Move over, Antonin Scalia. Stephen Colbert is now America’s Catholic.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has always reminded me of the robed men of the Catholic Church in which I grew up: well-fed and saturnine, burbling with derisive erudition, jolly one moment and imperious the next, a weary disgust often flickering at the edges of the brow and lips. These men only really engaged with the boys; the girls always seemed to them to have wandered into the room by mistake. I’ll never forget the look of vague revulsion on the face of the vast monsignor who served Holy Communion at my confirmation, the corners of his mouth pulling down to contain his nausea at the riffraff they let into the church these days. It’s the shape of a mouth reading an acrid Scalia dissent.
For a lot of reasons—because he is the longest-serving and most boisterous member of America’s own Ecumenical Council, because he frequently addresses Catholic groups, because Andy Borowitz says as much—we think of Justice Scalia as “America’s Catholic,” as my Slate colleague Dahlia Lithwick put it in an email. In fact, you could easily imagine him as America’s first Bishop of Rome, or at least his duly appointed representative. Pope Benedict XVI was a fun cartoon villain because of the fumes of nefarious conspiracy wafting off his haute couture threads—he was Mugatu in a chasuble. Scalia wouldn’t have gone shopping with him, but otherwise they were two hearts beating as one: They’re both deeply conservative, nostalgic for “tradition,” rigid in their interpretations of doctrine, belittling of women and gays, and forever erring on the side of consolidating more power—be it political, social, or religious—in the hands of the already powerful.