calling in life, and wanting to live that out more fully. And they’re looking for ways to do that in a way that transcends particular issues,” said Dickerson. “It’s a way of life.  Now, [here is] another player on the field that can help people appropriate their faith into their profession in a fully holistic way.”

For more information about the Catholic Bar Association, call McCaig at (816) 395-0651 or contact him by email at: jmccaig@polsinelli.com.

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