success stories

Posted August 3, 2003

Judge Bork Converts to the Catholic Faith

Tim 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?

It was 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.

I was 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 Ellen.

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?

I 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 cell.

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?

Since 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.

In 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.

The 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 pornography.

That 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?

Iím 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.

Tim Drake is the managing editor of Catholic.net and the author of "There We Stood, Here We Stand: 11 Lutherans Rediscover their Catholic Roots." He writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.