Scalia’s views strayed from Catholic teaching (COMMENTARY)

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Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Antonin Scalia talks with Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the conclusion of the annual Red Mass held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, on September 30, 2012. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Benjamin Myers   
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MILLER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Feb. 18, 2016.

Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Antonin Scalia talks with Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the conclusion of the annual Red Mass held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, on September 30, 2012. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Benjamin Myers *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MILLER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Feb. 18, 2016.

(RNS) Much has been said about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in light of his death over the weekend, including his deep Catholic faith. What does it really mean to live out one’s life as a Catholic in the public eye?

This week I thought of Pope Francis’ speech to Congress this past fall, when he lifted up the stories of four Americans, two of whom were Catholic. Was Justice Scalia a faithful Catholic voice in the political sphere? What does a life of faith and good works entail? As I explored these questions I took a closer look at some of Justice Scalia’s positions that are important to the Catholic Church in light of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ voting guide “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”


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The bench of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is seen draped with black wool crepe in memoriam inside the Supreme Court in Washington, on February 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlos Barria *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MILLER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Feb. 18, 2016.

The bench of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is seen draped with black wool crepe in memoriam inside the Supreme Court on Feb. 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlos Barria
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MILLER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Feb. 18, 2016.

Justice Scalia’s view on abortion was well-known: He was fundamentally against it, as is the Catholic Church, which calls abortion an “intrinsic evil” in its Faithful Citizenship document. But Faithful Citizenship also states that other life issues, among them war and torture, can “never be justified.” Antonin Scalia was a proponent of torture, stating that those who are against it are merely being “self-righteous.” As the United States’ use of torture has been during wartime, one might wonder what Justice Scalia’s thoughts were on war and peace as well.

Faithful Citizenship listed racism as another issue that can never be justified, and yet Justice Scalia made headlines at the end of 2015 when he made troubling and racially tinged comments about African-American students, stating that:

There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.”

“One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

One wonders who exactly the “they” are that Justice Scalia is referring to in his statement who claim that African-American students would benefit from going to a school that isn’t “too fast.”

Another issue where Justice Scalia differed from the institutional church was capital punishment. In “Evangelium Vitae,” or “The Gospel of Life,” Pope John Paul II stated that capital punishment should only occur under the most extreme circumstances, and that due to modern conditions today, it would probably not be acceptable under any circumstance. Justice Scalia, on the other hand, once said at an event at the Pew Research Center that “You want to have a fair death penalty? You kill; you die. That’s fair.”

It’s certainly true that in today’s political world, with issues that put people into right or left boxes, no Catholic would have a true political home if one were to weigh all of the issues, especially with the issues that are most important to the Catholic Church.

As someone who works in faith-based advocacy, I often struggle with how to most effectively be a Catholic voice in all aspects of my life, and to speak to issues in a way that is authentically Catholic, from abortion and capital punishment to war and torture, to racism and helping the poor and marginalized.


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I also wonder how prudent it is to lift Justice Scalia up as an authentically Catholic voice, when many of his political views were not in line with Catholic teaching. I don’t doubt the man’s faith, but I wonder about allowing his and other Catholic voices in the political sphere to be labeled as an authentic Catholic voice.

Jason Miller photo courtesy of Jason Miller

Jason L. Miller is director of campaigns and development at the Franciscan Action Network. Photo courtesy of Jason Miller

The four Americans Francis mentioned to Congress bridged political divides and often defied being put into boxes: Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. As I reflect on how to best live out my faith in the public sphere, I must follow the example of the pope and the Americans he mentioned and try to bridge political divides and resist being put into one political box or another. And while I respect the intelligence and Catholic faith of Justice Scalia, I will be wary of anyone who lifts up his voice as authentically Catholic.

(Jason L. Miller is director of campaigns and development at the Franciscan Action Network)

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  • eddie.clever

    Scalia joked about “conspiracy theorists” with Vince Foster murder.
    http://www.fbicover-up.com/scalia.html

  • Dorothy Mensah-Aggrey

    Thank you, Jason for pointing out the obvious.

