Opinion: Barack Obama and John Roberts, round 2


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Maybe it’s just me. But having covered both legal affairs and religion in my career as a journalist, I’m always struck by similarities between the law and the church. For example, both deal with doctrine and its development over time. Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation in public schools, gave a new interpretation to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The decrees of the Second Vatican Council likewise incorporated developments in Roman Catholic interpretation of Scripture and tradition.

The latest analogy was suggested by Chief Justice John G. Roberts do-over of the swearing-in of President Obama. As everyone knows, at Tuesday’s public inauguration ceremony,the usually unflappable Roberts mangled the wording of the presidential oath in asking Obama to repeat it. Wednesday evening there was another oath-taking ceremony in the White House, at which both Roberts and Obama rendered the oath correctly.


The willingness of Roberts to administer the oath again just in case the first didn’t do the trick reminded me of a practice in the Catholic Church in which priests from the Anglican or Episcopal churches who decide to join the RCs are sometimes ‘conditionally’ re-ordained. The second ceremony is designed to cover the possibility that their original holy orders weren’t valid. The most famous case involved Graham Leonard, the Anglican Bishop of London who was re-ordained when he ‘poped’ (as they say in England) after his original church decided to ordain women.

This sort of punctiliousness about proper form is a distinctly Catholic concern. Roberts is a Catholic. Coincidence?