There was a time when the Republican Party was strictly for White Anglo Saxon Protestants. It was an alliance between Country Club Episcopalians and twice born followers of the Old Time Gospel, all firmly opposed to mass Catholic immigration from Europe. The nativism of the GOP drove Catholics into the welcoming arms of Al Smith, Jack Kennedy, Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Party.
But this year’s GOP front-runners are a Mormon and two Catholics — Rick Santorum (a cradle of Italian descent) and Newt Gingrich (a convert). Roughly one-quarter of Republican primary voters are Catholic. Notable Catholic GOP leaders include John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Christine O’Donnell, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Six out of nine justices of the Supreme Court are Catholics, and five of them are Republicans.
The GOP is undergoing a quiet process of Catholicization. It’s one of the reasons why this year’s race has focused so much on social issues — and sex.
Republican outreach to Catholics began in the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon tried to entice blue-collar “white ethnics” to the GOP by taking a tough stand on abortion. Nixon told members of his staff he was tempted to convert to Catholicism himself, but was worried it would be seen as cheap politics: “They would say there goes Tricky Dick Nixon trying to win the Catholic vote. …“
Nixon genuinely admired the Catholic intellectual tradition and its ability to provide reasonable arguments to defend conservative values at a time when they were undergoing widespread reappraisal. That certainly made the Church an invaluable partner during the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s.
When the Moral Majority was established in 1979 to oppose things like abortion and homosexual rights, its evangelical founders did their best to include Catholics. Despite the organization’s reputation for being the political voice box of televangelists and peddlers of the apocalypse, by the mid ’80s it drew a third of its funding from Catholic donors. Leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson consciously used the Moral Majority (and, later, the Christian Coalition) as an exercise in ecumenical coalition building.
Falwell and Robertson were fans of Pope John Paul II and his resilient anti-communism. But they also recognized, like Nixon, that the Catholic Church had a vast intellectual heritage that could be drawn upon when fighting the liberals. For example, when debating abortion, evangelicals had hitherto tended to rely on Scripture to make their case. Catholics, on the other hand, had been integrating the concept of “human rights” into their theology since the 1890s.
Under Catholic influence, the pro-life movement evolved from a zealous, theology-heavy rationale to one more couched in the language of human dignity and personhood.
By 2000, Catholic social teaching was a core component of the Republican Party’s “compassionate conservatism” agenda. Karl Rove targeted religious Catholics on behalf of George W. Bush, while the president made a big play of his social traditionalism. In the 2004 election, Bush beat John Kerry among Catholics, despite the fact that Kerry described himself as a faithful Catholic who never went anywhere without his rosary beads.
Crucially, Bush’s victory among Catholics was made possible by his margin of support among those who attend Mass regularly. Catholics who said they rarely went to church plumped for Kerry. The election heralded a new split within the politics of the communion, between religious and ethnic Catholics. Indeed, it could be argued that just as Republican Protestants have become a little more Catholic in their outlook, so conservative Catholics have become a little more Protestant in theirs.
Take Rick Santorum. Santorum is part of the John Paul II generation of Catholics who reject most of the liberalism that swept the church in the 1960s. He is a member of a suburban church in Great Falls, Virginia, that (unusually, nowadays) offers a Latin Mass each Sunday with a Georgian chant sung by a professional choir.
The church has a “garden for the unborn” and has boasted as worshipers the director of the FBI, the head of the National Rifle Association and Justice Antonin Scalia. Santorum is also an outspoken admirer of Saint Josemaria Escriva, the founder of the conservative lay organization Opus Dei. Opus Dei encourages among its members a work ethic and an effort to “live like a saint” that is strikingly similar to the values and mores of New England’s Puritan settlers.
Santorum’s political theology has thus moved him so sharply to the right that it’s sometimes difficult to culturally identify him as a Catholic. In a March 18 survey, less than half of GOP Catholics actually knew the candidate was himself a Catholic. That might be one of the reasons why Santorum consistently loses to Romney among Catholics in primaries, even during his landmark victories in the Deep South. In contrast, he does very well among evangelicals.
We might speculate that what is emerging is an alliance between ultra-conservative Catholics and tea party evangelicals. Its politics might be antediluvian, but it’s an ecumenical breakthrough and a cultural revolution at the grass-roots level.
