In a recent interview, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said his alma mater, Georgetown University, is “not Catholic anymore.”
Vincent Chiarello of The Remnant spoke with the Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court about his faith.
Born in Sicily, Scalia’s father came to the United States and eventually received a doctorate from Columbia University and taught Romance Languages at Brooklyn College in New York City. Scalia’s mother, Catherine, a devout Catholic, became a schoolteacher.
Scalia attended Jesuit Xavier High School in New York and himself became a rather “serious Catholic,” who was influenced by the “thoroughly religious atmosphere of the school” and the Jesuit priests who served as teachers.
At one point, Scalia considered entering the priesthood, but because he was an only child and without any paternal cousins, he knew his family name could disappear, a reality that would grieve his parents.
At Georgetown, however, Scalia found another profession: the law.
“Georgetown University is not Catholic anymore,” the Justice said, and added that while he was there in the 1950s, “they rolled you out of bed to attend Mass. Not anymore.”
In fact, another alumnus of Georgetown, novelist William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, agrees completely. Last year, Blatty filed a canonical suit, asking the Vatican to restore the Catholic identity of Georgetown, and collected over 2,000 signatures on the accompanying petition.
On May 13, Catholic World News reported that Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, said Blatty has filed “a well-founded complaint.”
“Our congregation is taking the issue seriously and is cooperating with the Society of Jesus in this regard,” Zani said.
Though Zani stated that the Vatican would not make a formal determination on whether Georgetown is in compliance with Vatican guidelines established in Ex Corde Ecclesiae for Catholic institutions of higher education, Blatty said he believes the Vatican’s response is a positive step toward the Jesuit university’s recommitment to the Catholic faith.
According to the petition, if the Vatican does not require Georgetown’s compliance with the papal constitution governing Catholic colleges, “the removal or suspension of top-ranked Georgetown’s right to call itself Catholic and Jesuit in any of its representations” is requested.
Scalia also fondly recalled a situation that reminded him of the Catholic institution Georgetown once was. Chiarello reported:
At his final oral exam prior to receiving his degree (History), Scalia was breezing along when Dr. Wilkinson, the chairman of the department who presided over the three professor panel, asked this question: What was the most important event in the history of the world?
The confident candidate thought, “I have done very well up to here and there is no wrong answer to this one,” but as he responded Prof. Wilkinson continued to shake his head signaling that the student had it all wrong. Was it the Battle of Waterloo, or the Greek valor at Thermopylae? The panel member remained unimpressed with the candidate’s answers.
Finally, Dr. Wilkinson replied: “Mr. Scalia it was the Incarnation, when Christ became a man; that is the correct answer.”
As Chiarello noted, “One seriously doubts that Dr. Wilkinson’s question is ever asked at Georgetown examinations today, and if it were, clearly his response would no longer be considered correct.”