October 3rd, 2010
05:39 PM ET

Biden, 5 Supreme Court justices attend controversial 'Red Mass'

CNN's Lauren Pratapas and Bill Mears filed this report from Washington:

Vice President Joe Biden joined five Supreme Court justices to attend Sunday's annual Red Mass, the Roman Catholic service for the courts that has drawn criticism in recent years.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas attended the service, held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, on the eve of the court's new term.

The Mass was started in 1952 by the John Carroll Society, a lay Catholic group of prominent lawyers and professionals, to celebrate the legal profession. But the event has drawn criticism in recent years for what many see as an unhealthy mix of politics, religion and the law.

The mass is a Catholic service, but power brokers of other faiths are asked to attend the invitation-only event. Critics have called the attendance of leading decision-makers, including members of the highest court in the land, inappropriate.

Past homilies by individual speakers have lamented the high court's ruling legalizing abortion and the constitutional separation of church and state, although most recent Red Mass ceremonies have avoided hot-button social and political issues to focus on universal themes. Church officials insist they do not attempt to lobby or seek to persuade anyone who attends the service.

Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, who gave this year's sermon, told parishioners the church understands the "nearly overwhelming complexity of the climate which envelops the practice of law and the administration of justice today."

"No informed observer can fail to acknowledge that the social and cultural pluralism of our times - not to mention the relentless and sometimes pitiless public scrutiny to which you are subjected - makes the work of judges and lawyers today very hard indeed," he said.

The archbishop also asserted that laws are based upon certain principles: "the pursuit of the common good through respect for the natural law, the dignity of the human person, the inviolability of innocent life from conception to natural death, the sanctity of marriage, justice for the poor, protection of minors, and so on."

Di Noia later decried a trend toward "exclusive humanism" and said, "That innocent human life is now so broadly under threat has seemed to many of us one of the signs of this growing peril." Washington archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs told CNN afterwards that the reference to "innocent human life" was meant "broadly," referring to "all life that is at risk, not just simply the unborn, but the fragility of all human life."

All the justices who attended Sunday are Catholics except Breyer, who is Jewish. The court is currently made up of six Catholics and three Jews, including its newest member, Elena Kagan.

One member of the court who no longer attends is Ruth Bader Ginsburg who, like Breyer and Kagan, is Jewish. Ginsburg has said she grew tired of being lectured by Catholic officials.

"I went one year, and I will never go again, because this sermon was outrageously anti-abortion," Ginsburg said in the book "Stars of David: Prominent Jews talk About Being Jewish" by author Abigail Pogrebin. "Even the Scalias - although they're much of that persuasion - were embarrassed for me."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Courts • Joe Biden • Politics

soundoff (263 Responses)
  1. stanknasty

    my comment is awaiting moderation???? Hey CNN, I didn't use foul language nor did I say anything wrong... just giving my opinion what's wrong with that? We need you to check what I am saying? Are you people kidding me? Does the C in Cnn stand for Communism?

    October 3, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
    • Frogist

      CNN uses a very archaic filter that halts any post using bad language even if the word in question is a fragment of another word. E.G. Const!tution has the word t!t, An@lyse has the word an@l, succu-mb has the word c-um... Just re-check what you wrote and hyphenate or subst!tute the words you used and your post should go thru just fine.

      October 4, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  2. CatholicAvenger

    "Religion is man-made used to get money, spread fear, and control the masses."
    Sounds like all the world Governments if you ask me. I'm glad our churches aren't paying corrupt systems who steal our hard earned money for their own personal means. I'm laughing at the failed logic of atheism

    October 3, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
    • Frogist

      @CatholicAvenger: So how are you with your money going to corrupt systems used to cover up pedohilia to protect the image of the church rather than the innocents it is supposed to care for? I would laugh at your failed logic, but I see nothing funny about childhood r-ape.

      October 4, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  3. question

    If we were to combine church and state, would we call it "chate" or "sturch?"

    October 3, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  4. Thorrsman

    There must be some bug in the CNN censoring program. Some words that are key to this discussion seem to trigger it.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
    • Frogist

      CNN uses a very archaic filter that halts any post using bad language even if the word in question is a fragment of another word. E.G. Const!tution has the word t!t, An@lyse has the word an@l, succu-mb has the word c-um... Just re-check what you wrote and hyphenate or subst!tute the words you used and your post should go thru just fine.

      October 4, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  5. Topaz

    Shame on the justices for patronizing these kinds of church services and the public display of some primitive religious beliefs. They should know better about the separation of church and state. What kind of law these justices have studied? With this type of slavery to some specific religious orthodoxy, I don't think these justices are capable of administering impartial justice to the citizen of United States. Unfortunately, we are all stuck with this mediocrity for the next 50 yrs!

    October 3, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
    • Tom

      Separation of church and state does not mean individuals cannot go to church just because they are in government service.

