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Scott. C. Idleman, Private Conscience, Public Duties: The Unavoidable Conflicts Facing a Catholic Justice, 4 U. St. Thomas L.J. 312 (2006)

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4 University of St. Thomas Law Journal 312 (2006)


When questioned about the relationship between their faith and their decision making, Catholic judges typically invoke a model of detachment, pursuant to which their governmental role and responsibilities are not directly governed by, and thus do not readily conflict with, their potential duties as a faithful Catholic. This position of detachment has been expressed both during confirmation hearings and in situations where judges are asked to remove themselves from a case due to their religious beliefs or affiliation. This article addresses the possibility that this position is potentially at odds with Catholic Church doctrine regarding the obligations of civil officials. In particular, the article advances three arguments. First, it contends that the potential for conflicts between one's judicial and religious obligations will always exist and that trying to avoid it either by strategic ignorance or by attempted detachment is an inadequate avenue of resolution. Second, especially given a general lack of direct and authoritative Church teaching on the matter, each judge is individually obligated, by exercising the prerogative of a well-formed conscience, to resolve the conflict as it may arise from case to case. In so doing, the judge should ideally reach an outcome - even if this occasionally means recusal - that is consistent both with the Church's teachings and their natural implications, and with the professional responsibilities attending the judicial role. Third, if the result is recusal or anything else extraordinary, and if court rules or customs so require, the judge should be willing to explain the basis for his or her decision, assuming that the judge also employs an appropriate level of prudence.

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