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An Interview with Rev. Paul Scalia

Posted: September 20, 2017

“We Should Have a Peaceful
Confidence about the Truth”


Note: At the College’s 2017 Commencement exercises, Rev. Paul Scalia, Episcopal Vicar for Clergy in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, served as the principal celebrant and homilist at the Baccalaureate Mass.


In the introduction to your new book, you say that the priest’s goal is to help us “unite truth with love, head with heart, and charity with dogma.” Why is this difficult? What are the challenges?

As part of fallen human nature, we all experience in ourselves, and among ourselves, a constant temptation to divide truth and love. We see this in something as simple as a “white lie.” But as today’s moral issues touch more and more on fundamental truths, the division between truth and love becomes more dangerous. Everything is being pushed back to first principles. “Do not kill” has given way to killing the child in the womb, violating the fundamental relationship between mother and child. Then there is the even more fundamental relationship between man and woman, which is now in question. The most fundamental relationship, though, is that of being a creature, of having been created by God. So as the moral discussions get closer and closer to that first principle of creation, it becomes more and more difficult to unite these things. Truth is saying one thing, yet false compassion is saying another.

A friend and I have an ongoing argument. He says the most controversial passage in Scripture is, “Male and female He created them.” But I say it is, “He created them,” because I think that’s where we are now. People don’t want to be created; they want to create themselves. But if we are created, then we have to conform to the design according to which we were created. There is just no getting away from that. If we are not created, though, we can say, “Yes, my body is this way, but I myself am some other way.” So we’re not speaking now of things that are on the periphery but of the fundamental principles. So what can the faithful do? Study the Faith; eliminate a lot of the technology; observe the Sabbath. These are things that will disconnect us from the culture that blinds us.

Also, in interacting with others, we should have a peaceful confidence about the truth of our faith. Pope Benedict XVI modeled this beautifully. He was so confident in the truth that he could speak without rancor. I think having that peaceful confidence in the truth of our faith is the responsibility of every Catholic.

Since Amoris Laetitia was issued, there has been a great deal of talk about taking a “pastoral” approach to ministry that involves diluting doctrines, as if the teachings of the Church on marriage, divorce, remarriage, and the reception of Holy Communion are “anti-pastoral.” What are your thoughts on this?

The term “pastoral” can be used to cut corners on the Faith, and that is not authentic. If we are going to show pastoral charity, we have to convey the truth properly. In Humanae Vitae, Bl. Paul VI says, “To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls.” That is what it means to be pastoral.

Now in order to be charitable, you have to convey the true doctrine. At the same time, the true doctrine deserves a fitting vehicle/messenger. So it is unworthy of the doctrine of Christ if we are conveying it an uncharitable or harsh or judgmental way. To be pastoral means to convey the truth in a way that the person can receive it. It is not pastoral to just deliver the truth and have no concern for the person who needs to receive it.

Much has been written about Justice Scalia’s public legacy, but what is your father’s legacy for your family?

I have a pretty good sense of his legal legacy and the importance of it, but as for his legacy to the family — for each sibling it is a little different. We are all agreed, though, that it is primarily our time together as a family. And for me, what made the greatest impression was his example of faith.

Our dad took family time seriously. We were together for two weeks every summer at the beach, and we had long family drives — the kind of things that, at the time, you think, “Well, we have to do this.” But these are the things that knit us together, like going fishing with Dad at the beach, playing cards.

Family dinner was also important to Dad. Our conversations were rarely as intellectually profound as people might think. But I do remember some very, very good discussions, in particular, my dad going over the peyote case [Employment Division v. Smith] with us. That’s the only case I remember him discussing, and it was a good exercise because he walked us through the right of religious freedom and how it would apply to us as Catholics.

People would say, “It must be amazing to have a dad on the Supreme Court.” But you know, I still had to mow the lawn, and if it wasn’t done I was still in trouble. And he was still Dad when he came home at night. When the trash needed to be taken out, he used to joke, “Don’t you know I’m a Supreme Justice?” But it was precisely that, a joke. He didn’t take himself too seriously.

You just mentioned religious liberty, and in a recent interview in Washingtonian magazine, you spoke about unrelenting efforts to sideline religion and faith from the public square. Would you explain the notion of religious liberty?

