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. Platypus

    See what the late George Carlin said about God and religion at:

    October 4, 2010 at 10:57 am |
    • Mark

      Very funny! That, just made my afternoon.

      October 4, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      I wonder what Carlin thinks now?

      October 4, 2010 at 8:39 pm |
    • Q

      Thorrsman- I'm guessing not much seeing as how he's dead. Joe bless you...

      October 4, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  2. saywhat

    I wonder if this justices would attent a muslem mass too?

    October 4, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  3. saywhat

    I think alot of people confuse god with religion.. you can beliefe in god but not in religion.. religion is made up of man....man error.....some of this so called religious leader act like there are god... like if you don't beliefe what we tell you beliefe you want go to heaven....like there god.....only one decides who is gone to heaven or hell.. and it's not a priest or any other person....

    October 4, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  4. Tim

    This is complete BS. People are complaining about judges attending an event mixing Catholic religion and law? Attendence is voluntary. Therefore if you believe an event mixing law and religion is bad, then you want to ban judges from attending a true religious ceremony? If you belive that judges should be banned from religious ceremony, then you should want to ban politicians from attending religious ceremony. This it political correctness gone the liberal insanity road.

    October 4, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  5. casmo

    I think it's hight time for humanity to look for the common good in all faiths. Humanity started to get in trouble when politics and religion became one.

    October 4, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  6. Slayer

    I am amazed at some of the comments. Separation of Church & State is a fundamental expectation in American society. To give one religious group "invitation required" access to political leaders undermines the fundamental principle. With the emergence of the extreme conservative right, we have forgotten one of the major reasons the Pilgrims left England – religious intolerance. If
    Americans don't watch out there will be no room for freedom of religion only if you are part of the majority!!

    October 4, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  7. ryan

    the pope and his bishops should be in prison for harboring child abusers, aiding in the genocide at Rwanda, and harboring a known holocaust denier and various nazi's, as well as 2000 years of various heinous crimes against humanity. NOT hob nobbing with heads of state while regaled in silk and gold finery complete with pointy hats. Its disgusting to see this human garbage atop their self – aggrandizing palaces.

    October 4, 2010 at 9:41 am |
  8. talon10

    I'm for STRICT enforcement of separation of church and state. At first I thought this might be okay, since it's not a government sponsored event. But it is in fact a religious event, aimed at government leaders, so at best, it's border line. When will people ever stop believing in invisible, supernatural beings in the sky? It's very scary to me that our elected officials buy into such drivel. Of course, they may only be giving it lip service to gain political points.

    October 4, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  9. Pastor Evans

    All this meaningless political imagry!!! Having a form of godliness but denying the power of the Holy Spirit!!! Wearing red to symbolically represent the Holy Spirit is madness!!! Christ in you, the hop of Glory!!! Why represent something that is freely available to you? This is why nothing works that's connected to our government and political system because it's not truly of GOD!!!

    October 4, 2010 at 9:13 am |
  10. TheSaintsRevenge

    Did anyone see the protests across the street from the church? Arrest the Pope, Pope protects Pedos, Hey, Justice Breyer here's your fire (jesus flips the middle finger?) The guys were dressed like Mohammed, a Rabbi and a Pope.

    October 4, 2010 at 9:13 am |
    • Frogist

      @TheSaintsRevenge: Did they all walk into a bar? Sorry... couldn't resist.

      October 4, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  11. Platypus

    Christianity and the Roman Empire. After the conversion of Emperor Constantine at the beginning of the fourth century CE, Christianity became the only legal and official religion of the Roman Empire toward the end of the same century under Emperor Theodosius.
    When the mighty Roman Empire collapsed a century later, the Roman Church was dominant all over Europe.
    Had it not been for the persistent lobbying of the monks of the time and their gradual infiltration in the high spheres of the Empire, baby-god-Jesus-turned man-then-Christ would probably be unknown today.
    Yet this Jesus from Palestine never set foot in Italy, so how come the head office of his enterprise is located in Rome?
    Rome! The center of the supreme powers my dear brother!
    Rome! The head office of the political and military might my dear sister!

    The legend of baby-god-Jesus-born-of-a-virgin-in-a-frigid-manger may have been fabricated in Bethlehem, but the place of birth of Christianity is Rome!

    Thus was born the greatest religious fraud in the humane history of the West!

    October 4, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  12. michaeldimeglio

    I was raised a Catholic but have questioned all religion. I believe in God but not your God. I was taught that God was "All powerful". What does that mean? Does God need my help? Does he need to work through me? Am I his servant? If he or she or it is "All powerful", it does not need an help, serviced or worshiped. Religiion is just a vehicle for human control. God does not need to care because God has no needs. John Lennon said it best..."And no religion too..." . The world would be a better place.

