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

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IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

By Mark Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (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 Washington.

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. Vaghi.

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 buddies.”

“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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