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Santorum’s Unconfirmed Faith

At around the age of twelve, Roman Catholics receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.  One of seven sacraments, this represents a bestowing the Gift of the Holy Spirit.    The practice enables one to spread and defend faith in a set of teachings in actions as well as in words.

For Roman Catholics, including Rick Santorum, those teachings include the principles of social justice and a reverence for the environment.   The strength comes from accepting this call to demonstrate faith in a set of principles on a daily basis.   This acceptance confirms an important step in the development of a Catholic’s life and faith in making that choice.

Public discourse typically avoids a discussion of religious and spiritual matters.  The separation of church and state as outlined in the Establishment Clause of the Constitution has kept the focus away from religion, although that has not always been the case in the aftermath of 9/11. But Rick Santorum’s rise to prominence in the current political debate and his public announcing of his religion has now forced the issue onto center stage.

In doing so, Mr. Santorum has demonstrated that his Catholicism remains unconfirmed.  The former Pennsylvania Senator professes to have a strong faith in his religious teachings and yet his public record indicates another reality.   The Catholic Church has taken very explicit positions on a range of public issues which Rick Santorum has also weighed in on and voted on as a senator.

Mr. Santorum recently said openly, “They talk about income inequality. I’m for income inequality. I think some people should make more than other people, because some people work harder and have better ideas and take more risk, and they should be rewarded for it. I have no problem with income inequality.”    This of course begs the question of who decides which job is harder than others and who works harder at them.

The Papal Encyclical issued June 29, 2009, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) reiterates many of the progressive social teachings of the Church for 21st Century followers.   One of its most salient principles calls attention to distributive and social justice:  “…the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates.”

Santorum has said,”I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families.”  This statement is obviously ripe with faux pas.  Suffice to say that when examined against the papal letter, Mr. Santorum’s comment indicates a clear disregard of Catholic teaching.

Let’s not forget the third word in this encyclical issued by your Pope in your church, Mr. Santorum: truth. Belief in economic inequality may be fine for your political base Mr. Santorum, but don’t hide behind the veil of your religion to justify your positions on public policy.

Candy Hill, senior vice president for social policy and government affairs for Catholic Charities USA recently said “the best possible scenario is a bipartisan agreement and not a partisan political debate,” she said. “The poor and marginalized are at risk whenever there is a partisan political debate.”    Regarding the Catholic Church’s support for the poor, Mr. Santorum says, “I’m not too sure I understand what that term–preferential option for the poor… in what respect?”

Santorum has promoted himself as a staunch supporter of life.   While his consistency with the Church’s position regarding abortion may be the only issue in agreement between the two,  it’s questionable how that should translate into public policy and the consequent dominion of choice a woman should have over her health, body and personal welfare.   “Life,” Mr. Santorum, applies to women and all of humanity.   Ethical consistency means all of life, not just one aspect.

The living environment and the health of all its ecosystems is another critically important area of life.  The 2009 encyclical states, “…technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption, either through an evolution in manufacturing methods or through greater ecological sensitivity among their citizens.”

The U.S. Conference of Bishops also takes an explicit stand on the environment with its Environmental Justice Program.  The Program “seeks to educate and motivate Catholics to a deeper reverence and respect for God’s creation, and to encourage Catholics to address environmental problems, particularly as they affect poor and vulnerable people.”

Rick Ungar recently wrote that various groups supporting a prolife position have rejected Santorum’s opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency, saying that it opposes those groups who support a prolife agenda.

On June 15, 2001 the United States Conference of Bishops issued a statement on climate change.  They wrote, “The United States bears a special responsibility in its stewardship of God’s creation to shape responses that serve the entire human family. As pastors, teachers, and citizens, we bishops seek to contribute to our national dialogue by examining the ethical implications of climate change….. Whatever the extent, severity, or geographical distribution of global warming impacts, the problem is expected to disproportionately affect the poor, the vulnerable, and generations yet unborn.”

Mr. Santorum’s view is that climate change is “junk science.”

During the presidential debates Mr. Santorum has endorsed torture.  He seems to forget that his own religion has vehemently defended the dignity of every human being.  In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, issued on December 7, 1965, the Church refers to torture as representing a “supreme dishonor”.

Again, Mr. Santorum’s faith is apparently unconfirmed if we are to believe his support for waterboarding.

In January 2011, The Conference of Bishops issued a statement on immigration.  They point out that “Survival has thus become the primary impetus for unauthorized immigration flows into the United States.”  In terms of public policy the Conference supports, “An earned legalization program would allow foreign nationals of good moral character who are living in the United States to apply to adjust their status to obtain lawful permanent residence.”

Santorum has publicly disagreed with the bishops on this issue, saying that “If we develop the program like the Catholic bishops suggested we would be creating a huge magnet for people to come in and break the law some more, we’d be inviting people to cross this border, come into this country and with the expectation that they will be able to stay here permanently.”    Not only is this statement in direction contradiction to those who establish the official views within Santorum’s own religious community but it’s also just plain ignorant.  Santorum is in effect saying that the United States should deny its own legacy of providing a beacon of hope that welcomes all people seeking refuge from oppression.   This is the vision that has historically shaped our immigration policy, not the other way around. Home schooling has not worked for you Mr. Santorum.

In their best selling 2010 book American Grace: How Religion Divides Us, Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell identify the religious polarization that affects public attitudes far beyond the church pew.  Santorum’s views do nothing to unite people, whether new immigrants, second generation minorities, or any other Americans.   Santorum’s Catholicism divides people rather than unite them.

Santorum has also been a consistent supporter of hunting, the right for all Americans to own guns, and aggressive military action against other nations, including war.   These views all directly oppose those of the Vatican.   War is not prolife.

Despite his heterodox views, he has gained some traction among certain Catholics.  A super PAC called the Catholic Vote Candidate Fund, has apparently bought radio ads in New Hampshire.  If this group’s support stems from the single issue of abortion as it probably does, much of the prolife ethic of consistency across all arenas that the Vatican and U.S. Conference of Bishops propose gets lost.  One dimensional support does not vindicate Santorum’s so-called faith. It remains unconfirmed.  It certainly doesn’t follow the teachings of his professed religion.

On a broader scale, Rick Santorum’s candidacy for President of the United States represents a denunciation of social, economic and environmental justice.  It clearly and directly opposes liberty and justice for all.  The real loyalty in his views and policy positions show his love for money and its concentration among those who will serve his rise among peers. The costs to people and the environment are irrelevant to Santorum. His views are reactionary and seek to solidify the pre-New Deal America that is already threatening Americans with the latest rise of the American Right.

Of course, this is all fine.  Mr. Santorum is free to promote his brand of conservatism.  But what’s insidious about his self-portrayal as a devout Catholic using the proclamation of scripture while conspiring to further alienate Americans from their right to succeed through an American tradition of social and economic mobility is that many Americans believe him.   It disingenuously wins over less informed Americans while alienating them from access to the very social mobility that has made Mr. Santorum a current frontrunner for the GOP nomination for President of the United States.

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Thomas P. Davis

Thomas P. Davis

I'm a freelance writer based in New Jersey. I've been writing about public issues for 10 years.