|St Catherine of Sieana, Great Falls VA|
Rick Santorum's parish
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is no admirer of President John Kennedy but when Santorum swept the primaries in Alabama and Mississippi yesterday he did something that Kennedy could never have done and which he, Santorum, could not have done had it not been for Kennedy’s carving out a place in American politics for his fellow Catholics. Santorum’s victory is a clear sign that the anti-Catholic bias that for so long has plagued the “evangelical” regions of the United States is a thing of the past. Of course, in this election the choice was among two Catholics and a Mormon which, at least in days past, would have been an “evangelical’s” worst nightmare.
For years now each Sunday he is in town Rick Santorum has driven approximately twenty miles from his Leesburg VA home to his parish of choice, Saint Catherine of Siena in Great Falls VA. Saint Catherine’s is a very particular type of Catholic Parish. In a diocese known for its distinct brand of conservative Catholicism with priests grocery-shopping in cassock and biretta and girls banned from serving at the altar, Saint Catherine’s is the Gold Standard for Catholic neo-traditionalism. Saint Catherine’s is a parish that in the days when the “Tridentine Mass” was not permitted, counterfeited the pre-Conciliar liturgy with Novus Ordo Latin Mass tricked out to look like the “real thing” complete with deacon and “subdeacon,” with their backs turned to the congregation. It is the parish of various Catholic luminaries such as Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. (It also was the parish of Robert Hanssen, devout Catholic and convicted Russian spy. Santorum has this in common with Hanssen also: both men sent their sons to the private Opus Dei school, The Heights, in Potomac MD.)
Rick Santorum is well-known for his opposition to the legalization of Gay Marriage and even stronger opposition to legalized Abortion. He considers contraception “dangerous.” And, to his credit, the former senator not only “talks the talk” but “walks the walk.” He and his wife have had eight children—one of whom, Gabriel, was born prematurely (20 weeks) in 1996, dying after only two hours. Another child, Isabella, was born in 2008 (when Mrs. Santorum was 48) suffering from a rare genetic disorder. Mrs. Santorum has home-schooled the children though the older boys eventually were, as mentioned above, to go on to The Heights. (I am not sure if the girls were given the opportunity to attend Oakcrest, the Opus Dei private school for girls. Let me also say that both The Heights and Oakcrest are top-rate schools, second only to the untouchable Gonzaga College High School in downtown D.C.)
Rick Santorum seems to be a Catholic’s Catholic and his Catholic supporters claim that the Santorums believe in a highly traditional Catholicism that adheres fully to what scholars call “the teaching authority” of the pope and his bishops. But does he?
While his stand on gay marriage, abortion, and contraception are consistent with Catholic moral teaching, Santorum differs from the Church on many other issues. Rick Santorum was a strong supporter of George Bush’s war in Iraq despite Pope John Paul’s plea to the Bush administration not to go into that war and his subsequent condemnation of the war as unjust. Among those things which the Catholic Church condemns as absolute evils is not only abortion, but torture yet Senator Santorum was supportive of waterboarding and other torture techniques employed for “enhanced interrogation” in the Bush administration. In his Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae Pope John Paul condemned the Death Penalty except under the most restricted of circumstances, circumstances not met in the American penal code. The Pope even had the Catechism of the Catholic Church rewritten to make sure that the average Catholic is aware of this condemnation. Santorum has consistently supported the Death Penalty, in 1994 voting against replacing the death penalty with life in prison and supporting limiting appeals from death row inmates. Santorum believes that Climate Change is a fraud, declaring it “an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.” This differs from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI who have each written and spoken about the need to protect the environment from the disastrous effects that industrialization is wreaking on our society. Despite a consistent teaching of the Church on the rights of migrants dating back to the time of the Second World War but including papal magisterium from John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and now Pope Benedict, Santorum opposes any attempts for immigration reform. Ever since Leo XIII wrote the encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891 the Catholic Church has defended the rights of labor to organize—a teaching repeated by Pius XI, John XXIII, The Second Vatican Council, Paul VI, John Paul II, and now Benedict XVI, yet Rick Santorum opposes the rights of public sector workers to organize and he consistently favors capital over labor in the private sector. Similarly while the Church speaks of the importance of regulatory safeguards on the economy Santorum always voted against them and still opposes economic regulations.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind a Catholic candidate differing from the magisterium. I think that while one must always follow one’s conscience, there are times when, to perform one’s public duties, one’s conscience may call the President, or Senator or Judge or Governor or Congressperson or General or Admiral or whatever to pass over a Church teaching to do his or her public duty. (Note: I said “Church teaching.” I did not say Divine Law, though “Church Teaching” may include the Church’s interpretation of Divine Law) But this brings me into conflict with Rick Santorum’s philosophy too. Santorum has decried the Kennedy doctrine which states “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”
Santorum says that John Kennedy did great “harm in America” by insisting on the separation of Church and State. I don’t know. If it be harm, it wasn’t President Kennedy, it was future President Madison when he drafted the first amendment back in 1789. And if it be harm, give me more of it for while I don’t want public figures to forsake their consciences, or citizens to abandon their moral principles and religious faith when voting, I do want religious institutions (and atheist and agnostic institutions) kept out of direct participation in public life.