I am not a lawyer, but my layman’s understanding is that the First Amendment presumes a vigorous religious life in the nation, one in which the federal government does not impose a religion on the people, and in which the people are free to worship and practice their religion.

People must have a vigorous practice of their faith so that they bring it into the public square. I think it was the former papal nuncio, Archbishop Viganò, who said, “Where did the government get this idea that they could exclude us from the public square — except from us? We were the first to say, ‘We won’t bring it there.’” John F. Kennedy made a complete misstep when he told voters he would not let his religion influence his decisions as president, and we have been paying the price for that for a long, long time.

We should not be setting aside our faith. We cannot put brackets around our faith, go about our professional lives, and then come back and expect our faith to still mean the same thing. It has to be integrated into everything.

This is something a lot of people valued in my father. He was very vocal about two things: first, that he was a Roman Catholic and that he loved his faith; and second, that he did not allow it to touch his opinions as a judge. That second part was a source of controversy. But he said, no, I’m doing the work of a judge and I happen to be Catholic. That was very important for people, that he lived that publicly.

So while it is true that my dad didn’t bring the Catechism to oral arguments, or to the conference room when he was drafting his decisions, there are certain things about the Catholic faith that inclined him to have the kind of jurisprudence he did. One of them is the reverence for the text. Another is that every text has a context. In the Catholic faith that context is Scripture and Tradition. In his jurisprudence, he took the text very seriously: It means what it says. And if you want to know what it says, to understand it better, you look at how the Founding Fathers understood it, and at how we as a nation have always understood it. I think his Catholic faith disposed him toward that — which is really how it should be, that the Faith should affect you in such a way that you are acting in that way without even knowing it.

How did you come to be a chaplain for the College’s Washington, D.C., Board of Regents?

I had come to know a number of alumni in the Arlington Diocese, and I had done marriage prep for some of them. And you know what? Your alumni are pretty good ambassadors. I don’t know who among them recommended me for the Board of Regents, but when I was invited, I was very happy to do it. I had grown to think very highly of this school. There are some other good Catholic schools worthy of support, but what struck me about Thomas Aquinas College is that it has the whole package: the Faith, integrated with the great books, integrated with the community, and the uniting of faith and reason.

As you know, the College is in the process of obtaining approval from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education for a branch campus in Northfield Massachusetts. What are your thoughts?

I think it’s great. I have thought that one of the most important things for the College is to keep your small size, and my visit here has confirmed that. The typical American approach is usually, “Bigger is better. If you have 375 students, then 450 would be better.” But that is just not always the case. I think you lose something when you get bigger. So, there is a great wisdom to capping the size on this campus. Establishing an East Coast campus is a wonderful idea, and the site just seems perfect for what you want to do.

What advice would you have for the College’s young men about discerning whether they have a vocation to the priesthood?

I think many men would give their lives for their country if we were being invaded. They would sign up. But Mother Church really has a prior call on our allegiance, and the need is increasing in our nation for priests. I think men need to think about being generous and saying, “There is a need for priests, and if I can be a priest, then I can respond to that need.” I think men have to think of it in those terms.

A lot of young adults say, “I don’t know; I might be called to marriage.” But we’re all called to marriage; we’re all designed for that. The call to the priesthood is a call beyond the natural call. I believe it is a mistake to put the two vocations on equal footing. There is a hierarchy among the states of life, and the priesthood or consecrated life is a higher calling than marriage. Marriage is a holy state, but for some, the Lord says, “I want you to do more than that; I’m inviting you to do more.”

Fr. Scalia at Baccalaureate Mass 2017
Caleb Skvaril (’19)

“Learning from the great books, you can see the questions that history’s greatest thinkers have asked and all the ways that they have tried to answer them. You’re able to see what’s right about what they’re saying, but also what’s wrong. The more your opinion is challenged, the more you have to refine it in order to get closer to the truth.”

– Caleb Skvaril (’19)

Asan, Guam

“I thank you so much for what you are doing at Thomas Aquinas College. I hope there will always be a Thomas Aquinas College. Your contributions to the Church and the world are marvelous to behold.”

– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)

Archbishop of New York