CNN on Gorsuch: Is the judge a crypto-Catholic or a safe, normal Episcopalian?


Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch begin today, so get set for some good TV.

A few journalists are still trying to get to the bottom of the form and content of Gorsuch’s religious views. Is he truly an Episcopalian or some kind of crypto-Catholic? Is he conservative or liberal? What are his views on abortion?

The latest effort, from CNN, assembles together what a lot of journalists have written about the nominee’s faith plus a few details the reporter found out on his own. The headline: “What is Neil Gorsuch’s religion? It’s complicated” hints at what's to come. We start here:

WASHINGTON (CNN) Earlier this month, the Trump administration summoned two dozen religious leaders to a private meeting. The mission: to rally support for Neil Gorsuch, Trump's Supreme Court nominee…
Eventually, the conversation turned to Gorsuch's own religious background.
He was raised Catholic but now worships with his wife and two daughters at St. John's Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado. Like the city, the congregation is politically liberal. It bars guns from its campus and installed solar panels; it condemns harsh rhetoric about Muslims and welcomes gays and lesbians. And its rector, the Rev. Susan Springer, attended the Women's March in Denver, though not as a form of protest but as a sign of support for "the dignity of every human being."

It goes a lot into his early life as a child in a Catholic family and then:

After college and law school, between stints clerking at the Supreme Court, Gorsuch studied legal philosophy at Oxford University in England, where his dissertation was supervised by John Finnis, a giant in the field and a former member of the Vatican's prestigious International Theological Commission.
Among laypeople, Finnis may be best known for his expositions on natural law, an often-misunderstood area of legal and moral philosophy.

The article then veers into a discussion of natural law. But isn’t Oxford where Gorsuch switched from the Catholic to the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Communion or, in the United States, the Episcopal Church? Writing about Gorsuch a few weeks ago, I included information on this point thanks to a helpful piece in the Daily Mail that connected the dots. 

However the CNN piece -- this is crucial -- suggests the Brits are wrong and that the judge never changed faiths.

When Neil Gorsuch returned from his studies in Oxford, he came home a married man. His British-born wife, Louise, was raised in the Church of England. As the new family settled in Vienna, Virginia, they joined Holy Comforter, an Episcopal parish.
According to church records, the Gorsuches were members of Holy Comforter from 2001 to 2006, when they moved to Colorado. But on membership forms, Neil listed his religion as Catholic, and there is no record that he formally joined the Episcopal Church, said the Rev. Lyndon Shakespeare, Holy Comforter's interim rector.

I used to live one suburb over from Holy Comforter, which was –- and probably still is -- a middle-of-the-road Episcopal parish. The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia had a large selection of nearby evangelical and charismatic parishes (Truro Church, The Falls Church and Church of the Apostles, for starters), so if the Gorsuchs were of that persuasion, they had ample opportunity to choose one. People drove from all over northern Virginia to attend those churches, so the fact that the Gorsuches stayed at Holy Comforter speaks volumes.

Yes, if Gorsuch had become Episcopalian, there’s a small reception ritual one goes through with the local bishop plus it would have been noted on parish records somewhere that he had joined up.

The article then makes the case that the couple’s attendance at Episcopal churches is because of what Louise Gorsuch wants.

When the Gorsuch family moved to Colorado, they joined St. John's, where they have been active in Sunday services. Louise is a lay reader, the couple's two daughters likewise assist in the liturgy as acolytes and Neil has been an usher.
Friends and family say Louise Gorsuch has an affinity for the liturgy and music at St. John's, finding in it an echo of her upbringing in the Church of England…

The reporter then makes the case that Gorsuch is not an Episcopalian at all.

Springer said she doesn't know whether Gorsuch considers himself a Catholic or an Episcopalian.
"I have no evidence that Judge Gorsuch considers himself an Episcopalian, and likewise no evidence that he does not."
Gorsuch's younger brother, J.J., said he too has "no idea how he would fill out a form. He was raised in the Catholic Church and confirmed in the Catholic Church as an adolescent, but he has been attending Episcopal services for the past 15 or so years."
(Michael) Trent, Gorsuch's close friend, said he believes Gorsuch would consider himself "a Catholic who happens to worship at an Episcopal church."

Those of us are Episcopalian know the membership standards are not stringent.

Gorsuch could also call himself an Episcopalian if he meets the church's minimum standards for membership: Being baptized Christian, receiving Holy Communion at least three times a year and supporting the church through prayer and financial donations.
"The intent here is key," said the Rev. Thomas Ferguson, an Episcopal priest and an expert on its relationships with other churches. "If he intends to be an Episcopalian he could certainly be considered one."
This may seem academic, but the religious composition of the Supreme Court is closely watched by many believers…

Read the article yourself to see the delicious quote by Richard Land (a politically astute Southern Baptist) at the end. The possibility that Gorsuch is an inactive Catholic is sure an interesting one and may be accurate. However, there are factual questions that journalists could be asking. For example: Is he is receiving Holy Communion in his current Episcopal parish? Is he slipping away to Mass at a church in Boulder or elsewhere?

The fact that he attends an Episcopal parish tells me that there is a really good chance that he no longer thinks like a Catholic. It also tells me that while his legal philosophy is quite similar to that of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, his moral philosophy may be quite different.

That may not mollify Democrats much, but for reporters, that’s an important distinction to know. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy