By John Stang
Religion is an interesting attribute in politics. It serves as convenient tool for candidates to claim “WWJD” whenever there is a particular issue they see as important (i.e. abortion, same sex marriage, or even giving to the poor). Of course, this is not a secret. It’s also not a secret that candidates tend to have more open religious experiences than other people, probably to garner votes with more religious voters. Rick Santorum has always been the “social values” candidate. The person who believes in “family, faith, and freedom.” He has little problem winning the Evangelical base, despite being a Roman Catholic. When questioned about his record, especially some of the more controversial statements he has made about same sex marriage (man on dog sex anyone?) or his protest against abortion in all circumstances (even rape and incest), Santorum will justify it by proclaiming his strong Catholic faith.
What’s fascinating about this is how Santorum often emphasizes social teachings of the Catholic Church, like abortion, same sex marriage, and his disdain for contraception. Yet, I never hear him speak, or he does very little, or the social justice doctrine of the Catholic Church (such as feeding the poor and clothing the naked). Andrew Sullivan has described him this way:
It’s also important to note that Santorum is a cafeteria Catholic. Opposing any sacrifice from the very wealthy in cutting the debt, while slashing healthcare for seniors is not orthodox Catholicism. Nor is support for torture; or pre-emptive war. The Vatican doesn’t really care as long as he keeps up the war on gays, privacy and contraception. But he is a dissident in the church – from the fringe right.
Margery Eagan at the Boston Herald calls him the antithesis to many Catholic teachings:
It turns out that Santorum, despite his uber Catholic posturing, is a cafeteria Catholic in reverse. Or maybe I should call him an “all about sex” Catholic because he only agrees with the church’s doctrines on matters sexual. Look at his record. He’s for the death penalty and a foreign policy macho hawk (both against Catholic teaching). He’s opposed to illegal immigration and social justice for the poor (both big time against Catholic teaching from the Vatican and the American church).
None of these should be surprising. Many elements of conservative thought and many Republican ideals hardly match the Catholic Church on many issues. Still, the strong focus on sex and abortion has always baffled me. Why those issues are on the front burners, I may never totally understand.
What does bother me about Santorum is how he likes to be standard bearer for the Church as the holy crusader, historical pun totally intended. The Catholic vote is more of a myth. Even opinion polls show a divided Church constituency on a whole host of issues. John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, John F. Kennedy, and other Catholic Democrats represent other views within the Church. As Catholic, I proudly support gay marriage and consider myself pro-choice. What has caused one side to stand up against the other is this “culture war” phenomenon where conservative Catholics see certain views as marginalized and the liberal side as outside the Church’s teaching. Not a new conflict, but one that has been resurrected, yet another pun, for another show.