Constitutional Scholar William Bentley Ball, 82, Dies
HARRISBURG, Pa.—William Bentley Ball, a noted Catholic constitutional expert, died Jan. 10. He was especially known for his views on religious freedom and the separation of Church and state.
According to Dr. Stephen Krason, president of the Catholic Society of Social Scientists, “He was the preeminent practicing Catholic constitutional lawyer in the country of the last 30 years.
“His passing on certainly takes away a major spokesman and leading promoter of accommodation between Church and state,” Krason said.
Ball, 82, served as counsel in 25 constitutional litigations before the U.S. Supreme Court. Among his most important cases were Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), Meek v. Pittenger (1975), and Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District (1993).
He also served as the first executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) and was its legal counsel. He practiced law with the Harrisburg, Pa., law firm of Ball, Skelly, Murren & Connell, which has represented the PCC since 1968.
The PCC executive director, Robert O‘Hara, Jr., said, “I'm sure everyone who knew Mr. Ball and his work would agree that not only is this a great personal loss to his family, co-workers, and friends, but also a significant loss for the Church, the legal profession, and all who defend and promote religious freedom.”
Ball was a widely-respected writer. His most recent books were Mere Creatures of the State? and Education, Religion, and the Courts. He also published in a number of influential journals, including Crisis and First Things.
Justin Torres, managing editor of Crisis, told the Register, “His loss is a great tragedy for Catholics interested in the public sphere. He was incomparable. He was a Thomas More of our time.”
His last published column in Crisis, which appears in the January 1999 issue, dealt with the Clinton scandal. Shortly before the impeachment, Ball wrote, “should a decision have ensued not to convict Clinton, or worse, a failure even to impeach him, our people will have judged themselves by that inaction.”
In the winter issue of National Lawyers Association Review, Ball took aim at the perversion of language practiced by lawyers and others. He said, “Today since Roe V. Wade, Supreme Court opinions have given birth to a whole national vocabulary of double entendre.
“Universally, we hear of a woman's ‘right to choose.’ But choose what?” Creative use of language, he said, was reminiscent of George Orwell's totalitarian states and “their manipulation of language to serve as instruments of power.”
For many, Ball was an inspiration. Deacon Keith Fournier, president of the Catholic Alliance and a lawyer, said, “There were few who could tower over Bill Ball. He was a wonderful, deep Catholic in love with the Lord. Bill Ball was my hero.”
A former law clerk, Kevin Bagatta, said simply, “He was a man of faith, a man of courage, and a man of action.” Bagatta is president of Real Alternatives, a network of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers in Pennsylvania.
Ball was a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School. He was a retired Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
He also was a board member of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, and active in many organizations, including the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. He was made a Knight Commander, Order of St. Gregory the Great, in 1976.
Ball and his wife, Caroline, lived in Camp Hill, Pa.; they had been married 55 years. They had one daughter. (Joseph Esposito)
- January 17, 1999