All candidates for political office, especially the presidency, have to eat some of their words. They try to reach a particular audience at any given time and place, and can wind up saying things to appeal to that audience that will not, to put it mildly in this case, have general appeal. Rick Santorum, undergoing for the first time the scrutiny applied to a frontrunner for a major party’s nomination for the presidency, has learned what Pope Benedict learned after his Regensburg speech that raised an uproar in the Muslim world: national or international figures never have just the one audience sitting in front of them. Media attention will make sure of that. When Rick Santorum spoke at Ave Maria University in southwestern Florida in 2008 he did not have frontrunner status in the GOP race, but he wanted a higher profile nationally at the very least, else why give the speech in the first place? The uproar around the fact that the text has resurfaced arises from his referencing Satan as the agent of evil in the contemporary world. Catholics know this language well, as, one suspects, do Baptists and evangelicals. The media, however, has rightly drawn attention to the fact that Santorum spoke as a Catholic at a (reactionary) Catholic institution, parenthetical adjective mine. That parenthetical adjective speaks volumes that the media has largely glossed over either for lack of interest or because of Ave Maria’s notoriety, one must assume. Catholics, however, might reasonably find it very interesting. One need not avidly read John Allen’s or Ruth Chittister’s columns in The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) to realize that one can speak of, shall we say, Catholics and Catholics. Simply put, Santorum speaks for the minority of Catholics who do not use contraceptives and who protest at Planned Parenthood offices on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, yet again upon us. This Catholic blogger, who has faced off with Santorum’s ilk from the other side of the fence, quite literally, very much wants people not to lose sight of that distinction. Santorum uses the language of the Catechism and follows the teachings of the Magisterium to the letter. He stands for a certain kind of very conservative Catholic, a type the rest of us know, understand, often respect, and who can sometimes drive us quietly crazy with their literalist, lock-step reverence for Vatican abstractions removed from the realities of many people’s lives. Not all people’s lives, for sure, but those of more Catholics than one might think if one just listened to Santorum, at Ave Maria or in Mesa, Arizona or wherever. When John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency in 1960, his Catholicism scared many in the press and the electorate. They feared he would take orders from Pope John XXIII, the instigator of the Second Vatican Council and not such a bad guy from whom to take orders, as it happened. Kennedy neither received nor took such orders, however; one wonders if Santorum has the same sort of relationship with Benedict XVI, a very different pope. Not that he would take orders, but that he respects a pope with a very narrow and hostile perspective on the secular world—this should indeed cause concern. Less apocalyptically, the media would do everyone a service by inserting the adjective conservative every time they mention Santorum’s particular brand of Catholicism. Such a simple move would increase the accuracy of their reporting. It would also get the rest of us off the hook for language we do not normally use, ideas we do not commonly employ in everyday discourse, and views we may not necessarily share with a vocal minority in the Church. Put another way, we may recognize Santorum as one of our own, but we do not have to embrace him and all his rhetoric.
Chapel Hill, NC
February 22, 2012