To read the Bishops’ statement, click here.

By Elizabeth Fisher
Special to The CS&T

The Pennsylvania Catholic Bishops issued a statement on Sunday commemorating the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s proclamation of St. Thomas More as patron saint of statesmen, politicians and lawyers. The bishops’ statement reaffirmed the significance of the revered 16th century saint.

St. Thomas More served as King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor of England, whose responsibilities included enforcing laws against heresy. In 1534, More refused to take an oath requiring members of the clergy – and others – to recognize Henry as head of the Church of England and accept both Henry and Anne Boleyn as the legitimate King and Queen of England. {{more}}

Although a longtime friend of his sovereign, More believed that it was his responsibility to set an example of faithfulness to the Church and the pope. On Henry’s orders, More was arrested and later beheaded. He was canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.

In 1966, Hollywood produced a movie on More titled, “A Man for All Seasons” that went on to win six Academy Awards.

In their statement, the Pennsylvania Bishops cited More’s refusal to “place the demands of the state before the requirements of his conscience and insisted that there were objective truths that the government could not legitimately seek to override.”

Michael O’Mara, a partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Stradley Ronan Stevens and Young and vice president of the St. Thomas More Society of Philadelphia, said he believed the bishops’ statement was a reminder to society members of what it means to be both a Catholic and a lawyer, following the example set by their patron saint.

The society’s major events include the annual Red Mass, and the spring conference on ethics. Speakers at these events help address what every Catholic attorney confronts: issues of moral relativism, O’Mara said.

“These events give lawyers a chance to reflect not just on our faith, but on our mission. Our hope is that the events have an impact on our members through their daily lives,” said O’Mara, who has been practicing law for 14 years. “The bishops’ statement was timely and right on target.”

On Oct. 31, 2000, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter proclaiming St. Thomas More the patron of statesmen, politicians and lawyers, believing, he wrote, that the saint’s courage and devotion to the Church is relevant in current times.

“Because of the witness that he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, St. Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity,” the Holy Father wrote.

This year’s Red Mass and dinner were held Oct. 4. Robert P. George, McCormack Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, was honored at the dinner following the Mass, which was celebrated by Cardinal Rigali.

The St. Thomas More Society in Philadelphia was founded in 1849 to promote the highest of ethical standards among Catholic lawyers and judges. The group’s stated mission is to address the needs of society by working for justice, and to remain faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Elizabeth Fisher is a freelance journalist and member of St. Mark Parish in Bristol.