Attorneys gather for Catholic Bar Association’s inaugural conference

Bishop James Johnston, Jr., surrounded by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., and priests from both sides of the state line, prays during the Red Mass for Legal Professionals Oct. 28 at Our Lady of Sorrows Church. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

Bishop James Johnston, Jr., surrounded by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., and priests from both sides of the state line, prays during the Red Mass for Legal Professionals Oct. 28 at Our Lady of Sorrows Church. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY – The Catholic Bar Association was established July 6, 2015. Local attorney Joshua McCaig, who founded the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Kansas City in 2007, wanted to see a national, even international, organization linking Catholic lawyers. In 2013, he reached out to various organizations, guilds and bishops to begin conversations about such an organization. Through connecting with other attorneys and legal educators, the Catholic Bar Association was founded. Its inaugural national conference was Oct. 27 – 30 at the Westin Crown Center Hotel. More than 200 Catholic attorneys, judges, politicians, paralegals and law students from 27 states attended the conference.

Topics of the conference’s talks included St. Thomas More, Canon and Civil Law, Law and Medicine, Catholic Judges Religious Liberty, Law and Business, Catholic Media, Conscience Rights, and the National Lawyers Association.

The annual Red Mass for legal professionals was celebrated at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Oct. 28. Bishop James Johnston, Jr., of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, was the principal celebrant, with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., Father Ken Riley, Catholic Bar Association Chaplain and Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan Chancellor, Father Charles Rowe, Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan Vicar General; Msgr. Gary Applegate, Father Shawn Tunic and Augustinian Father Joseph Arsenault, from Kansas City, Kansas; Fathers Dave Holloway, Chuck Tobin, Steven Hansen, Joshua Barlett and Daniel Gill, all from Kansas City-St. Joseph, concelebrating. Deacons Ralph Wehner and John R. Weist, an attorney and deacon serving in Kansas City, Kansas, assisted.

In his homily, Bishop Johnston welcomed those in attendance and thanked his brother priests.

“This Red Mass,” he said, “is part of the noble tradition of invoking the blessing of the Holy Spirit on all … engaged in the service of law, especially the judiciary. The ‘red’ … is taken from the Liturgical color used in Masses of the Holy Spirit.

“In reflecting on the Scriptures and upon this evening, my mind was drawn back to the classic television show … The Twilight Zone.

“The Twilight Zone was scary … creepy because in most episodes the main character somehow had his reference points removed. So much so, that the character often wondered if he had gone mad or if the world he was in had gone mad. This likely has come to mind for many of us in recent years because of the struggles … in the world we live in; the world in which you practice your profession and calling.

“… we live in a time in which our reference points, those basic truths, what we might call ‘first things’ are being eliminated, re-defined, or deconstructed. Basic truths such as the inviolable right to life; the dignity of every human person; the essential understanding of what marriage is as a one man-one woman union; even … that there is such a thing as an objective moral order.

“Without these ‘first things,’ these reference points, we drift into a Twilight Zone of ambiguity and chaos, which can only lead to a form of tyranny, in which those who have power … exert their will over others.

“Good law and government depend on finding and acknowledging true reference points; what we often refer to as ‘natural law.’ As people of religious faith we realize that … natural law is confirmed and applied by God’s Revelation and Word. The Foundational documents of our nation reflect this as well, as in the Declaration of Independence, which speaks of ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.’

“Our challenge as people of faith: as attorneys, judges, professors, as clergy or laity, is to resist the drift toward the Twilight Zone and by our lives and actions bring light into the twilight. We begin with … our own consciences. … twilight is a mixture of darkness with light. As Christians, we can have no compromise with darkness. We must … fully live in the pure light of truth.”

He said that in several of the conference’s talks and presentations, St. Thomas More would be held up before them. “It would be difficult to find a better example of a man who refused to be sucked in to the Twilight Zone of his day, … we have much to learn from his example. He is recognized by history as one of the great defenders of the rights of conscience … he is appropriately held up as the saintly model for Catholic politicians. St. Thomas said, ‘When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties … they lead their country by a short route to chaos.’”

Bishop Johnston continued, “Contrast More’s view on the responsibility of Catholic politicians with so much of what continues today on matters such as abortion; in which a politician will profess to be ‘personally opposed’ and then do what is politically expedient.

“This feast of Saints Simon and Jude also sets before us the names of the 12 apostles … This feast and the Gospel account that accompanies it remind us of two important things: … a reassurance and … a warning.

“We are reassured by the fact that Jesus chose an objective and visible way to insure the continuance of His life and mission within history. The apostles … were chosen as the guarantee; a visible … presence to hand on the light of the apostolic tradition … The Church … is the vessel, the lampstand … to bear the light into the twilight. … While we are reassured that the light is carried forward in and by the Church, there is also a warning.

“This warning comes with the final name and the fact that the one named had become a traitor. This is a danger and a temptation that will arise for each of us … to compromise; to choose something other than the Truth; to choose something other than the One who is ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ When our name is read one day, either in time or eternity, none of us wants to hear the words added, ‘who became a traitor.’
“… The key for us is to be humble before God … always seek and receive His Mercy, along with the strength that comes from realizing our utter dependence upon His grace. We receive strength for our lives also in what you … are attempting here, … with this association of disciples; … to support … encourage and help one another, to draw near to Jesus.

“To live in the light and not the twilight we also seek the Divine assistance of our Advocate, the Holy Spirit. It’s fitting that in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus would use this legal term in reference to the Holy Spirit. But, it is God who defends us against the Accuser who is seeking to convict and discourage us. This Red Mass sets us all before the Holy Spirit who refreshes and encourages the children of God, and brings the light into the darkness. Jesus refers to this Advocate, the Paraclete, as the ‘Spirit of Truth.’”

