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Catholic Voice
May 23, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Delta Deanery making
Oakland cathedral pilgrimage

Faithful pass through the
Door of Mercy

Faith and survival mark St. Barnabas
at 90th anniversary
Free legal clinic to open at cathedral

Attorney Tom Greerty at the entrance to the new legal clinic.

One of the lasting aspects of this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is the establishment of the Pope Francis Legal Clinic at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland.

The clinic, which will offer mediation, reconciliation and resolution, has been in the planning for more than two years. It will open with a Mass and blessing of the clinic, which is in the chancery building adjacent to the cathedral, at 5:30 p.m. June 4. Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, will preside.

The clinic will be staffed entirely by volunteers, who will provide their assistance at no charge.

The clinic is expected to offer counsel and advice regarding employment, housing, probate and financial disputes. While Catholic Charities of the East Bay already has a robust presence in immigration law, the Pope Francis Legal Clinic will be able to offer counsel.

Tom Greerty, who last year retired from his longtime practice in Martinez, created the clinic as his capstone project, culminating his five years of part-time study at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. He received his master of theological studies degree this month.

"It's a work of the Diocese of Oakland," said Greerty, who directs the clinic. "A work of mercy, really."

The directive from the bishop was clear, Greerty said. "He has emphasized he wants this to be a place of reconciliation and a place of mercy," he said. "He wants us to use our skills to try and get reconciliation for people."

From its beginnings as an idea two years ago, the legal clinic — which was named by the bishop — grew to recruit a panel of attorneys who will meet with the public, as well as a group of attorneys who are willing to act as consultants.

Opening event

Blessing and dedication of the Pope Francis Legal Clinic

When: June 4, Mass, 5:30 p.m.
Followed by blessing of The Pope Francis Legal Clinic

Clinic Hours after June 4: Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., by appointment only
The name of the clinic came from the bishop. "I want it to be called the Pope Francis Legal Clinic," Greerty said the bishop told him.

The Order of Malta, which operates the medical clinic on the cathedral grounds, assisted in the rearrangement of space in the chancery to accommodate the clinic.

Greerty acknowledged the efforts of Tony Sanchez-Corea in creating the space, which includes a conference room and small reception area.

Greerty said Ken Hokenson, the former executive director for mission advancement of the diocese, put him in touch with Nico Herrera, another attorney who lives in the diocese who expressed interest in forming a legal clinic. Herrera has been recruiting volunteers to staff the clinic which, for starters, will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Appointments will be made by telephone; at this time, there is no walk-in availability.

Greerty credits courses he took at the Dominican School, particularly philosophical anthropology with Rev. Michael Dodds, OP, and Catholic social teaching, with Sister Marianne Farina, CSC, with helping him develop the plan for the clinic.

"In an encounter with a client, you listen, gather the facts, ask questions," he said. "You look to what Aristotle would call the universal reasoning that is always true in human nature.

"You use your skill to find out what kind of a problem it is legally, and what the ramifications are and what the potential outcomes are.

"And then you use that special gift of Catholic imagination. Catholic imagination is like imagination on steroids. You look to what could be a better outcome than what the situation is."

Greerty offers a hypothetical case: Mary comes into the clinic.

She lives in the East Bay in a three-bedroom house with her husband who is elderly, her son, her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. The son and daughter-in-law are separated, not divorced and the following complaints are:

The son curses loudly in the house even against his own father; he smokes in the house; drinks whiskey to excess; tries to have his new girlfriend come over and stay with him in "his" room; and gets behind in contributing to the family.

The mother has had enough, and they are behind on their mortgage. Is there anything we can do?

"There are all kinds of questions there," Greerty said. "That might require a home visit. We might have to go to the house some Saturday morning. We're not going to go to court for them. We're not going to litigate.

"A perfect outcome for us: Write up an agreement, and everybody signs it: There will not be a referral to one of our consultants," who would be able to get him evicted. "In exchange for that, you can stay there under the following conditions: A smoking porch will be created on the front porch and back porch but he will not smoke in the house. No whiskey is brought into the house. No more cursing at his father. The girlfriend is forbidden to come inside the house. He's to be respectful to his parents."

There would be 10 conditions, listed, and everybody signs it.

"That's an example of the way the imagination is used. How can peace be restored in that house and maintained."

Among the attorneys who have already volunteered to join Greerty and Herrera on the panel are: Bernard Cummins, Steve Burke, Thomas Hockel, Ethan Niedermeyer, Veronica Guinto, Steve Walker, Cyrus Johnson and Laura Seidl.

Among those who have offered to be consultants, Greerty said, are John Christian, Matt Guichard, Dan O'Malley and Lance Russum.

Establishment of the clinic is a response to Pope Francis' call to do more for our sisters and brothers on the periphery, Bishop Barber said in a letter announcing the legal clinic. Acknowledging Catholic Charities' work on immigration issues, the bishop said, "I believed we as a diocese could do more."

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