The Counter-Catholic View of Santorum on Religious Liberty

I have been out of town for the last few days and subject to a rather full schedule, so I’ve not been the best at staying atop of the latest national news. Upon my recent return, I’ve noticed quite a bit of attention given to GOP presidential hopeful Rich Santorum’s bold reaction to JFK’s famous 1960 speech on religious liberty, the “separation of Church and State,” and the relationship of his own faith tradition to the role of chief executive of the United States. That JFK speech has long been hailed as a sound articulation of the distinction necessarily made between the public role of elected government official and the individual politician’s faith. That the the remaining three GOP candidates garnering the most attention these days are either Catholic or Mormon (pace Ron Paul, who, aside from an excellent New Yorker article last week and occasional blips on the electoral radar screen, has been continually dismissed by the media) should be cause for each candidate to embrace the spirit of JFK’s speech or at least pursue a similar trajectory.

Rick Santorum, in a move that is as unbelievable as his continued candidacy for president of the United States after losing his last senatorial election by decisive margins, has stuck to a position that stands — seemingly, at least —  in contrast to what JFK laid out more than fifty years ago. In today’s online edition of The Washington Post we read:

Santorum defended his remarks, telling Stephanopoulos that “the first line, first substantive line in the speech, says, ‘I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute.’”

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum said. “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”

There are so many logical fallacies in the line of reasoning that Santorum offers here and elsewhere on this subject that it is nearly impossible to respond mark-for-mark. Instead, I think it is important to highlight a few important points that Santorum, and others, should be made well aware.

The first is that Kennedy does not suggest that “the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state” in the sense that Santorum is suggesting. When Santorum goes on to say:

“Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision saying, ‘No, faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate.’ Go on and read the speech. ‘I will have nothing to do with faith. I won’t consult with people of faith.’ It was an absolutist doctrine that was abhorrent at the time of 1960.”

he is overstepping the reasonable boundaries of interpretation. As a matter of historical context, it is important to remember that the framers of the US Constitution (the so-called “founding fathers and mothers”) did indeed have a view that there would be a very clear distinction between the exercise of religion and the endorsement or prohibition of such free exercise by the government.

This is not the same thing as suggesting that religion cannot play a role in the public square. An equally absurd comment would be to suggest that science cannot play a role in the public square. Or that hollywood gossip cannot play a role in the public square. All of these things in fact to enter into the public discourse and contemporary social context of the United States. But what is meant by the structure of the US government as conceived at the end of the eighteenth century is that the office of the President of the United States would not be run as a theocracy, or scientific-fiefdom, or as some sort of celebrity-cult.

The other thing I think is important to note is the rather explicit counter-Catholic view Santorum advances in his recent remarks in defense of his earlier speech against JFK’s position. Santorum’s statements would probably have been well-received by some Roman Catholic clergy prior to the 1950s, but such remarks in fact contradict Roman Catholic teaching since the Second Vatican Council.

It would seem clear from the interviews and speeches that Santorum, who wears his Catholicism metaphorically on his sleeve like a religious habit, is not at all familiar with the conciliar teaching that stands near the pinnacle of the hierarchy of authority in Church teaching.

I suggest that he take the little time necessary to become familiar with Dignitatis Humanae (The Declaration on Religious Freedom), in which we read:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men [sic] are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

To claim that one should govern in the office of the President of the United States in a way contrary to the distinctions made by JFK advocates a position that would, in truth, violate the above excerpt above safeguarding the freedom from religious coercion guaranteed by virtue of human dignity. It is not ok for a Catholic president (or a Methodist President, a Quaker President, a Jewish President, a Muslim President, an Atheist President, etc.) to confuse his or her individual religious convictions for that which guides governing principles of an administration.

The Catholic Church does not support Santorum’s views.

Perhaps it is said most clearly in the conciliar text Gaudium et Spes(The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World):

It is very important, especially where a pluralistic society prevails, that there be a correct notion of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and a clear distinction between the tasks which Christians undertake, individually or as a group, on their own responsibility as citizens guided by the dictates of a Christian conscience, and the activities which, in union with their pastors, they carry out in the name of the Church.

The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.

The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other.

While JFK’s speech, concurrently advanced with the silencing of the Jesuit John Courtney Murray, a chief theological drafter of the American Church-State model for religious liberty, was prophetic and ahead of his time, it remains emblematic in many ways of what has since become the official position of the Roman Catholic Church.

