Supreme Court justice nominee a testament to Catholic education

Neil Gorsuch attended Denver’s Christ the King School

The nomination of Coloradan Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice during Catholic Schools Week appears to affirm the celebration’s 2017 theme: “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

Gorsuch’s life exemplifies those qualities, according to President Donald Trump and Catholic educators.

Although Gorsuch attends an Episcopalian church in Boulder, he grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver and a Jesuit high school in Maryland.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who as a parish priest in the ‘80s taught Gorsuch religion at Christ the King, was delighted with his former student’s Jan. 31 nomination.

“I think it’s great that this has happened during Catholic Schools Week!” the archbishop said of the news, which was announced during the Jan. 29-Feb. 4 national observance.

Kevin Kijewski, the archdiocese’s superintendent of Catholic Schools, was equally elated.

“It’s great to see how a Catholic education, especially a Catholic education from within our own Archdiocese of Denver, can not only form and guide students to succeed and be the best they can be, but to provide the moral judgment and competence to play-out in such a highly visible and influential position.

“It is a testament to our schools and to having a Catholic education,” he told the Denver Catholic.

In a Feb. 1 interview with Fox 31, Kijewski noted, “Catholic thought and the Catholic intellectual tradition has shaped him.”

Gorsuch, a Denver native and judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, graduated with honors from both Columbia University and Harvard Law School and earned a doctorate in legal philosophy from Oxford University. After law school, he was chosen to be a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He is the son of Anne Gorsuch, who was the first female secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency.

President Donald J. Trump has nominated fourth-generation Coloradoan Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court justice Jan. 31. Gorsuch grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver, and his eighth grade teacher, JoAnn Ehrlich, remembers Gorsuch as being “humble, honest and fair.” file photo

President Donald J. Trump has nominated fourth-generation Coloradoan Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court justice Jan. 31. Gorsuch grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver, and his eighth grade teacher, JoAnn Ehrlich, remembers Gorsuch as being “humble, honest and fair.” (File photo)

“Judge Gorsuch was born and raised in Colorado and was taught the value of independence, hard work and public service. While in law school, he demonstrated a commitment to helping the less fortunate. He worked in both Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Projects and Harvard Defenders Program,” Trump said in his nomination. “He could have had any job at any law firm for any amount of money, but what he wanted to do with his career was to be a judge, to write decisions and to make an impact by upholding our laws and our Constitution.

“The qualifications of Judge Gorsuch are beyond dispute,” he said. “He is a man of our country and a man who our country really needs and needs badly to ensure the rule of law and the rule of justice.”

JoAnn Ehrlich, who has taught at Christ the King for some 25 years, was Gorsuch’s eighth-grade teacher.

“I’m really proud of him,” she told the Denver Catholic. “I was whooping and hollering for him [Jan. 31] like he had won the Super Bowl. Only it’s better—it’s better that he may be a Supreme Court justice.”

Ehrlich said the virtues of the eighth-grader she taught are evident in the man she watched accept the nomination.

“I remember him as being humble, honest and fair,” she said. “That’s what I saw then, that’s what I see now.”

Not only was Gorsuch a good student but he also had a great sense of humor and was friends with everyone, Ehrlich said. Even then, recalled Ehrlich, she saw “sparks” of his judicial career choice.

“He loved talking about history or government or politics,” she said. “He was just a good kid, a really good kid.”

In accepting the nomination, Gorsuch expressed gratitude and humility.

“Standing here in a house of history, and acutely aware of my own imperfections, I pledge that if I am confirmed I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great country.

“I am so thankful tonight for my family, my friends and my faith,” he added. “These are the things that keep me grounded at life’s peaks and have sustained me in its valleys.”

Featured image by Drew Angerer | Getty Images

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.