U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia today told a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 Catholics to have "the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity" by society's sophisticates.

Scalia, the longest-serving justice on the high court and one of its most conservative, received a rousing welcome from a throng sprawled across several adjoining rooms of the Denver Convention Center.

Scanning the crowd of participants in the two-day Living the Catholic Faith Conference, Scalia quipped that that this was his first time in front of a group where he had to look so far to the left and to the right.

The 75-year-old Scalia said that today one can believe in a creator and the teachings of Jesus without being the brunt of too much ridicule, but that to hold traditional Christian beliefs that Jesus is God and He physically rose from the grave is to be derided as simple-minded by those considered leading intellectuals.

Traditional Catholics, Scalia said, are seen as peasant-like in their saying the Rosary, kneeling before the Holy Eucharist and indiscriminately following the teachings of the pope.

"(Yet) the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight," Scalia said, quoting the Bible.


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Scalia is far from isolated in his faith on the Supreme Court . Six of the nine justices are Catholic, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayer. Of them, Scalia, selected by President Reagan and seated in 1986, is said be the one who can "hold five," or keep a five-justice conservative majority to decide cases. President Obama nominee Sotomayor is seen as part of the liberal wing of the court that includes three Jewish justices.

When Boston University religion scholar Stephen Prothero put together a list Thursday of America's 12 most influential Catholics, it didn't require much research to place the first 10. His list named the six justices, Speaker of the House John Boehner (who succeeded another Catholic, Nancy Pelosi), Vice President Joe Biden, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and Archbishop Timothy Dolan. (He named comedian Stephen Colbert and blogger Andrew Sullivan 11th and 12th.)

"It wasn't so long ago that U.S. Protestants were burning down Catholic convents to protest efforts by the Vatican to infiltrate American society and take it over from within," Prothero wrote in the CNN Belief Blog. "Today, you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that Catholics now occupy some of the most powerful positions in the land."

In Washington, Scalia said, the pundits and media couldn't believe in a miracle performed under their noses.

"My point is not that reason and intellect need to be laid aside," Scalia said. "A faith without a rational basis should be laid aside as false. ... What is irrational is to reject a priori the possibility of miracles in general and the resurrection of Jesus Christ in particular."

The Catholic conference at the Convention Center Friday and Saturday drew at least 3,500 participants, according to James Cavanagh, Denver Archdiocese director of Evangelization and Catechesis.

Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or edraper@denverpost.com