As the boy grew to become a man, he explored the marble chambers that pump power into American politics.
He worked as an intern. He rode the private subway that whisks legislators to the Capitol. He took his share of power lunches. Finally, he decided that his vocation was in a higher court.
"One day it hit me," said Father Paul Scalia. "To save things, it is going to take more than a really good Supreme Court decision. Good thing, too, because we're not going to have one anytime soon. I am very, very pessimistic about the ability of government policies ... to change things."
The 30-year-old priest in the Diocese of Arlington (Va.) has not sought the media spotlight to deliver sobering opinions of this kind. This would have been easy because of his last name. Father Paul is one of the nine children of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whose outspoken views on moral issues have made him a hero on the religious right and the bane of the lifestyle left. According to media reports, Father Paul also worked behind the scenes to help Justice Clarence Thomas return to the Roman Catholic faith.
Politics are important, said Scalia. But this is an age in which the moral decisions that shape private and public life are as likely to be affected by MTV and movies, as by high courts and legislatures.
Politics may "may slow down our cultural decay," he said. "I am not very optimistic about its ability to stop it."
Priests who observe the lives of their people know this, said Scalia, at a meeting to support gays and lesbians who strive to follow Catholic teachings. The 10th annual "Healing for the Homosexual Conference" was sponsored by Parents and Friends, a network of clergy, counselors and parents based in Washington, D.C. But Scalia's address included few references to homosexuality. Instead he covered a wider range of issues -- from families wrecked by adultery to the pressures that drive girls to hate their own bodies, from Catholics who shack up before marriage to teens hooked on cyber-pornography.
All of these issues are symptoms of a larger problem, he said. Millions of Americans yearn for sexual pleasure and for spirituality. However, many have forgotten that what they do with their bodies profoundly affects the health of their souls. Male and female bodies are not mere machines, like automobiles, that can be used for pleasure and then taken in for tune-ups at gyms and clinics.
"If the body is just something that I own, then when I am sexually involved, or when my body is sexually involved, I am not," Scalia said. "So what does it matter? What does it matter ... if I have sex before marriage? Or if I have sex with someone who is not my spouse, or if I have sex with someone of the same sex? And so on. If the body is just a tool, just an instrument, then what does it matter?"
Every human being, stressed Scalia, is not a "soul encased in a body, but a soul living through a body. ... The body is always to be treated with reverence, because the body is the expression of the image of God. The body is the way that the soul communicates."
This is a complex message and one that many hear as a radical limitation on personal freedom. This is especially true, he said, in an age in which the Supreme Court -- in its 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision -- has linked liberty to "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
With a sarcastic shrug, the priest noted that this decision was based on the "defining the universe section of the constitution." He said this has led to "a deadly understanding of freedom" and what Pope John Paul II calls a "culture of death" in which the weak -- the sick, the poor, the elderly and the unborn -- can be crushed by the freedoms of the strong.
Freedom "does not mean doing whatever we want," argued Father Scalia. "Freedom means the ability to do what we ought to do."