Bishop Johnston concluded, “St. Paul describes how the Holy Spirit works… manifesting the power and the glory and the holiness of God “for the common good.” The Spirit also pours the love of God into our hearts … where our true strength lies. As St. Thomas More says in A Man for All Seasons, ‘… finally . . . it isn’t a matter of reason, finally it’s a matter of love.’

“… God’s Word reminds us that to be a better attorney, a better judge, a better clerk, a better politician or priest … to be better in any vocation or profession, we must first commit ourselves, with God’s grace, to be better Christians. If we do, we’ll find that ever so gradually, the twilight will recede, and we will begin to discover that it was not the twilight of dusk, but of dawn.”

The keynote speaker at the Friday night banquet was Kansas governor Sam Brownback. His talk, in part, concerned the need and importance for a community of people to walk with through life, sharing and growing in faith.

The Charles Rice Memorial Lecture, Saturday night, was delivered by Hadley Arkes, Professor of Jurisprudence-Emeritus at Amherst College, author and writer. The author of several books, he also writes for the James Lowell Society and for First Things.

He converted from Judaism to Catholicism in 2010, which he called the fulfillment of his Judaism. His talk was laced with humor.

He spoke of the late Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia; natural law — the canons of reason on which we base our faith principles, the rules of common sense that underlie our basic beliefs; the fact that the judges have offered no moral argument or challenge to abortion or to protect the child who survives abortion and other aspects of Roe v Wade; same sex marriage and transgender issues.

Natural law, he said, is not a theory; it is “an axiom that underlines and defines practical judgment.”

The Constitution is the framework of the nation’s laws. Arkes referred the “first principles” of the Constitution through John Locke’s “string of questions” – What is the source of the law? The legislature. What is the source of the legislature? The Constitution. What is the source of the Constitution? “Something holy, antecedent to the positive law involving the right of the people to determine the points of their own governance.” In other words, precepts of natural law, which he said, ordinary people at the time of the Revolution and of Lincoln “readily” understood.

The CBA conference concluded Oct. 30. During the closing Mass, its leadership was consecrated.

CBA President Joshua McCaig was pleased with the success of the inaugural conference. He told The Key that “One of the primary reasons driving the establishment of the Catholic Bar Association was … to establish a community for members of the legal profession where we can grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. The attendance … far exceeded our expectations, and more people are signing up each day as new members, which is an encouragement to all of us that this organization is needed in the Church and that there is a desire by attorneys to walk this professional path with the support of those who share in the Christian faith.”

He said the most amazing thing about the conference was the attendees, “truly an amazing group of people.”

Several attorneys also commented. Robert Dunn, the New Hampshire delegate to the St. Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty, said the highlight was meeting lawyers from all over the country who shared a sense of the way their Catholic faith is integrated into their work … “It is invigorating to be reminded of how much you have in common with folks who otherwise are complete strangers. Gatherings like this help to foster what Pope Francis calls ‘missionary enthusiasm.’”

He thinks “an international association of Catholic lawyers is essential because Catholic lawyers are so well-placed to promote human dignity and the common good in society. … we tend to have close relationships with opinion-leaders and policy-makers. … we have a unique capability to speak up on behalf of the poor and defenseless who have no power or influence at all. … modern society insists that faith and reason belong in separate places … we have our feet planted in the world of faith and in the world of reason, … are in exactly the right place to serve as ambassadors of the Catholic perspective that faith and reason belong together. The CBA is a logical center of gravity to help make these things happen.”

Brian Bergin, Phoenix delegate to the Society, was impressed that an inaugural conference received such an enthusiastic response. “Clearly, Catholic lawyers have been thirsting for a national organization to facilitate the integration of their faith with their profession. … desperately have needed an orthodox national network through which they can communicate, fellowship, express positions on national issues, and better serve the Church.”

Linda Carroll, Central Pennsylvania delegate to the Society, said, “The CBA is important to give a platform for a united voice. There is strength in numbers; many … do not want to be silent any longer. I am looking forward to sharing resources and being kept up to date with what is happening in various parts of the nation.

“There is an informal code of silence that we all sense. The challenge is no different for attorneys than it is for others of faith … many of us have the … problem of figuring out how to follow our faith in the face of today’s issues when the law is not consistent with our faith. Tolerance for the faithful has all but disappeared. We have all taken a vow to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. How do you defend it when its meaning is constantly being changed by the SCOTUS?”

Bergin agreed, saying, “As our secularized culture races to abandon notions of objective truth, it seeks to marginalize and attack Catholic lawyers. It is critical … that Catholic lawyers gather, pray, strengthen one another and be heard.”

Dunn added, “…. the challenge … society presents to Catholic lawyers is the same challenge it presents to all Christians. We believe that the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated ‘on earth as it is in heaven;’ … modern society is quite happy to conceive of the kingdom as something … other-worldly (if it exists at all). The challenge is to be credible witnesses in our … professional lives so that folks will want to know more about our hope in … Jesus Christ.”

Thomas Brandt – Dallas delegate to the Society and CBA board member, said it is “… wonderful to know we aren’t alone as we face the … challenges of integrating faith and … work in a culture … increasingly hostile to people of faith. The CBA … a community of support and encouragement and … a unified voice for … concerns about issues in society that touch on matters of … faith. Faithful Catholic lawyers, like faithful Catholics in general, can certainly feel marginalized by certain powerful forces in society which contend that their faith is irrational, hateful and an impediment to progress.”

McCaig said, “The Holy Spirit brought the right people together for this gathering. We welcome all legal professionals from across the world to join us in the Catholic Bar Association.”

To learn more about the Catholic Bar Association, visit 


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November 29, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph