A Cautious Man
July 19, 2005
 
"Santorumonious"
It’s no secret that Senator Rick Santorum would like to be President. There’s nothing wrong with that – I understand that every Senator thinks he or she could be President. However, in Senator Santorum’s case, his strategy includes presenting himself as the “Catholic” candidate – if not the only “real Catholic”. It’s a weapon that he can use two ways. First, he can try to capture President Bush’s conservative and evangelical base, and second, he can try to deflect any criticism of his political views by claiming that he is being attacked on religious grounds.

And for both, he has to start establishing what a “real Catholic” is, both to reassure some of those evangelicals, and to anticipate that some of his political opponents will also be Catholic. In short, Senator Santorum will tell us who and what is “Catholic’, and who and what are not.

Where do I get all of this? Well, I guess it starts with the recent dust-up over an article he wrote a few years ago, on the cause of the clergy abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. That’s a “biggie” that he has to deal with, if he’s going to get that conservative evangelical vote. Just as Bill Frist did with poor Ms. Schiavo, Senator Santorum came up with a “diagnosis” from afar –
It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.
Originally, when this came up a few weeks ago, I thought that an article from several years ago didn’t really matter much. Then we saw that in response to some criticism, Senator Santorum apparently re-affirmed his assertions. As reported in the Boston Globe on July 13 -
Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, refused yesterday to back off on his earlier statements connecting Boston's ''liberalism" with the Roman Catholic Church pedophile scandal, saying that the city's ''sexual license" and ''sexual freedom" nurtured an environment where sexual abuse would occur.

"The basic liberal attitude in that area . . . has an impact on people's behavior, " Santorum said in an interview yesterday at the Capitol. "If you have a world view that I'm describing [about Boston] . . . that affirms alternative views of sexuality, that can lead to a lot of people taking it the wrong way, " Santorum said.


"I was just saying that there's an attitude that is very open to sexual freedom that is more predominant" in Boston, Santorum said yesterday. Reminded that the sexual abuse occurred across the country, Santorum said that "at the time [in 2002], there was an indication that there was more of a problem there" in Boston.
There are a couple of things going on here, with his initial statement and reaffirmation. Three years ago he refers to "alternative lifestyles" as the cause of the abuse, and in his recent comment he refers to “sexual freedom”. One has to wonder why he thinks these are relevent to a discussion of abuse – until you look back at the infamous “Man-on-Dog” interview he gave in USA Today, in which he also said -
SANTORUM: In this case, what we're talking about, basically, is priests who were having sexual relations with post-pubescent men. We're not talking about priests with 3-year-olds, or 5-year-olds. We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship. Which, again, according to the world view sense is a a perfectly fine relationship as long as it's consensual between people. If you view the world that way, and you say that's fine, you would assume that you would see more of it.
See, the Senator is telling us, it’s not an abuse scandal, and it's not a scandal where those in authority let down the people who relied on them, or worse. It’s just some of those liberal, gay priests causing all the trouble. And since they're liberal and gay (if I may suggest where his argument is going), then they’re not really Catholic, and its not a “Catholic” problem at all. Q.E.D.

I don’t think that’s too harsh an interpretation of where the Senator is going with this. After all, he is persisting in associating Boston (as your basic liberal enclave) with the causes of the abuse scandal. In doing so, he is ignoring all of the actual facts which have been developed regarding this, including facts which the American Catholic Church itself is trying to bring to light. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts took exception (naturally) to labelling Boston as the cause of the abuse, as not only insulting but also contrary to the facts. And Senator Santorum got a well-deserved spanking in Sunday's Boston Globe from columnist Tom Oliphant:
In the end, I've decided, after a decade of absurdities, Rick Santorum is not funny, just weird.

The Pennsylvania senator's latest outburst of cruel insensitivity -- imagining some tie between the ''culture" of Boston and the behavior of priest-rapists -- is garden variety demagoguery.


