Cardinal, chaplain praise Scalia as man of faith, family and the law

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

By Mark Zimmermann

(CNS) — The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s devotion to his
Catholic faith and his family, and his dedication to serving the law and his
country, make him a role model for public servants of all faiths, Washington
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said in a Feb. 16 interview.

“Justice Scalia spoke of
himself as a man devoted to his wife and family, committed to the practice of
law and a believing disciple of the Lord. All of that enhanced his ability to
carry out his public service on the Supreme Court,” the cardinal told the
Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper.

“His commitment to family,
his dedication to the law and his personal religious faith are all elements that
enrich our culture and society. In all of this, he was, for many, a true model.”

Cardinal Wuerl also noted how Scalia,
who died Feb. 13, each year faithfully attended the Red Mass at the Cathedral
of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. That annual liturgy on the Sunday
before the Supreme Court begins its term is celebrated to seek God’s blessing
and the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the administration of justice.

“To all who knew Justice
Antonin Scalia, it was clear that he was a man of faith,” the cardinal
said. “His annual presence at the Red Mass was always his personal
testimony to the importance of God and prayer in his life. Invoking the gift of
the Holy Spirit was for him a personal act of belief in God’s presence at work
in our life and the wisdom of God probing our heart and lending light to our
human knowledge.”

The cardinal added, “In
conversations with him, it was clear to me that he regularly opened his heart
to the Lord.”

Washington’s archbishop said the
late Supreme Court justice was also shaped by his Catholic education. Justice
Scalia graduated as the valedictorian in his class from two Jesuit schools -–
Xavier High School in Manhattan, New York, and Georgetown University in
Washington, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history before later earning
his law degree from Harvard.

“Justice Scalia’s
education, putting him in contact with the great Judeo-Christian tradition,
included as well an introduction into an understanding of the best of human
wisdom,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

One year after being confirmed
as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, Scalia addressed the John Carroll
Society, a group of Catholic professional women and men in the Archdiocese of

In that 1987 address, Scalia said,
“A good government should not impede the religious practices of its people.
… Its main function is here, ensuring a safe, just and cooperative society.”
Those two different spheres, church and state, are “interdependent but
separate,” he said.

Scalia “clearly understood
the limits of government in attempting to intrude into the faith life of
believers and the limits of any individual faith community in identifying
itself with the state,” said Cardinal Wuerl.

Msgr. Peter Vaghi, the longtime
chaplain of the John Carroll Society and a friend of Scalia, also praised him
as a man of faith and a family man. “His Catholic faith guided his life.
He was a family man. He had nine children and 36 grandchildren. He was a man of
great integrity, bigger than life. … He was an extraordinary jurist.”

Scalia’s attendance at the annual
Red Mass each year underscored the importance of prayer in his life. The
justice was an honorary member of the John Carroll Society and received the
society’s medal.

The priest, who also is pastor
of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland, said that Scalia’s
Italian-American roots “were very much a part of his life.”

“I’m Italian American, and
he was the first Italian American to be on the Supreme Court. That was a great
source of pride to so many of us who are Italian American,” said Msgr.

The priest also commented on Scalia’s
friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is Jewish and a liberal. The two were usually were on
opposing sides in Supreme Court decisions, but the two justices went to the
opera and on vacations together, once even riding an elephant together in
India. After Scalia died, Ginsburg issued a statement saying they had been “best

“It was representative of
the way things used to be in Washington,” Msgr. Vaghi said, noting how in
bygone days, members of Congress from opposing parties would debate issues, and
then socialize together afterward. “One can differ and disagree on issues,
but still respect each other as individuals. We’ve come a long way from that,”
the priest said.

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Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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