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Santorum’s “Catholic Problem”

How does Rick Santorum's record stand up to Catholic teachings?

 

Many people have pondered on why Rick Santorum did so well in the Iowa caucuses. Iowa is a fervent Church-going state. My guess is that he appealed strongly to Evangelicals who make up 25.4% of the state’s population and fellow Catholics who comprise a surprising 23%. I would assume that his strong stance on abortion and same sex marriage might be reasons why he might appeal to these two groups. While Santorum is in lock step with the Catholic bishops on these two issues how does he stand on other “Catholic issues”?

Immigration
Catholic bishops, priests and women religious have been at the forefront of the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Catholic leaders have called for an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and consistently oppose draconian policies that break up families. Santorum has publicly challenged the Catholic bishops on this issue, telling the Des Moines Register: “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.”.

Poverty, Inequality and Financial Regulation
Pope Benedict XVI has decried the “scandal of glaring inequalities” between rich and poor, and Catholic social teaching supports a more just distribution of wealth. As a Senator, Santorum voted for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which greatly exacerbated the gap between the top 1% and the rest of us. The Vatican also recently released a major document on the need for more robust financial regulation of global markets to protect workers and the common good. Santorum clings to the thoroughly debunked lie that regulation caused our nation’s financial collapse. He told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz that “it wasn’t deregulation…it was government regulation” that in part led to our current economic problems. In Congress, Santorum also voted for the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which deregulated risky financial schemes that led to the economic crisis of 2008.


While Catholic bishops defend vital government programs that protect the most vulnerable, Santorum recently voiced support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s  federal budget plan—a plan the bishops expressed deep concern about because it would cut life-saving programs while spending trillions on massive new tax breaks for the rich. Moreover, Santorum said that the poor who receive government aid could learn by suffering more. When questioned about how his economic views clash with the Catholic demand for a “preferential option for the poor” in public policy, Santorum was completely unfamiliar with this bedrock Church teaching.


Workers’ Rights
The Catholic Church has defended the vital role of unions since 1891, when Pope Leo XIII released Rerum Novarum, an encyclical that puts the dignity of work and labor rights at the center of Catholic social teaching. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church clearly states that workers have a right to “assemble and form associations” and that unions are “a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life.” Rick Santorum, on the other hand, has argued that all public sector unions should be abolished. In a presidential candidates’ debate, Santorum said he would “support a bill that says that we should not have public employee unions for the purposes of wages and benefits to be negotiated.”

Climate Change and the Environment
Pope Benedict XVI, who has been dubbed the “Green Pope” for his attention to environmental justice and climate change, recently urged world leaders meeting for climate talks in Durban, South Africa, to “reach agreement on a responsible, credible response” to the “disturbing” effects of climate change. Santorum must not be listening. In an interview with Rush Limbaugh, he described the fact that climate change is caused by humans as “patently absurd” and a “beautifully concocted scheme.” Recently, Santorum blasted a new Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting emissions of mercury and other air toxins from coal-fired power plants. Catholic bishops hailed the ruling as “an important step forward to protect the health of all people, especially unborn babies and young children, from harmful exposure to dangerous air pollutants.”

Torture and War
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The Catholic bishops describe torture as an assault on the dignity of human life. “The use of torture must be rejected as fundamentally incompatible with the dignity of the human person and ultimately counterproductive in the effort to combat terrorism,” they wrote in Faithful Citizenship, a political responsibility statement released before every presidential election.  But Santorum eagerly endorsed  “enhanced interrogation” techniques during the first Republican primary debate. Santorum’s predilection toward pre-emptive war also clashes with mainstream Catholic theology. When the late Pope John Paul II warned against the invasion of Iraq, Santorum vocally championed the war. And while the Catholic bishops repeatedly called for a responsible withdrawal, Santorum remained a staunch defender of the occupation. 


Catholic politicians across the spectrum will all find aspects of Church teaching that challenge their ideological agendas in discomforting ways. For too long Catholics in public life have only been scrutinized when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage. This ignores the Catholic social justice tradition’s broad moral agenda and lets Catholic candidates like Rick Santorum off the hook even when they consistently disregard their faith’s teachings on key moral and political issues.

 

 





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