Justice Antonin Scalia: A very traditional Catholic

by Maureen Fiedler

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There have been thousands of words written about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on Feb. 13. Most describe his political and legal views, which were very conservative. But I have read very little about his religious beliefs. And they were easily as conservative as his legal views.

Scalia was a Roman Catholic, one of six on the Supreme Court. But Scalia was a very traditional Roman Catholic. He was not comfortable with the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. He was so traditional that, in fact, he searched out and attended a Tridentine Mass in Latin when he lived in Chicago, and later in Washington, D.C. Reportedly, he travelled to St. Catherine of Siena church in Great Falls, Va., to attend a Latin Mass -- a distance from Washington, D.C. 

And of course, he was married with nine children. "Being a devout Catholic means you have children when God gives them to you," he told his biographer, Joan Biskupic. One of his sons, Paul, entered the priesthood.  

He admired evangelism. He once told a reporter about his journey home from his junior year in Switzerland. "On the way back home, I spent some time in England, and I remember going to Hyde Park Corner. And there was a Roman Catholic priest in his collar, standing on a soapbox, preaching the Catholic faith and being heckled by a group. And I thought, My goodness. I thought that was admirable. I have often bemoaned the fact that the Catholic Church has sort of lost that evangelistic spirit."

He maintained, however, that his religious views did not seep over into his judicial opinions. According to reporting by Tom Gjelten of NPR, he was a staunch opponent of abortion -- at the federal level. He disagreed with Roe v. Wade (which legalized abortion nationwide), but he said that states could legally permit abortion because it was not prohibited in the Constitution.

It's not clear why, but he not attend the pope's address to Congress in September 2015. Although he recognized Pope Francis as the "Vicar of Christ" on earth, it is possible that he found Pope Francis too progressive for his tastes -- although he never said so on the record.

He may have been a staunch legal conservative, but he befriended Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and others on the court with whom he disagreed. In our world today, there is something admirable about such behavior -- on his part, and Justice Ginsberg's.  

In a 2010 interview, however, he said, "I don't think there's any such thing as a Catholic judge. The only article in faith that plays any part in my judging is the commandment, 'Thou Shalt Not Lie.'"

Justice Antonin Scalia ... I disagreed with probably 95 percent of his opinions ... but may he rest in peace!

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