      October 4, 2010 at 3:42 am |
    • Tom

      By the way, you need to retract and apologize for your use of the word slavery. Either you have no idea what that word means, or you are just bigoted towards religion.

      October 4, 2010 at 3:44 am |
  6. OrangeCat

    No Protestants on the Supreme Court?


    Also I'd like to extend a warm invitation of everybody to the Pasta Supper this Thursday to celebrate the Flying Spaghetti Monster's triumph over Wednesday Adams. Or Odin. or somebody.

    Bring your own napkins.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
    • Really???

      Thank you for the smile you gave me with your post. Yours must be a religion graced with laughter!

      October 4, 2010 at 3:58 am |
  7. john

    I attended the Red Mass today and I can tell everyone and especially CNN that it was not an invitation only event. I didn't have a ticket and I, and any else who wished to attend, were welcomed into St. matt's

    October 3, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
  8. adam

    Now is that "red" as in communist or "red" as in republican. Not that there is really a difference.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      Amazing ignorance, that. Usually those who hate the Republicans liken them–very incorrectly–to the Nazis, claiming–again incorrectly–that the National Socialist Party was Far Right. The Democrats are the ones who lean to the political Left, towards Socialism, which leads to Fascism–Mussolini "improved Socialism"–or detours slightly to National Socialism, before arriving finally at the tyranny of Communism, Hammer, Sickle, red flag and all.

      October 3, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
    • Frogist

      @adam/Thorrsman: Let's not do the who's scarier dance? Republicans are not communists, Democrats are not socialists. This fear-mongering is not getting us closer to any practical solutions.

      October 4, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • TheStormCellar

      Red as in that is the color of the vestments the priests wear at that service. It's the color worn on the feast days of martyred Saints and on Good Friday (signifying remembrance of the blood that was spilled by Christ and those saints). It's also the color worn during any celebration of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost, signifying the Fire of the Holy Spirit). That's what Red means in the context of the Red Mass.

      October 6, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  9. valwayne

    The first Amendment doesn't just call for the seperation of church and state, it also guarantees the free exercise of religion. There is nothing wrong with any American in any position attending a religious service of his choice when and where he or she pleases. Supreme Court Justices have every right to attend a mass if they choose! Obama can attend Christian service or a Mosque if he chooses!

    October 3, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
  10. cd

    What a liberal joke Ginsburg is and to think she is in there to view the "law". I only hope that when @ the end of the day she look's back and know someone above look's down he "won't" be as "liberal"!

    October 3, 2010 at 9:54 pm |
    • Frogist

      @cd: So god is a conservative republican? Or is he tea party? Personally, I think he's a socialist. All that caring for the poor stuff really points out how much he hates capitalistic greed.

      October 4, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • CatholicMom


      Don’t you think God is against greed; so if you have plenty He would like you to share? However, if you do not share, He does not mean that someone else can steal your wealth, whether to keep it or to distribute it as he sees fit either.

      October 4, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Catholic Mom: And who is stealing wealth and how? I have not seen this happening.

      October 4, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
  11. francis

    A another affrimation of prophecy as many of us know it well. They call it "Red Mass". Who knows?

    October 3, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
  12. charle

    The Red Mass has been taking place for 48 years. The media is a secular humanistic bullhorn which is getting overly agressive in its lack of tolerance towards anyone who does not worship at the altar of secular humanism.Make no mistake man is in rebellion to God in this year of our Lord 2010,and he wants God out of every public arena so he can declare himself a god!What puny ambitions are revealed on this comment board!God will remain whilst men will bite dust!

    October 3, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
    • No, no, no

      Your comment is another example of how religion, especially the Judaic ones, create a sense of paranoia and defeatism in society. Have some strangth and think for yourself. Too many of us waste our lives worrying about pleasing God, instead of using the brains God gave us to solve problems here on Earth.

      October 3, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
    • No, no, no

      I meant "strength," not "strangth."

      October 3, 2010 at 9:55 pm |
  13. don b

    I suspected all along that Kagan was Jewish and Obama's nomination of her confirms it. For those that thought Ginsberg was a poor choice, just wait and see Kagan's folley unfold.

    October 3, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
    • What?

      Because she's Jewish?

      October 3, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
    • Izzisgirl

      You obviously don't follow the news very much. It was never a secret that she's Jewish, it was in plenty of news stories before and during her confirmation hearings (Obama didn't confirm her, Congress did) and she even made a joke about it during the hearings when she was asked where she was when the Christmas Day bomber was arrested. She said, "Like most other Jews, I was probably in a Chinese restaurant".

      October 4, 2010 at 10:01 am |
    • Peacemaker

      Don, your statement is anti-semitic. Do you realize this? I am glad that Kagan is Jewish. Actually, we need more diversity in the Supreme Court. As a Christian, I would welcome a Muslim justice as well.