    Where is God when you need him.

    October 4, 2010 at 8:51 am |
    • Platypus

      @michaeldimeglio: I agree with you 200%! God is supposed to be omni everything. So he doesn’t need prayers, worship, offerings and help from anybody. He needs to be left alone to manage his 156-billion light years domain, the cosmos consisting of billions of galaxies with billions of stars in each galaxy. Why would God pay particular attention to our little Blue Dot called Earth?

      October 4, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  13. aginghippy

    @ Paul: Not only are you wrong about this country being founded on Christian principles (most of the Founding Fathers were deists, agnostics or atheists), but you make me laugh when you suggest that atheists want to deny anyone their freedoms. Atheists want to live and let live; it is the "faithful" who presume to control others with laws against abortion, gay marriage or any other activity which might offend their imaginary friend in the sky. I suggest that you either accept the fact that not everyone wants their lives controlled by fairy tales, or seek refuge in a theocratic nation like Iran.

    October 4, 2010 at 8:49 am |
    • talon10

      I agree. It's Christians that want to deny people their religious freedom. Their agenda is to get the government to pass laws forcing Christian morality on everyone. They want Christian prayers in the schools so they can brainwash children into believing their fairytales. I would certainly have no problem with anyone practicing any faith they want. But they're not content to only do that, they want to force their ignorant nonsense on everyone else.

      October 4, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  14. CareJack

    I hope this will not affect the child abuse cases if it reaches the Supreme court.

    October 4, 2010 at 8:33 am |
  15. Platypus

    "I sat down for a beer with Baal, Jupiter, Zeus, Allah and some other gods the other day and asked them about my creation. Can you believe it? Those wise asses said they didn't believe in me either!" -God

    October 4, 2010 at 8:03 am |
  16. PJ

    If only the 5 Justices would tackle the attrocities commited by some of the Cardinals such as Bernard Law etc. It would also be nice to see Benedict brought before the World Court for his crimes against children. For decades he protected Pedophiles all over the world.

    October 4, 2010 at 7:50 am |
  17. Platypus

    Society's exaggerated respect for religion over and above ordinary human respect...

    October 4, 2010 at 7:37 am |
  18. Platypus

    @Reality: The Egyptian writings do not say a word about Moses and his fantastic accomplishments.

    3,000,000 the number of “passengers” in the Exodus under Moses according to the Jewish Encyclopaedia.
    And as much cattle (grazing sand in the Arabian desert?)
    All these people wandering for 40 years in the desert? An implausibility!
    If the Exodus didn’t happen, then the 10 Commandments are a hoax and much of the rest in this book of legends and fables and lies called the Torah. In plain English its contents is all B.S.

    October 4, 2010 at 7:34 am |
    • Izzisgirl

      Do you believe in the Old Testament? The Torah is the first five books.

      October 4, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  19. Platypus

    The doctrine of the original sin attributed to Eve and its heredity is a Christian fabrication and an insult to the human dignity.

    October 4, 2010 at 7:10 am |
  20. Peter Wolfe

    Look at least they aren't doing this in private like most other political functions. This is not completely pivate and in fact my local parish probably had the same type of service cause of abortion. I almost went to a rally against state sanction murder. Look at the 1st admendment with freedom of religion and freedom of assembly as our Bill of Rights tells us. I'm a moderate democrat but the idea of complete separation of church and state was a fable in the first place. yOu cannot eliminate religious ideals when your in political office no matter what anybody says. Morals and faithful ideals are part of the being that makes governments work in an humane dignified way. True catholics in the U.S.A have been treated badly in this nation like all minorities like the disabled, women and other minorities of their time they were treated badly and in somecases they still are. Starting up an argment about bad things in catholicism isn't helpful anyway cause alll groups throughout history like my multigenerational baptist family owned a plantation in the deep south, so yourpoint exactly is what? Finally, I'm a proud precatholic on my way of becoming a catholic and if you guys don't like catholicism just read on thgood things about it rather than the obvious past injustices. For example, schools, missionions, hospitals and othr things you ungreatful individuals take advantage of laye faithful like myself.

    October 4, 2010 at 4:59 am |
    • Frogist

      @Peter Wolfe: What you are saying is incorrect. Morals are not tied to religion. The separation of church and state is not a fable but an ideal to live up to. Certain things in Catholicism are absolutely up for criticism. To say let's not criticise is very much the problem with a lot of religious people who passively follow, allowing the injustices perpetrated by their church and religious position to go unchallenged. I do not doubt that religion plays a large part in people's lives and has done a lot of good over the years. But it has also done very much evil and continues to do so in some cases. To not criticise, is to be party to the crime. The Catholic Church is not without sin.

      October 4, 2010 at 11:50 am |
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About this blog

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.