Japanese Bishops vs Jury Duty

18 06 2009

or as it is called here being a lay judge or citizen judge 0_O.  At any rate the Japanese bishops have interpreted (for right or wrong) the Code of Canon Law to mean that all Catholic bishops, priests, and religious here must not serve on a jury even if it means they are penalized!  First the article

TOKYO, June 18 (AP) – (Kyodo)—The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan on Thursday urged clergy not to become citizen judges since doing so may go against the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, its officials said.

MAY  go against not DOES  go against.

The Code of Canon Law stipulates that clerics are forbidden to assume duties that entail participation in the exercise of civil power.

Does it?  Let`s check!

§3. Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power. source

I am  not a canon lawyer so I can only wonder if being a juror is a type of public office.  My own guess though is that the term public office usually means civil servant such as being a city councilman or mayor, and not a juror.

The bishops’ conference is requiring around 8,000 Catholic bishops, priests and monks in Japan not to comply with subpoenas to serve as citizen judges even if their action results in a fine, according to the officials.

“We expect our clerics to fulfill their religious obligations by refraining from public duties associated with secular authorities,” an organization official said.

Wow.  What about render unto Caesar?

Some 450,000 church members are to be allowed to decide whether to serve as lay judges based on their conscience, with the bishops’ conference supporting them if on religious grounds they choose not to serve in cases where a death sentence may be handed down.

In the lay judge system that started last month, six citizen judges join three professional judges in examining serious criminal cases, such as murder, and deciding upon sentencing.

There is so much to this such as the correct interpretation of the CCL and the whole issue of a type of jury system being introduced here.  I did find precedence though of a bishop in the United States serving on a jury and it seems he didnt get in trouble.

Bishop Zubik answers the call to jury duty

Friday, June 27, 2008
By Gabrielle Banks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The bishop raised his right hand yesterday, and, along with 13 fellow jurors, swore “by almighty God, the searcher of all hearts” to render a true verdict.

Thus began Bishop David Zubik’s first day serving on an Allegheny County jury and fulfilling what Common Pleas Judge Kathleen A. Durkin reminded the panel of nine women and five men was “one of the most solemn duties of citizenship”: to sit in judgment of a fellow citizen.

Mr. Knorr said “it was a slam dunk to accept [the bishop] as a juror” because of his vast understanding of the human experience, but added, “I think its important to treat him as another juror.” In a biblical reference to abiding by one’s lay duties, he said Bishop Zubik “is rendering to Caesar today.”

His spokesman, Rev. Ronald P. Lengwin, said although he has a packed schedule, the bishop is “very pleased he was not dismissed” from duty. He “thinks that it’s a privilege to serve on the jury” and “contribute to the well being of the community.”



4 responses

18 06 2009

I don’t think jury duty, even in Japan, can be considered a public office. Perhaps the bishops were looking at a Japanese translation of the CCL—who knows how much or how little the Japanese translation grasps the meaning of the original Latin (the Latin version being the only valid CCL).

19 06 2009
a NY Priest

There are canonical reasons why priests and religious should not sit on juries, but also pastoral reasons. For example, by sitting on a jury and judging according to the civil law the priest puts himself in an adversarial position to a member of his parish, in re or in spe. While the person may certainly deserve to be condemned according to the law, it is important for spiritual reasons that they regard the clergy as “on their side” and willing to forgive.

Moreover, I believe that before the conversion of the Roman Emperor, clergy were forbidden to take on government roles. Christian laymen who held political office usually became “irregular” and so could not be accepted for holy orders.

20 06 2009
Anthony OPL

First of all, I have to ask whether the position of “lay judge” really is the direct equivalent of what we in the Common Law world call “jury duty”. Are there no differences at all in function, or is it purely nominal?

If there are distinctions on function, it is possible that the bishops have seen deeper into the CIC (the commonly-used abbreviation for “Codex Iuris Canonici”) than you or I could. After all, we’re not Japanese.

Secondly, the comment above hit the question square on the head. Any cleric sitting in the jury in a civil court, especially in a country which does not have a Christian majority (let alone a completely pagan heritage) would confuse the role of clerics in the minds of the laity.

Virtually all clerics (especially bishops) are excused from performing jury duty for the same reasons as doctors. Their duties to the people in their care are too important to suffer interruption. The example you have given is clearly a bishop who is willingly undertaking jury duty to make a pastoral point, despite the option to be exempt.

26 06 2009
Fr. Dismas, OP

It seems to me that we are usually dismissed from jury duty in the states, mostly because either side believes that rightly or wrongly (or more accurate for or against them), we would unduly swing our fellow jurors.

I would humbly counsel the Japanese conference of bishops to send all details to the Holy See and ask for clarification.

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