Catholics (Including Those He Went to School With) Ambivalent About Santorum

Matt Muchowski February 14, 2012

GOP candidate Rick Santorum addressing the Conservative Political Action Committee on February 10 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Do you val­ue the inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism you find at  In These Times? Please donate today to help keep all of our online con­tent free and acces­si­ble.In recent days, nation­al polls have shown Rick San­to­rum lead­ing Mitt Rom­ney for the first time in the GOP race. San­to­rum is 15 points ahead in Rom­ney’s home state of Michi­gan, and enjoys almost twice as much sup­port as Rom­ney among con­ser­v­a­tives, Tea Par­ty sup­port­ers and white evan­gel­i­cals.San­to­rum has been play­ing to the evan­gel­i­cal base of late, pick­ing up the endorse­ment of evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers in Jan­u­ary. But signs of sup­port among the Catholic com­mu­ni­ty from which he hails are so far decid­ed­ly more mixed.In a Huff­in­g­ton Post arti­cle enti­tled, “Is Rick San­to­rum an Evan­gel­i­cal or a Catholic?” David Brody, the chief polit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent for Pat Robert­son’s Chris­t­ian Broad­cast­ing Net­work, is quot­ed as insist­ing that “Rick San­to­rum is an evan­gel­i­cal at heart.”Many of his posi­tions are also more in line with those of evan­gel­i­cals. As a House mem­ber and Sen­a­tor, San­to­rum built a career on social con­ser­v­a­tive issues while cit­ing his Catholic faith.  He opposed LGBTQ rights, teach­ing evo­lu­tion, con­tra­cep­tion and a wom­an’s right to choose. But he has recent­ly been asked to account for some key areas where his posi­tions diverge from those of the Church—including health care and immi­gra­tion reform. Some clues to Santorum’s polit­i­cal apos­ta­sy come from his roots in Illi­nois, where he grad­u­at­ed from Carmel Catholic High School. Last week­end, the school held its annu­al fundrais­er, where far-flung alum­ni gath­ered and crit­i­cism of San­to­rum abound­ed. 
Many Catholics who attend­ed Carmel Catholic aren’t con­nect­ing with Santorum’s brand of social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive Catholi­cism.  Over 300 alum­ni and stu­dents of his own high school have joined a face­book page Carmel Catholic Alum­ni Against Rick San­to­rum.”  John Bel­tramo, an alum­ni from San­to­rum’s class of 1976 said, I find him to be an embar­rass­ment to our grad­u­at­ing class and to the school as a whole.  Catholic faith notwith­stand­ing, there’s no room for this brand of big­otry and exclu­sion in pub­lic ser­vice.”Per­haps San­to­rum’s dis­con­nect has to do with his few ties to the Catholic com­mu­ni­ty he came from.  His father worked for the VA and moved the fam­i­ly around often (as a result, San­to­rum attend­ed Carmel Catholic for only his senior year).  Few alum­ni even remem­bered him.  He was­n’t active in clubs or sports.Martha Ann Cahill Weaver, class of 1967, is active with her local chap­ter of PFLAG (Par­ents, Fam­i­lies, and Friends of Les­bians and Gays) I’m embar­rassed that San­to­rum attend­ed Carmel… I am deeply sad­dened that he could so eas­i­ly write off an entire group of human beings.”San­to­rum cites his Catholic faith as guid­ing his social con­ser­vatism, yet there is no require­ment for one to be opposed to LGBTQ rights in Catholi­cism.  The Unit­ed States Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops and the Pope have issued state­ments con­demn­ing the LGBTQ move­ment, but the Pope has nev­er giv­en an offi­cial dec­la­ra­tion of infal­li­a­bil­i­ty regard­ing LGBTQ issues or abor­tion.  The teach­ings of bish­ops on these issues are not at the lev­el of Church dog­ma, which you must believe in order to be con­sid­ered Catholic by the Church.Indeed, as has been wide­ly not­ed, most Amer­i­can Catholics have far more lib­er­al views on social issues than do the bish­ops.  In addi­tion to the wide­ly-cit­ed find­ing that 98% of sex­u­al­ly active Catholic women use birth con­trol at some point in their lives, the lat­est Pub­lic Reli­gion Research Insti­tute poll shows that a major­i­ty of Catholics believe employ­ers should be required to pro­vide for health insur­ance that cov­ers con­tra­cep­tion. (Though this poll was tak­en before Oba­ma’s pro­posed com­pro­mise.)A sim­i­lar poll from the PRRI showed a high lev­el of Catholic sup­port for gay rights.   71% of Catholics sup­port civ­il mar­riage equal­i­ty and 56% do not con­sid­er same-sex rela­tion­ships to be a sin. San­to­rum has picked and cho­sen which state­ments of Catholic Bish­ops he agrees with.  While he agrees with their state­ments against gay rights, he diverges when it come to his sup­port for the war in Iraq, immi­grant and labor rights, and even evo­lu­tion, some­thing that the Pope has spo­ken in sup­port of since the 1950’s.  The cur­rent Pope, Bene­dict XVI called the debate between cre­ation­ism and evo­lu­tion sci­ence absurd,” as faith and sci­ence can coex­ist. Bene­dict explained that there is much sci­en­tif­ic proof in favor of evo­lu­tion, which appears as a real­i­ty that we must see and which enrich­es our under­stand­ing of life and being as such.”Jim Wilkins, a 1976 Carmel Catholic alum­ni (the same class as San­to­rum) said, two key things I was taught at Carmel & San­ta Maria were that you treat every­one fair­ly & equal­ly and how you treat the most dis­ad­van­taged among us defines you as a per­son. San­to­rum fails on both points.”
Matt Muchows­ki works for Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union and enjoys defeat­ing anti-union leg­is­la­tion. He lives in Chica­go and for a brief but mem­o­rable time was asso­ciate pub­lish­er of In These Times.
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