  • James Brady

    Attack a dead Justice that was a faithful Catholic while forgetting 5 other “catholics” who violate Church Teaching with impunity? Your hypocrisy is duly noted.

  • Gerald C. Paris

    Justice Scalia didn’t stray from Catholic teaching. He ignored the Vatican II teaching of the Catholic Church and remained a Traditional Catholic. There are other Catholics on the Supreme Court who violate Catholic teaching with impunity. You couldn’t make a good patch on Justice Scalia’s judicial robe.

  • Mike

    James, I’m afraid you’re arguments require more evidence before you can claim that Justice Scalia’s views were contrary to Catholic teachings. Taking one sentence or even one phrase (“self-righteous”) of his without the surrounding context really doesn’t tell me his position.

    Regarding the Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, you’ve taken what it states quite out of context. It states “Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.” Note that it does not say that war is never justified. In fact, the Church recognizes there are times when war is necessary, provided it meets the requirements for what it terms a just war.

    Before you accuse someone of straying from Catholic teaching, it would be wise to know it yourself.

  • derek

    I fail to see how this is being hypocritical.If someone ‘attacks’ one lame guy who happens to be Catholic – whether dead or living, why must one also ‘attack’ all the rest of them? After all, the others are not the topic of the conversation – only one is – and that one is Scalia.

  • Mike

    Forgive me James (commenter), I was responding to the author. And, Jason, forgive me for not getting your name right.

  • Karen

    It was interesting to me that a devout Catholic could so vehemently hold to the death penalty. I have a devoutly Catholic friend who does and it seems a contradiction in terms.

  • Karen

    That is a self-righteous statement. He wasn’t writing about tnem. Also, what makes you the arbiter of what Catholic tracking is or is not? How many encyclicals have YOU read?

  • yoh

    Hmm an overweight 79 year old smoker dies of a heart attack and the first thing some nutterbutters can come up with is conspiracy theories.

    The issue is not how Scalia died, its what kept him alive so long.

  • yoh

    That would be a violation of the entire Catholic Church’s concept of papal infallibility. That on all issues of the church the Pope is the first and last word. Traditional Catholic in your terms would be considered a reactionary dissenter from the church.

    But then again, who am I to expect a degree of intellectual honesty from people trying to justify given religious beliefs?

  • Dam Stewart

    Mike – The just war doctrine of the Catholic Church, found in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2309), lists four strict conditions for “legitimate defense by military force.” They can be found here:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_war_theory

    Please review these four conditions and let James and the rest of us know which, if any, of the US wars that Scalia supported met the Church’s criteria for a just war.

  • Dam Stewart

    James Brady – So, by your lights, it’s impermissible to discuss a public figure’s life upon the occasion of his passing without giving equal discussion to his living contemporaries?

    Or, is it that one’s compliance with Church doctrine can only be measured by the compliance of his contemporaries?

    And, is any question raised about a public figure’s life that may yield an unflattering answer necessarily an “attack”?

  • Dam Stewart

    Mike – I understood the author’s quote of Scalia calling opponents of torture “self-righteous” as merely an example of his well-documented support for torture. If it is your contention that Scalia did not support torture, a quick Google search will settle any such question with a trove of reputable links to sources of written and video documentation demonstrating beyond cavil that Scalia not only supported torture as a layman, but also as a jurist (there is no Constitutional right not to be tortured).

    Your own supplied citation from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship appear to confirm that support for torture strays from Church teachings.

    “Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.”

  • Mike

    Dam, my sole intent was to point out that the author had misrepresented the Faithful Citizenship document and did not provide thorough evidence of Scalia’s positions relative to doctrine. It was not to support Scalia’s views or reject them. I’ll take your advice and do another Google search (the first brought me here) to find such evidence.

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