      October 4, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  14. ray gibbs

    Freedom all around–controversy, no controversy. Our Vice President & Supreme Court Jurists freely attending. The Archbishop freely expressing himself. America's way.

    October 3, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
  15. Kermit Roosevelt

    I'm Catholic and just hearing about this for the first time and, without having done any further reading than this article, I will admit that my initial reaction is one of having been creeped out.

    October 3, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
  16. IceT

    This was not a simple practice of an individuals faith. This was an invitation only event targeting the legal profession. Poor decision by the justices to attend such an obvious coercion practice. Lifetime appointment is not in the best interest of an ever changing society.

    October 3, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
    • john

      I was there today and am a member of the Parish of St. Matthew. It was not an invitation only event. CNN has their facts wrong

      October 3, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
  17. LoveChurch

    If this was a service held at a synagogue or mosque no one in society would dare call it "inappropriate". There's such a double standard (triple or whatever) when it comes to criticizing religious faith. The only religion where it's ok to criticize is Christianity.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
    • What?

      What society are you from? Have you not heard of the ground zero mosque controversy? Churches who want to burn the Koran? Anti-Semitism?

      October 3, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
    • Jen

      The point is that if you say something against Muslims or Jews, you are IMMEDIATELY labeled as a bigoted idiot- and at some level, that label is probably not too far off, given the way some people think. However, if you say something against Christianity, you are apparently perfectly within your rights. It is just as bigoted to be against Christianity as it is to be against ANY faith.

      October 3, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
    • What?

      Okay, Jen. Your right. Your comment was more clear than LoveChurch's.

      October 3, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
    • person

      However, had these people attended or were going to attend a Muslim or Jewish service, this article would have still appeared in the media. Only it would be on Fox News.

      October 3, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      Have you not been paying attention? It is CHRISTIANS who want to DENY the Muslims their Freedom to built a Mosque! Please, we, Christians are not........ victims! LOOK and SEE the long history of Christianity and ALL the BLOOD WE have SPILLED! We, Christians, have not right to say we are being persecuted...... when WE, persecute as well! Like Jesus said in the Gospels, "Let he(she) who is without sin cast the first stone." We, Christians need to LIVE the Gospel of Love & Peace or we are just a bad as those who attack us!

      October 4, 2010 at 10:07 am |
    • Frogist

      @Jen, it depends on what someone is saying and who they are saying it to. If we make vast generalizations with negative connotations that is based on ignorance, it doesn't matter who it's aimed at, it's all biased.

      But I have to say honestly, when I hear people so up in arms about how they are being persecuted because they are christian, I want to throw my hands in the air in frustration. It is obvious that christians are still the majority religion and have a major influence in this country. No one in this country is preventing christians from building a place of worship, or telling them to go back to their country, or calling them terrorists, or killing them because they are christian. But muslims are being treated that way. There are openly neo-nazi voices in this country against jews but no such parallel for christians. People in these United States are burning Qurans but they are not burning Bibles. But "Christians", or those who have named themselves so, get to march on Washington to "take back the country", campaign for candidates from their pulpits, have armed militias, openly fight against legal rights for gays and women, and still call themselves persecuted? Replace, "Christian" with some other religious name, and people would be livid. Certain christians, not jews, not muslims, not buddhists, not atheists, are throwing their considerable influence around with abandon. And the rights of human beings are being pushed to the side, for the sole reason that they do not fall under the "Christian" umbrella. So when people rightly slap the wrist of the religious right for reaching too far, it is not persecution. It's a reminder that Christianity has boundaries, the same boundaries that Islam, Judaism etc etc should have, even though it is very clear that Christians have a much more reach than others. I want Christians to ask themselves, would they be comfortable if we were majority muslim and had to live with them throwing their influence around the same way? I doubt the answer would be yes.

      October 4, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  18. JoeyB

    While this is a special mass, if they attend mass at all, they will hear the Church's position on any given Sunday anyway. Why is it such a big deal that they attended this one? Non-story.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  19. Jeff from Columbus

    Ginsburg's comments are unbelievably ignorant. She went to a Catholic Mass and was shocked that the message was anti-abortion? What did she expect?

    I'm sure people were embarassed for Ginsburg – just not in the way she thinks 🙂

    October 3, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  20. Jen

    Where was the President? I'm SURE he received an invitation, as would be proper. I've been to many a Red Mass when I was in law school. Sure, it IS a sort of mix of faith and law, but what it does is not intended to force faith on people. It simply recognizes the importance of faith to those who practice law, and it asks God's blessings on the courts. Nothing wrong with THAT. Heaven KNOWS we need it. BADLY.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Jen: I'm not sure what you mean by we need God's blessing on the court... badly. Could you elaborate? Because I would think we don't need God in the court of law. We need a clear head free from religious ideology and a focus on the fair and legal interpretation of our laws.

      October 4, 2010 at 10:00 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.