As much as it might come as a surprise to Rick Santorum, given his propensity to identify himself as a “good Catholic” (by whose standards again?) at every turn, that his position stands in direct opposition to the official teaching of the Church.

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23 Responses to “The Counter-Catholic View of Santorum on Religious Liberty”

  1. Great post, Dan. I’m glad to hear that there are others out there not fooled by Rick Santorum’s “Catholicism” and are able to see through his logical fallacies. Do you think we will ever see a day when a truly informed and balanced Catholic comes to prominence in politics?

  2. georgebouchey Says:

    Thank you, Dan.

    I forwarded your post to six continets. I’m not sure if it gets to Antartica!

  3. Thanks Casey and George — It’s good for people to critically engage the political rhetoric during a heated election cycle like this, particularly when certain politicians so strongly emphasize their adherence to the tradition of Catholic teaching. Peace and good!

    • angelus gambatese Says:

      Agreed! and don’t leave out the “Newt” and our other prominent Catholic from Florida–Rubio. Add the five prominent catholics on the Supreme Court and it really gets scary.

      • Scarier still are those CINO’s like Pelosi, and now Gov. O’Malley.

      • Hi Matthew, does CINO mean “catholic in name only?” I’m trying to figure out what that means. If by that you mean does not publicly support all of the Church’s teachings, then wouldn’t Rick Santorum also be counted in that crowd given his dissent on the teachings of torture, church/state relations and other subjects? Just a thought. Peace!

      • Yes, CINO means exactly that. And as I mentioned before, I have yet to find one politician or leader who is a professed Roman Catholic, in either of the two camps, who would fully pass the temporal scrutiny or inquistion.

        And, furthermore, while I understand the intellectual method of questioning authority in attempts to seek and understand the authentic truth of the Holy Mother Church and therefore of God, it is quite obvious that in certain corners of the religious, especially in the U.S., even the Holy Father himself, would fail such a task.

        As I have also mentioned in the past, my well-respected Friar and Deacon, we are all works in progress. By one’s definition of a “cafeteria catholic”, then anyone who publically or in private counsel (e.g. the confessional) goes against the doctrine of the Church, her teaching, and dogma is guilty of being a “cafeteria catholic” (has distasteful as that may sound.)

        What I do find somewhat incredulous is how so many believers, especially learned scholars, would actually prefer to submit and give up their God given rights and authentic freedom of choice, to let the government “solve” their problems, and dictate how they should spend their talents or treasures. How is it possible that the tenets of free enterprise and capitalism have become synonomous with greed and consumerism, etc? How is possible that a liberal democracy, governed “by the people and for the people” has become a dictatorship by either of the ruling parties. How is it possible that with such advances in science and technology of “man”, we still cannot fully recognize the dignity of life from natural conception to natural death (yes, I am including the death penalty in this, although I still have some heartburn over it).

        Again, I have taken far too much space. As always PAX et vivat Iesus!

        BTW, I thought of some of our discussions in my Confirmation class Sunday, especially with regards to the Death Penalty. Who would have been proud, that I did actually maintain a neutral, merciful tenor. Dare I say, a rather “left of center” presentation. I remembered your post http://datinggod.org/2012/02/04/virginia-nuns-on-forgiveness-and-drunk-driving-case/. Thanks!

  4. Dan,
    I am glad you came back in time to articulate the Catholic teaching on the relationship of church and state. Hopefully people will understand that Sen. Santorum does not speak for the Catholic Church nor does he speak the true position of the church on this issue.
    Peace and good!
    Bill T

    • Dan, the first thing that struck me was your assertion that a lost Senate race should prevent a person from seeking higher office.

      • Didn’t suggest that such a failure should prevent someone from seeking the higher office, but instead simply making an observation that is relevant to the current race.

      • I guess I don’t understand your observation. He lost a state election by a wide margin, but he still has a firm base of support nationally, as evidenced by his run for the GOP nomination. You described his candidacy as “unbelievable” and it was clearly an attempt to discredit him. I understand you are opposed to his political affiliation, but his story is actually inspirational when considered objectively.

      • angelus gambatese Says:

        Perhaps Dan is suggesting that he should be discredited. That he is inspirational to anyone’s politics, as Charley Brown says,
        “I weep for our generation.”

      • Then if he and the other “prominent” Catholic GOP should be discredited, then what pray tell should be done with the incumbent junior senator senator sitting in the Oval Office. Nevermind, no one has to discredit him, he is doing well enough on his own accord.

        And, respectfully Father, I am quite certain that there are many (I being one of them) who weep for “ours [and future] generation[s]!’

