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Saint of the Day: St. Hildegard of Bingen

Scalia’s Faith

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 02/14/16

TIME magazine notes that when Antonin Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court, Catholics were a distinct minority there. Now, they are a majority, and Scalia’s influence, often informed by his Catholic faith and Jesuit education, has been significant:

Richard Garnett, a professor of law at Notre Dame, recalls that Scalia was appointed during a time when Catholic justices were so rare that people still talked about there being a designated “Catholic seat” on the bench. During Scalia’s three-decade tenure, that number has tripled—Catholics are now the bench’s majority. Five others are also Catholic: Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas. It’s a reality that would have been unthinkable for much of America’s history, especially as the Catholic justices span a range of religious and judicial views. …Scalia was no stranger to debate over how he lived as a Catholic and ruled as a justice, especially on matters like abortion and marriage, when his positions aligned with Catholic social doctrine and on the death penalty, where his views diverged. Scalia often made a point of publicly distinguishing between the two parts of his life. In 2002, Scalia analyzed the morality of the death penalty in an article written for First Things, a journal for religion and public life. Whether the death penalty is morally acceptable is “a matter of great consequence to me,” he wrote. “The death penalty is undoubtedly wrong unless one accords to the state a scope of moral action that goes beyond what is permitted to the individual,” he explained. “I do not find the death penalty immoral. I am happy to have reached that conclusion, because I like my job, and would rather not resign.” …“A big part of his legacy will be how navigated the relationship between one’s deeply held faith commitments and one’s role as a judge,” Garnett, of Notre Dame, says. “

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He spoke at length about his faith in an interview two years ago with the traditionalist journal The Remnant:

As a young boy, Scalia’s mother was the devout Catholic parent in the family; his father did not attend Mass, not an uncommon trait amongst Sicilian men of that era, but as he aged, Gene Scalia became increasingly devout and conservative, a rarity amongst the professoriate at Brooklyn College to be sure. It was at Xavier, a Jesuit high school in New York City, that the young Antonin Scalia became “a serious Catholic,” very much influenced by the “thoroughly religious atmosphere of the school” and the many young Jesuit priests who taught him. Attendance at the school’s retreat held at the end of the school year deepened his Catholic convictions to the point that Scalia, who was to graduate as class valedictorian, thought seriously about entering the priesthood. However, the recognition that he was an only child with no cousins on his father’s side meant the disappearance of the family name, something that the future Justice recognized would deeply upset his parents, and which led him to consider another profession. That decision would be made at Georgetown University: the law. “Georgetown University is not Catholic anymore,” the Justice said, but in the 1950s, “they rolled you out of bed to attend Mass. Not anymore.” …One little vignette still fondly remembered by the Justice harks back to what Georgetown was. At his final oral exam prior to receiving his degree (History), Scalia was breezing along when Dr. Wilkinson, the chairman of the department who presided over the three professor panel, asked this question: What was the most important event in the history of the world? The confident candidate thought, “I have done very well up to here and there is no wrong answer to this one,” but as he responded Prof. Wilkinson continued to shake his head signaling that the student had it all wrong. Was it the Battle of Waterloo, or the Greek valor at Thermopylae? The panel member remained unimpressed with the candidate’s answers. Finally, Dr. Wilkinson replied: “Mr. Scalia it was the Incarnation, when Christ became a man that is the correct answer.” One seriously doubts that Dr. Wilkinson’s question is ever asked at Georgetown examinations today, and if it were, clearly his response would no longer be considered correct. Despite his answer, Antonin Scalia graduated from Georgetown U. summa cum laude, no mean feat in those days in which grades were not “curved,” and no one had ever heard of “grade inflation.”

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