For some reason, he and his spokesman expanded on this gibberish last week, adding the interesting theory that openness to "sexual freedom" is more "predominant" in Boston. And his spokesman went further, linking the priest-rapists to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and '70s and to "liberal bias" at Harvard and other local universities.

As insight into the mind of a demagogue, this garbage is fascinating in its embrace of contemporary media politics, where the headline value of an assertion always trumps evidence.

According to data compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York for the US Conference of Bishops, accusations of child sexual abuse have been leveled at slightly less than 4,400 priests involving more than 10,600 children. Unfortunately, for Santorum, this sad narrative encompasses much more than the so-called sexual revolution. It goes all the way back to 1950, when books and movies were still routinely "banned" in Boston. It would be interesting to have Santorum declaim at length on sex-crazed Boston in the 1960s, but as someone who somehow survived those days (and at Harvard, no less) I could testify from personal experience that Boston was not exactly Sodom.


It is not even accurate to assert that Boston was the center of the child abuse horror. A demagogue feasting off headlines could be forgiven three years ago for equating headlines with deeper truth, but the fact is, as Kennedy put it, that this horrific scandal knew no state or ideological boundaries. Using a simple, clarifying concept -- priests accused as a percent of priests in the affected diocese -- the ''center" turns out to have been Covington, Ky. -- known to business travelers everywhere as the home of Cincinnati's airport. The percentage of accused priests there from 1950 on was 9.6 percent, compared to 7 percent in Boston.
In fact, data compiled by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and made publically available, shows the sad fact that such abuse was found across the country, and was not especially focused, nor initiated, in Boston or any other city which the Senator wants to label as a "breeding ground".

So, in order to make his case the Senator has to wilfully and obstinately ignore facts provided by the U.S. Catholic bishops. At least, he’s not attacking them as not being "real Catholics", which appears to be how he’s "responding" to Senator Kennedy. As recounted Joe Feuerherd of National Catholic Reporter -
It's all about politics, Santorum told participants on a July 14 teleconference call with members of the Catholic press. "There is no depth to which they will not sink," he said of the Democratic attacks. Then he too got personal: "I am for proper formation, something I would challenge Senator Kennedy to be for. Proper orthodox formation within the teachings of the Vatican. I don't think Senator Kennedy would follow that very closely. "

(There's a headline for you: "Kennedy Opposes Proper Formation.")
According to another press account, Santorum added: "I don't think Ted Kennedy lecturing me on the teachings of the church and how the church should handle these problems is something I'm going to take particularly seriously."

See, those who disagree with him aren’t “real Catholics” (and note, by the way, that the Senator's "diagnosis" and even basic understanding of the issue is at odds with the reports from the U.S. bishops). Apparently, Senator Santorum has the "keys to the kingdom" to decide who the "real Catholics" are. And, if you think my assessment of where he’s going with this is far-fetched, I’ll point you to an article from the National Catholic Reporter in 2002, discussing the Opus Dei order (which the Senator is not a member of, so there’s no problem with the conservative evangelicals over that one) -
In contemporary Western debates, this idea of unity between faith and political allegiance often puts Opus Dei-inspired politicians on the right. Santorum was a forceful champion of this view. He told NCR that a distinction between private religious conviction and public responsibility, enshrined in John Kennedy's famous speech in 1960 saying he would not take orders from the Catholic church if elected president, has caused "much harm in America. " "All of us have heard people say, 'I privately am against abortion, homosexual marriage, stem cell research, cloning. But who am I to decide that it's not right for somebody else?' It sounds good, " Santorum said. "But it is the corruption of freedom of conscience. " Santorum told NCR that he regards George W. Bush as "the first Catholic president of the United States. "
Did you catch that? If you want to know what a “Real Catholic” thinks, just look at the current President Bush. And that’s why Rick Santorum will be out to show that he’s the “Real-est Catholic” of them all.

And that’s unsettling.

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