      • Fr. Angelus,
        I absolutely respect anytime Br. Dan wants to use his blog to discredit a politician with whom he disagrees. There are plenty of priests beating the drum for the other side, too. President Obama’s story certainly inspires me, even though I wouldn’t vote for him. I am a fan of movies like “Hoosiers,” “Rocky,” and “Rudy”. Check out the “famous failures” link I have posted above and you will get a glimpse of what inspires me. Then, again, I am a person whose entire faith is based on the teachings of a condemned criminal who was rejected by professed religious and executed by the state. Peace and All Good!

      • Hi Jared, I know we often disagree about many things and we generally respect each other in our disagreements. I want to just clarify that there is no effort to ‘discredit’ anyone here, but rather to respond to a political and ecclesiastical story that has been receiving a lot of attention and a story about someone who touts his religious convictions rather openly. I hope this is a polite challenge. Peace!

    • Peace to you also, Brother. I love your blog and openness. You rock!

  5. You have been missed, and hopefully all is well.

    Interesting post, but in complete disagreement (but, what else is new?). While I believe that any elected official should “rule” justly — recognizing and respecting the choice of the individual (which is still very ego-centric) — I submit it is IMPOSSIBLE, and should frowned upon for that elected official to compartmentalize their values and beliefs to the point of damnation. It really would be like a Muslim forced to eat pork, and Orthodox Jew to give up Kosher or make them get a tatoo, or a Catholic Institution to perform or pay for an abortion. (Oh, wait the tatooing happen in history and the abortion thing has already been mandated too!!!!)

    Now, just because JFK, who was elected during a time of anti-Catholicism, moreover anti-Papacy sentiment, that had existed since the founding, decided to compartmentalize his Faith to get elected (not to mention his philandering, but it was a different era), now Rick Santorum is being criticized for “wearing” our Faith to the best of his ability.

    As one has mentioned, there are so many issues and not enough space on a blog, but since one mentions two important Vatican documents…. just some food for thought.

    Gaudiem Spes: “But if the expression, the independence of temporal affairs, is taken to mean that created things do not depend on God, and that man can use them without any reference to their Creator, anyone who acknowledges God will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator the creature would disappear. For their part, however, all believers of whatever religion always hear His revealing voice in the discourse of creatures. When God is forgotten, however, the creature itself grows unintelligible”.

    “Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true brotherhood. In our own day, the magnified power of humanity threatens to destroy the race itself”

    And, while one references the Dignitas Humanae to show Mr. Rick Santorum unfavorably, I would submit that this exact passage proves the opposite of current administration’s attempt to impose its “religion” upon the people of Faith. Would one even suggest that the “O” read Dignitas Humanae?

    Respectfully, I find it more than a little challenging to see reference to Vatican II documents being pulled out to chastise a Catholic GOP nominee, yet those same references are not used against the current administration. Additionally, there are also very pertient encyclicals of B16 as well, that would counter one’s counter. Is the counter really because Mr. Rick Santorum is not being a “good” Catholic? Or is it because he is GOP? Should we not be considering the fact perhaps he might be the best man for the job? Or are we still holding onto the “hopeful dream”? I would rather have a man of coviction and Faith, than a man of self-serving principles. I would rather have a man who would submit himself to God and recognize he depends on His love and support, and not just those who support him.

    An aside, I watched Apollo13 the just the other day, and was taken back by the fact real footage of a newscast said “both the House and the Senate passed a resolution today, asking for the American people to pray for safe return of the astronauts.” Does anyone think that would happen today, some 40 years later, given the current climate of “political correctness”?

    • Hi Matthew, as always your comments are welcome, although I don’t think this particular post of yours makes a strong case. Religious liberty and the Church/State question is not the only VERY important aspect of Catholic teaching that Santorum rejects. His position on torture is also directly opposed to Catholic teaching (http://datinggod.org/2011/05/10/andrew-sullivan-torture-and-rick-santorum/) and there are others. I’m in no position to be claiming who is or who is not a “good Catholic” (not even sure what that moniker means), but it does seem clear that Rick Santorum is as much a “cafeteria catholic” as any so-called liberal you can name.

      • My argument perhaps was not clear and got a little lost. My point, as are most of my critiques, is to be fair and equal on the handling of the matter. I realize that because we are men, we are ALL influenced by our experiences and external forces, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to be truly unbiased. First and foremost, there is ABSOLUTELY NO political candidate worthy to be supported wholly by the Catholic Faithful. Both major parties have their particular agenda. If there was a true pro-life Democrat, then one may have the chance of swaying my opinion. If there was a true pro-life GOP, who embraced the authentic social teaching issues, then perhaps one could be swayed to support that person. Even the beloved JFK, obviously had his issues, as did FDR, Clinton, etc. There is a certain amount of hypocrisy on both sides.

