Archbishop Stresses Ties Between Morality, Faith At Mass With Justices

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 2, 2006

At a Mass attended by four U.S. Supreme Court justices, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl said yesterday that religious faith is an enduring "cornerstone" of American life and that morality and ethics "cannot be divorced from their religious antecedents."

The archbishop delivered the homily as he celebrated his first Red Mass, held annually as the Supreme Court convenes at which worshipers seek God's blessing and guidance for those who administer justice.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sat in the first pew during the service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew of the Apostle in Northwest Washington alongside Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was among five members of President Bush's Cabinet who attended the service, which began with the 1,000 worshipers rising and singing the national anthem and ended with "America the Beautiful."

One group that routinely seeks to hold prayer vigils outside the Red Mass was not allowed to get close to the officials in attendance.

On Thursday, a federal judge rejected the Christian group's claim that their faith demands that they demonstrate and pray in support of the public display of the Ten Commandments -- and that to do so properly they must be allowed to cross arbitrary security barriers around the cathedral. U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said the group, led by Presbyterian Rev. Patrick Mahoney, Christian activist Troy Newman and the Christian Defense Coalition, could demonstrate but behind security barricades. No demonstrators, however, appeared immediately outside the church.

In his homily, Wuerl, who took over the Archdiocese of Washington in June, described spirituality and religious faith as an integral part of American life, one that endures even as some resist its place in political discourse.

"The assertion by some that the secular voice should alone speak to the ordering of society and its public policy, that it alone can speak to the needs of the human condition, is being increasingly challenged," Wuerl said.

"Looking around, I see many young men and women who, in such increasing numbers, are looking for spiritual values, a sense of rootedness and hope for the future," he said. "In spite of all the options and challenges from the secular world competing for the allegiance of human hearts, the quiet, soft and gentle voice of the spirit has not been stilled."

Religious faith, the archbishop said, has long played an important role in U.S. society, from the Mayflower Compact, which established law, to the Declaration of Independence. George Washington, he said, told Americans in his farewell address that "we cannot expect national prosperity without morality, and morality cannot be sustained without religious principles."

"What is religion's place in public life?" Wuerl asked. "Politics and faith are mingled because believers are also citizens. Both church and state are home to the very same people."

The Red Mass originated in medieval Europe and has been celebrated in the United States in New York since 1928. The service has been held annually in the District since 1953, sponsored by the John Carroll Society, a Washington-based organization for Catholic professionals.

Staff writer Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

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