Antonin Scalia (flickr user pennstatenews).

Another prominent Catholic gives a lengthy interview, but this time, it’s not the pope.

Justice Antonin Scalia talked to New York magazine. The full text is here and it’s worth a read. Below, some excerpts on topics of religion and faith.

The 27-year veteran of the highest court had some thoughts on Pope Francis:

What do you make of the new pope? 
He’s the Vicar of Christ. He’s the chief. I don’t run down the pope.

I’m not inviting you to run down the pope. But what do you think of his recent comments, that the church ought to focus less on divisive issues and more on helping the poor? 
I think he’s absolutely right. I think the church ought to be more evangelistic.

But he also wanted to steer its emphasis away from homosexuality and abortion. 
Yeah. But he hasn’t backed off the view of the church on those issues. He’s just saying, “Don’t spend all our time talking about that stuff. Talk about Jesus Christ and evangelize.” I think there’s no indication whatever that he’s changing doctrinally.

I spent my 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. And if this pope brings it back, all the better.

Scalia said he doesn’t care about his legacy, noting that when he’s gone, he’ll either be “sublimely happy or terribly unhappy,” which led to discussion of heaven and hell, angels and demons:

You believe in heaven and hell? 
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?

Oh, my.

Does that mean I’m not going? 
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!

Wait, to heaven or hell? 
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.

But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it? 
Of course not!

Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God. 
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?

Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

You do?
 Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there … 
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
 You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

It’s because he’s smart.

So what’s he doing now? 
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

Which turned to atheism:

That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the ­Devil’s work? 
I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.

Well, you’re saying the Devil is ­persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe? 
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.

 What happened to him?

He just got wilier. 
He got wilier.

Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil? 
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.
I was offended by that. I really was.

I’m sorry to have offended you! 
Have you read The Screwtape Letters?

Yes, I have.
 So, there you are. That’s a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature.

There was also some talk on homosexuality:

The one thing I did think, as he said those somewhat welcoming things to gay men and women, is, Huh, this really does show how much our world has changed. I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change.
 I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.

Have any of them come out to you? 
No. No. Not that I know of.

Has your personal attitude softened some?
 Toward what?

I don’t think I’ve softened. I don’t know what you mean by softened.

If you talk to your grandchildren, they have different opinions from you about this, right? 
I don’t know about my grandchildren. I know about my children. I don’t think they and I differ very much. But I’m not a hater of homosexuals at all. I still think it’s Catholic teaching that it’s wrong. Okay? But I don’t hate the people that engage in it. In my legal opinions, all I’ve said is that I don’t think the Constitution requires the people to adopt one view or the other.

One of Scalia’s nine children, Paul, is a Catholic priest who has spoken out against rights for gay and lesbian people, writing in First Things that gay adolescents shouldn’t be identified as gay or lesbian because to do so would signal the “approval of homosexuality.”

Finally, the New York Times highlights a couple of cases dealing with religion that will appear before the court:

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND RELIGION In McCullen v. Coakley, anti-abortion protesters are challenging a Massachusetts law that sets a 35-foot “buffer zone” around health care clinics where abortions are performed. The Supreme Court upheld a similar buffer zone in 2000, but the protesters in this case say the law discriminates against them based on their point of view. That earlier ruling may not survive because four of the justices in the 2000 majority have left the court.

In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the court will decide whether the First Amendment permits a prayer before a town board meeting. A 30-year-old Supreme Court decision says that nonsectarian legislative prayers do not violate the Constitution, but in this case, all but a handful of the prayers were performed by Christian clergy. The question is whether this will make a difference to the justices.

Categories: Beliefs, Culture, Ethics, Institutions, Politics

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O’Loughlin writes about religion and politics from Washington, D.C., paying close attention to the role of the Catholic Church in public life. His writing has appeared in Religion & Politics, the Jesuit magazine America, on, and in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership.


  1. CarrotCakeMan

    Scalia routinely refers to loving, committed same gender American couples by an epithet plus a vulgar term for a sex act that mixed-sex couples enjoy as well. And he thinks we’d believe that he is “not a hater of” LGBT Americans? He can’t even use a respectful name.

    Or did Mr. O’Loughlin, or the New York Magazine interviewer, edit out Scalia’s cruder remarks?

    • Could it be, CarrotCake, that behind Scalia’s alleged vulgar remarks lies enmity for what is generally known to be the aim of all the vocal LGBT “spokespeople”: the abolition of the very concept of marriage? If you doubt this assertion, please visit some of the more vigorous gay websites and bloggers.

      It is one thing to legislate rights of homosexuals living together; it is quite another thing to redefine marriage.

      • How, in the name of heaven or earth, do you come to the ridiculous conclusion that just because gay people expect and demand the same rights regarding love and marriage and everything else that straight people have legislated for themselves that the result is any kind of infringement on what you consider “the very concept of marriage,” much less its abolition.

        That is a stretch beyond any reality, and it is integral to the ignorance that contributes to all the ugly bigotry and prejudice toward gays. It’s the same as the history of racial prejudice. After all, whether same-sex orientation is genetic, cultural, or both, it is straights who “make” gays and then are so ready to throw them away. How very Christian! How very religious!

  2. Danny Berry, NYC

    He sounds just like the rabid teenager who’s just gotten religion – and then never reflected on what he had been taught or what he actually believes a day in his life ever since. Utter childishness.

  3. Michael O’Loughlin asked Scalia what he thought of Francis’ concern about helping the poor and giving less attention to divisive issues was answered with typical Scalia diversion. Scalia responded that he thought the church should be more evangelistic. That is not a concentration on the poor. It is just as with Scalia’s work on the Supreme

    Court. He is divisive with his own narrow, super-conservative judicial evangelism. Scalia did not answer O’Loughlin’s question. If any lawyer before a court on which Scalia sat provided a non-answere like that, Scalia would have called him on it. Scalia has shown throughout his career that he cares nothing about ordinary people, especially the poor. Study how his decisions have always been on the side of the wealthy.

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