        While we are called to vote our conscience, I firmly believe we are called to serve God and the Church first, according to his/her talents and vocation. With that said, none of us are perfect, and I don’t exactly know what a good Catholic is either, and God knows I fall short EVERY DAY! I would venture to say that in reality we are ALL “cafeteria catholics”. Those who put social justice issues like mandated redistribrution of wealth (a form of socialism/communism), and/or freedom choice of the individual or those who place the sacredness of the unborn child over the needs of the poor and/or those sentenced to die for crimes committed against humanity — we are ALL “cafeteria”.

        As for the referenced article, I must have missed that post. Having just read Sullivan’s “biased” comment, I will just consider the source. I would throw the following back at him, so has Mr. Rick Santorum ever personally committed torture, as he poses the same question regarding any leading democrat and their “pro-choice” position on abortion? Using that logic, then ABSOLUTELY NONE of the Supreme Court Justices, Congressmen, Presidents, would ever be blameless for the sins committed against humanity, no matter what the issue. There is blood on all their hands!

        Generally speaking, all written and oral texts, reference materials, etc., are open to interruptation. Not to advocate war or violence, but the phrase “one man’s freedom fighter (revolutionary) is another man’s terrorist or traitor.” Just as President Bush’ Administration may have cherry-picked intelligence to support its case for Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, one chooses to find relevant texts to support one’s argument. Having read both G.S. and D.H., my challenge to the commentary was that there are also plenty of examples that support the need not to put up a definitive barrier between a man’s Faith and his temporal duties and civic responsibilities. I still hold the following to be true…
        “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
        We are not the French. We are not anti-religion. We are religion neutral. Our independence and freedom were not established without a “higher being”, but only that we should respect others’ choice not to believe or follow a different faith tradition. And, I would venture to say, that many of our political leaders of today, have not read the Declaration or Constitution in some time, let alone their own personal faith tradition tenets.

  6. Bro. Robert Says:

    Cheers Dan, I couldn’t be happier with your response. The intersection between faith and politics is quite frightening at times as the religion that is often put forward is something I can neither recognize nor support. It is good to find other faithful Catholics thinking through these things in a reasoned manner.

  7. bill puka Says:

    A few thoughts. I see no real logical fallacies in Santorum’s comments, nor any identified, but I really like the sensible way Dan talks about religion certainly being allowed an influence in the public square for it to be a public square and fit the church-state separation..

    Santorum’s problem is theocratic, isn’t it? He pledges to “legislate” his religious views as best he can on the American populace as a whole. The attempt to avoid such theocratic tendencies in the US was one of two aims of the Constitution separation since several of the State constitutions had theocratic provisions.

    For example, he wants to cut down on the supply of contraceptives because where they are available “people will do things” as he so articulately puts it. Why shouldn’t the American people do things? Most are not Catholic? They don;t think pre-marital sex is in any way sinful or wrong?.

    On Jfk, we must not forget that he faced a real prejudice against Catholics being president due to the extremely hierarchical nature of church authority–power of excommunication and the like. His speech was strategic, meant to reassure critics that he wasn’t a papist and understood the responsibilities of his job as president.

    Since Catholics are not required to read official teachings by the Church hierarchy, not usually even informed that they exists, it doesn’t seem quite honest to cite official documents as what Catholics hold or what the Catholic position is. There are many Catholic positions as there are many types of clergy and congregants in the Church with different views that they promulgate and live, “official” or not., whether the hierarchy likes it or not..

    To me, the separation of church and state is unfair to religion, and anti-democratic. Religion should be allowed anywhere–taught as science, displayed on government property–so long as religious are then willing to have all other religious views and views critical of it so displayed as well–no holds barred, nothing sacrosanct, as in science or politics. Religious views and commitments are not like secular interests. They are cosmically elevated, much more important to people than most other interests, and defining to life paths. They are not like wanting a speed bump put on one’s street, more subsidies for healthcare or less red tape for small businesses. And these two points do not contradict each other.

  8. [...] positions that Rick Santorum maintains that stand in opposition to Church teaching (see “The Counter-Catholic View of Santorum on Religious Liberty,” for example), despite the candidate’s touting his orthodoxy in matters of faith and [...]

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