Friday, October 5, 2012

Is the Washington D.C. Catholic Red Mass A Threat To American Democracy ?

President John F. Kennedy Departs Church After Attending 1961 Red Mass

Non Catholic Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and  non Catholic Chief Justice Earl Warren Arrive to Attend 1961 Red Mass

Marie Griffith is  Director, John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics , and editor of Religion & Politics.

She has an article up at that site entitled When Church and State Collide: The Supreme Court Goes to Mass . The above pics I included because of the last part where John Kennedy is invoked in her article . ( NOTE for clarity there is no obligation for a Catholic Judge to attend a Red Mass though there is one for attending Mass period. ).

Before getting to the substance of her article a little history is in order. From these two sources here and here we gleam some history of the ancient Red Mass.

In other words the Red Mass is linked to some ancient origins of our both our Common and Civil  law tradition in the United States.

A background to this year Red Mass and well as the full text of the homily that is slightly mentioned in the piece can be found at Rocco Palmo's site . I thought for all the issues that Griffith mentions that the Church is involved in  it was pretty remarkably tame homily politics wise.

I also  thought the Archbishop did a pretty good job of having to balance his priestly obligation to actually preach on the  Sunday readings and give a message to both a Catholic and non Catholic crowd.

Griffith states :

Last Sunday, September 30, witnessed one of the most vivid and, to many, disturbing examples of this religion/politics paradox. On the day prior to the opening of the new term of the U.S. Supreme Court, six out of the nine current Supreme Court justices, along with members of President Obama’s cabinet, members of Congress, and members of the law profession attended the 60th annual Red Mass, a Catholic worship service held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.

I really wonder how many people find this disturbing. Besides Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and one episode of the FICTIONAL West Wing TV show I have never heard many people being disturbed.

We get to the crux of her piece :

At Religion & Politics, we welcome all viewpoints, on the conviction that ‘tis better to air strong arguments openly and civilly than to foster likeminded cliques that echo and leave unchallenged one another’s biases. Challenge me, do, but I must register deep discomfort with the cozy government-church embrace represented by the Red Mass in Washington D.C. However well intentioned, the attendance of 2/3 of the U.S. Supreme Court at a holy service that explicitly promotes the Catholic faith sends a bewildering message to citizens who hold other religious beliefs, and those with no religion at all. Perhaps the real question to ask is why some Supreme Court justices who clearly disagree with current Catholic pronouncements on political matters that divide the court—or who disagree with any perceived religious interference whatsoever, despite their own beliefs—nonetheless, apparently, feel the need to attend the Red Mass. Why?.

I will get to question of her final question of "why" at the end.

Red Masses occur all over the county. They are generally a very well attended ecumenical affair. The topics range from A to Z and there is even if the right for the unborn is mentioned something good for everyone to chew on usually.

At the state and local level I think there is appreciation for the need of the Church and all Faith communities in helping combat some of the ills Judges and  the Bar struggle with in their communities each day. So the Red Mass is a good vehicle for that interaction.

But returning her question of why to THIS RED MASS . In fact as to the question of WHY is the issue of why two Jewish Judges attended this year .

Well here is my hunches and for the sake of argument I will not going into the spiritual benefit that I suspect many feel they get . That is just the SECULAR reasoning.

First it is an affirmation of the contribution of Catholics in our nation's history and it's early constitutional history. . It is sponsored by the John Carroll Society. John Carroll was not only this nation's first Bishop but was a huge participant in the Revolutionary cause.

His cousin Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a huge patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He also play a critical role in the the religious freedom debates.

Bishop Carroll's brother Daniel Carroll was a was one of only five men to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States. Numerous other Carroll family members were in the thick of it in our early nation's history at some financial , social and indeed major personal risk to themselves.

It needs to be recalled that before the American Catholic Church became a Northern immigrant Church it was much a very  Maryland / D.C  area Church. The Supreme Court that has an INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY I think honors this as well as the link to this family and aligned families  that the John Carroll society hopes to preserve in our nation's history.

Next there is an apparent huge Catholic contribution to the legal culture of D.C that remains to this day. See Georgetown ( founded by Bishop Carroll ) , Catholic University of America , and American University. I am sure the Court gets that. Again this relates to my first point in a way.

Further the Court gets ceremony and the need for solemnity and the Red Mass meets that to a tee.

Last but not least there is a similarity. The Court like the Church has no army to enforce their opinions , and no power to tax to even fund themselves. The Court authority and prestige is based on a combination of people alive and people dead. It is based also on "ancient texts" and an ancient history.

The Church has the Scriptures , the Tradition of the Church Fathers in interpreting and living this Revelation, and Church Authority that makes the hard choices in disputed matters.

The Court's scripture goes from from Magna Carta,to the Declaration of Independence to the ultimate " holy writ "of our governing document. All written in ancient times.

Their Church Fathers range from  the Federalist Papers ,to people from Chief Justice Marshal to Jefferson. In other words a lot of dead folks.

Needless to say there are comparisons between the Church Councils and Papal pronouncements and the Court's view of precedent. Precedent is not lightly overturned.

The  Court gets TRADITION . The entire Court's prestige and indeed authority is wrapped up in the concept that they are not making it up as they go along. I guess we could make an analogy between Cardinal Newman's Development of Doctrine and how the Court has interpreted the "acorn" of the Constitution into the fully developed tree we see today.

