Mass Mess: Bishops Use Church Service To Lobby Supreme Court

It’s a shame that the justices allow the bishops to play their lobbying game by attending the mass.

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court tied a record last week but that’s not something they should be proud of.

On Sept. 30, six members of the high court attended the annual “Red Mass,” a special church service for the legal profession held by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

In attendance at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle were Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony M. Kennedy and Elena Kagan. Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas are Catholic; Breyer and Kagan are Jewish.

CNN reported that the high court’s showing last week tied the attendance record for justices at the mass, set in 2009.

The service, which is named because of the red vestments worn by the officiants, is held annually on the Sunday before the Supreme Court begins its new term, which is the first Monday in October. In previous years, prelates have used the occasion to berate the justices on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and public funding of religious schools.

(It’s worth noting that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is Jewish, stopped attending the mass because of comments made one year that were strongly anti-abortion.)

This year, the mass was led by Timothy P. Broglio, archbishop for the military services. He stopped short of making direct references to controversial topics like abortion, but he did call on attendees to use their faith to guide their decisions.         

Broglio said people should be “instruments” of a “new evangelization.”       

“The faith we hold in our hearts must motivate the decisions, the words, and the commitment of our everyday existence,” Broglio said. “That existence is extraordinary, because it is infused with divine grace. St. Thomas More said that he died the good servant of the King, but the faithful servant of God first. We, too, are faithful citizens only when we embrace the fullness of the principles of our faith and allow them to enliven and fortify our contributions to the life of the nation.”

No judges, least of all those on the Supreme Court, should be making decisions based on their personal faith. They should be basing them on the Constitution and sound, legal reasoning.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told CNN that the mass gives the Catholic hierarchy unparalleled access to the justices, and that’s simply inappropriate.

“There is one purpose to have this,” Lynn said. “It is to make clear…just what the church hierarchy feels about some of the very issues that are to come before the court. That is just wrong. And it is wrong for members to go – not illegal – but wrong for the archdiocese to promote and encourage this event.”

It may not be illegal for the justices to attend the Red Mass, but that doesn’t mean they should. The Catholic hierarchy is always trying to influence laws and public policy in the United States, and this is just another way for them to do that. It’s a shame that the justices allow the bishops to play their lobbying game by attending the mass.

We can only hope that next year none of the justices will attend the mass, which would be a record they can boast about.