Judge Bork Converts to the Catholic FaithTIM DRAKE
Former circuit judge, U.S. solicitor general and 1987 Supreme Court judicial nominee Judge Robert Bork entered the Catholic Church on July 21 at age 76.
A senior fellow with
the American Enterprise Institute, he researches constitutional law, antitrust
law and cultural issues. He spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake
about his conversion and his forthcoming book, Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide
Rule of Judges.
Was faith important to your family growing up? In which
denomination did you grow up?
Up until age 17, I was in Pittsburgh.
I have no siblings. My mother was a schoolteacher up until she got married because
at that time you couldnít be married and teach. My father was in charge of purchasing
for one area of a large steel company.
Until age 12, I was going to United
Presbyterian Church. My mother and father belonged to two different Presbyterian
denominations. Our faith wasnít terribly important growing up. My mother was interested
in spiritual matters, but she was somewhat eclectic about it.
What led you to pursue law?
either that or journalism. I would have been a journalist by first choice, but
I had the wrong idea that you had to get a graduate degree to pursue journalism.
I didnít know any journalists or lawyers.
When I was about to graduate
from the University of Chicago I wrote to the Columbia School of Journalism. However,
because of the debate between John Dewey and University of Chicago president Robert
Hutchins over the nature of education, Columbia wouldnít accept a degree from
the University of Chicago. They told me that if I would first go elsewhere for
two years, then they would accept me. In a fit of pique I decided to go to law
school and graduated from Chicago School of Law in 1953.
When were you married?
I was married
in 1952. My wife died on Dec. 8, 1980. I remarried on Oct. 30, 1982.
introduced to the Catholic faith through my second wife, Mary Ellen. She had been
a nun for 15 years. I didnít know any priests or nuns. Although I had many Catholic
friends, we never discussed religion. I had been to a Catholic Mass a couple of
times with friends when I was in my teens and early 20s, but I hadnít been to
any church for years and years until I began going to Sunday Mass with my Mary
What sparked your interest in the Catholic Church?
After I wrote Slouching
Toward Gomorrah the priest at St. Anneís Catholic Church in Washington,
D.C., Msgr. William Awalt, told me that my views on matters seemed to be very
close to those of the Catholic views, which was true. Not being religious, the
fact that our views corresponded wasnít enough to bring me into the Church, so
it took me a while before I was ready to enter.
I had a number of conversations
with Father C.J. McCloskey. He gave me some readings and he would drop by on his
way home and we would talk for an hour to an hour and a half in my office. The
one I liked best was Ronald Knoxís The Beliefs of Catholics. Iíve taught
classes, but I didnít feel like being taught a class. I wasnít eager to be a student.
Our time together was informative and highly informal.
Were there any misconceptions that you had to overcome?
When I was between 15 and 16, I was taught that the Catholic Church was
highly authoritarian and that the priests had strict control over your thoughts
and ideas. By the time it came to convert I had been around the world a while,
so I no longer had those ideas. I knew too many Catholics to believe that.
Does it seem to make a difference converting at age 76
rather than when you were younger?
I donít know that it has
any effect. My mother is going to be 105 this fall. I donít feel old compared
to her. I havenít spoken to her about it yet, but I assume sheíll take it well.
There is an advantage in waiting until youíre 76 to be baptized, because
youíre forgiven all of your prior sins. Plus, at that age youíre not likely to
commit any really interesting or serious sins.
Was there anything in particular that pulled you toward the Church?
found the evidence of the existence of God highly persuasive, as well as the arguments
from design both at the macro level of the universe and the micro level of the
I found the evidence of design overwhelming, and also the number
of witnesses to the Resurrection compelling. The Resurrection is established as
a solid historical fact.
Plus, there was the fact that the Church is
the Church that Christ established, and while itís always in trouble, despite
its modern troubles it has stayed more orthodox than almost any church I know
of. The mainline Protestant churches are having much more difficulty.
Did your wife play a significant role in your decision?
Yes, although she never proselytized outright. She discussed things with
me, but it was more her example than anything else. I donít know whether itís
her faith or something else, but she is an extraordinarily fine woman. We received
a note from Father Richard John Neuhaus saying that now all of the saints could
get some rest from Mary Ellenís importuning.
Where was the ceremony held?
I decided I wanted only a small group of people present, the ceremony was held
at the Catholic Information Center chapel in Washington. There were three priests
at the baptism. Msgr. Awalt did the baptism. Father McCloskey gave the homily
and Msgr. Peter Vaghi, pastor of St. Patrickís Catholic Church, also participated.
I didnít talk about it to anyone beforehand.
My three children were as
surprised about it as anyone. I told the sponsors, Kate OíBeirne and John OíSullivan,
only a couple of weeks before. I donít know how surprised they were. I never discussed
it with them, but they probably expected that I wasnít far off.
1996, you published Slouching Toward Gomorrah. In light of the recent Supreme
Court decision striking down Texasí anti-sodomy law, do you think we are still
slouching or are we already there?
Yes, we are slouching toward
it if we havenít passed the city limits already. Iím afraid that the Supreme Court
is playing a large role in moving the culture in that direction.
book is going to be reissued with a new chapter that will discuss the recent Lawrence
decision, the affirmative-action cases and the decision regarding computer-simulated
is the subject of your forthcoming book, Coercing Virtue, isnít it?
Yes. Itís a slimmer book based on the Barbara Frum Lecture that I delivered
at the University of Toronto. Its theme is that all of the Western worldís judges
are taking issues of politics and morality away from legislatures. This can be
seen not just in the United States but in Canada, Europe and Israel. Itís now
making its appearance in international law.
In the United States we tend
to think that what is happening is the result of a couple of bad appointments,
but this is an international phenomenon. The cultural war is an international
phenomenon and the courts have the power of judicial review to strike down statutes
or accept them. They have taken one side in the culture war ó the side of the
intellectual elite, or a term I like, the Olympians. They are those people who
think they have a superior attitude in life and that those of us lower down the
courts should be coerced into accepting their views.
What do you have planned next?
going to edit a book with the Hoover Institution about courts and their effects
on American values. I have five other authors that will be writing chapters. I
have also promised to do a book on the freedomsī paper trail examining the documents
leading up to and including the Constitution.
After that Iím free to
write what I want. I may write one on liberalism or I may write one on martinis.
Robert H. Bork has served with distinction as a judge, lawyer, scholar,
government official, and law professor. Early in his career, he was an associate
and partner with the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis before joining the faculty at
Yale Law School. During the 1970s, Judge Bork held the positions of United States
Solicitor General and Acting Attorney General. He subsequently served as a United
States Court of Appeals judge for the District of Columbia Circuit. Formerly a
scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, Judge Bork is currently a Distinguished
Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and the Tad and Dianne Taube Distinguished
Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He also teaches at Ave Maria School
of Law during consolidated periods in the fall and spring semesters. Judge Bork
is the author of The
Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law, Slouching
Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, and Coercing
Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges.
Tim Drake. "Judge Bork Converts to the Catholic
Faith." National Catholic Register. (July 20-26, 2003).
article is reprinted with permission from National Catholic Register.
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Tim Drake is an award-winning journalist and author. He has published more than 600 articles in various publications. He serves as staff writer with the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family Magazine. Tim Drake is the author of There We Stood, Here We Stand: 11 Lutherans Rediscover their Catholic Roots, Saints of the Jubilee, and Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow's Church. He resides in Saint Joseph, Minnesota. Visit his website here.
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