Which bring us back to the Archbishop's homily. He said in part :

....I am reminded of my first year as a seminarian in Rome. An important 19th Century Justice Department building was closed because it was unsafe. It seemed to be sinking into the ground. Yet the Colosseum, Pantheon, and the ruins of the Roman Forum were all still standing and could be visited. It was a good reminder that not everything contemporary is good and that stable foundations are essential. Our society must also rest on stable, clear foundations. Otherwise, we run the risk of sinking into the mire of one popular sound byte after another!

Last January the Holy Father recalled for the Bishops of this region that consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good and the conditions for human flourishing are at the heart of every culture. “In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God.”...

In other words I think the Court on a personal level sees an creature much like itself , and sees perhaps something to affirm ( though not endorse it doctrines ) that is good and needed. A reminder that there were people and ideas that mattered  before us and yes people will come after us. A good reminder I would add  for Bishops as to spiritual matters and for Federal Judges in the secular realm. We are guardians and transmitters of our respective  Deposits of Faith not it's authors.


APOV said...

I don't know anything about this "Red Mass", and had never heard of it before now. But this is a totally different era than 1961. We face a grave threat from right-wing religionists trying to establish a theocracy and destroy the separate-from-religion government of the USA. We have seen Catholic bishops threatening politicans and judges with ex-communication. It remains illegal, so far, to bribe or intmidate officials to gain influence over our government, so I don't know why these bishops have not been brought before a grand jury or a select committee in the Congress. If they were true-believing Catholics, they would feel threatened with eternal damnation, and this is far more heinous than the mafia merely threatening murder of the body. There has been plenty of that going on, and the Catholic priests who threaten the politicans grant absolution to the murderous thugs of the mafia, just as they absolve each other for molesting children. People who value freedom in this country must wake up and get diligent about these Catholics. They are qualified to serve in the government only if they have made a committment to govern by the Constitution of these United States, and not take dictation from Rome. We must always remember that Catholicism is not the Christian religion which they claim to be, but they are the imperial established religion of the Roman Empire. Establising universal religion and ruling the world from Rome is what these people are all about. The rest of us had better wake up and make sure that Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Sotomayer, Santorum, Boehner, Ryan, etc, know that we will never live under submission to the Catholic heirarchy.

James H said...

Ok when I get back from the football game I will to rty to give an opposite point of view to this in the comments

Tim said...

Your argument comes down to this: tradition. A tradition that feels good.

My response: too bad. Government must absolutely stay out of and away from religion. When they mix, it's bad for both of them. Apply the Lemon Test here and tell me why this tradition should not be ended just like so many other traditions before.

The cutline on the TP photo says the Red Mass is "for the purpose of invoking God's guidance in the administration of justice." Well, I thought the courts used the Constitution and other such documents to do their work. I was not aware God had anything to do with justice on Earth.

I am an engineer, and let me tell you if any engineer ever tells you that his or her design decisions are based on spiritual reflection or prayer, you fire that engineer right away and report them to the Board of Engineering.



Andy said...

The Lemon test would not apply here. Lemon applies to government action (ie laws) as opposed to governmental employees action (ie private religious observances). You can't be banned from attending religious events simply because you are a governmental employee. In fact, banning governmental employee attendance at Mass would probably violate the Free Exercise clause.

James H said...

Tim I would agree with Andy thatI don't think this flys foul of any sort of Lemon Test. This is generally a voluntary show up affair and it is not sponsored by the Supreme Court or the Federal Judiciary

Further its not clear why the Court should be treated differently than the Miltary, the Executive, the Legislative that often has prayer events ( THINK National Day of Prayer Breakfast)or invocations for such things as swearing in

Tim said...

Absolutely you can practice your personal faith (if any) on your own time in your own way. No one is suggesting any limitations to that.

The issue here is this event is easily mistaken for an official event. The judges wear their robes. The judges are led in a procession into the mass by the Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. They are seated according to their public duties.

This event has an official stamp of approval and participation on it. That's why I use the Lemon Test.

Regarding rules as applied to other citizens in public service, I served in the Army. It was made very clear to us that we could practice our faith, that we could participate in politics, that we could enjoy the basic liberties like anyone else. But NOT IN UNIFORM. We were warned not to work for any candidate in uniform. We were warned not to preach from the pulpit in uniform. We were warned not to confuse the public when it came to our position as soldiers and our views as private citizens.

I am currently a Federal employee. We are regularly warned that we should never give the impression of official endorsement when we are engaged in private activities. We are also told that we should accept no special favor or honor that is based on the fact that we work for the government.

And this is exactly what these judges are doing. If they want to attend mass, go ahead. If they want to organize a prayer group outside of work, go ahead.

The "Red Mass" is a relic of another time. We're more enlightened now. We know that everyone who walks into a courthouse should feel welcomed and equal in the eyes of the law. This ceremony works at odds to that goal.



Andy said...

Well Tim, with all due respect, the Lemon test is inapplicable, whether you think it should be applicable or not. The wisdom of the Justices appearing in their robes or being part of a procession is a matter of opinion, but certainly not unconstitutional.

The item you mentioned that concerned me was the apparent prohibition you were given in the military from practicing one's faith while wearing a uniform. That appears to be a rather blatant constitutional violation. While soldiers (like police or firefighters) are generally prohibited from wearing their uniforms when off duty, a blanket prohibition on religious practice while in uniform is a constitutional violation and not what the military, as a whole, requires. After all, the military does provide chaplains that preach while in uniform, soldiers can attend these services while in uniform and soldiers are generally allowed to wear religious clothing while in uniform with certain restrictions (largely concerning the functionality of their uniform).

"We're more enlightened now." This seemed like a non-sequiter. I'm curious as to what you meant by it.


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