The coalition’s mix of Catholic moral teaching and evangelical fervor has oriented the 2012 GOP race toward fierce social conservatism. During the debate over Obama’s contraception mandate, it was the Catholic conservative leadership who provided the moral objection, but the evangelicals who produced most of the popular opposition to it. And it is evangelical support that has elevated Santorum to his current status in the race. With its ability to shift the agenda and win primaries, the emerging Catholic/evangelical political theology is the most striking conservative innovation of this turbulent campaign season.
By: Timothy Stanley, The Daily Telegraph, Special to CNN, CNN Election Center, March 23, 2012
Last Sunday, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia addressed the Living the Catholic Faith Conference conference in Denver, Colorado. During his speech, however, the justice appeared to suggest that Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians are somehow less rationalthan people who share his faith:
In Washington, Scalia said, the pundits and media couldn’t believe in a miracle performed under their noses.
“My point is not that reason and intellect need to be laid aside,” Scalia said. “A faith without a rational basis should be laid aside as false. … What is irrational is to reject a priori the possibility of miracles in general and the resurrection of Jesus Christ in particular.”
“A priori” is a philosophical term which is usually used to refer to a claim that one has knowledge independent of experience, so it is unclear how anyone could reject the central Christian belief that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead under Scalia’s standard given that no living person was around to actually experience it. More importantly, though, the clear implication of Scalia’s statement appears to be than all non-Christians — or approximately two-thirds of the world’s population — are “irrational.”
If Scalia indeed holds this view, than it raises serious questions about whether he can set aside this belief when called upon to interpret a Constitution that requires all religious beliefs to be treated with equal dignity. Moreover, it could have profound implications for the burgeoning debate over whether the Obama Administration’s contraceptive access rules are upheld by the Supreme Court.
In 1990, Scalia wrote the seminal Supreme Court case interpreting the Constitution’s guarantee that all Americans can freely exercise their faith, Employment Div. v. Smith. In Smith, Scalia explained that a law does not suddenly become unconstitutional because someone raises a religious objection to it. Scalia explained that “the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a ‘valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).’” This is why a law ensuring access to contraception is constitutional even if several Catholic bishops object to it.
Smith, however, did not involve Christians — it involved members of a Native American faith that wanted to use the drug peyote in a sacred ritual even though that drug was banned. Hopefully, Scalia recognizes that the rule he announced in Smith must apply equally to faiths he views as “rational” and those he also may view as “irrational.”
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, March 7, 2012
America’s only Catholic president referred to God three times in his inaugural address. He invoked the Bible’s command to care for the poor and the sick. Later in his presidency, he said, unequivocally, about civil rights: “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.”
Yet, last Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who is also Catholic, told ABC News that John F. Kennedy’s classic 1960 campaign speech in Houston about religious liberty was so offensive to people of faith that it made him want to vomit.
“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up,” Santorum said. “What kind of country do we live [in] that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?”
Either Santorum doesn’t know his American history or he is purposefully rewriting it. How can he seriously imagine that Kennedy, a person who got down on his knees each night to pray, who gave his time and money to win tough primaries in states with strong anti-Catholic traditions, who challenged us to live our Christianity by ending racial hatred, somehow lacked the courage of faith or tried to exclude people of faith from government and politics?
In his presidential campaign, Kennedy faced fierce anti-Catholic prejudice. He appeared before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association because he feared that his faith was being used unfairly against him. Norman Vincent Peale, along with 150 other ministers, had issued a letter urging citizens to vote against Kennedy because, should he win, he would be controlled by the Vatican. Peale’s group called itself the National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom. How ironic that the term “religious freedom” would be used as double-speak for religious hypocrisy — but it certainly was not the first or last time.
Anti-Catholic prejudice has a long history in America. Construction of the Washington Monument was halted partly because an anti-Catholic controversy erupted in 1854, when the pope gave us a stone from Rome for the project. (You can see a change in color partway up the monument between the initial structure and the rest, finished nearly 30 years later.) Catholic students at public schools who didn’t want to recite the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer were sometimes expelled. As late as 1928, voters rejected Catholic presidential candidate Al Smith, calling the Democratsthe party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion.”
Kennedy, my uncle, hoped to make it clear that the pope would not control him. The government would not regulate church doctrine, and no minister would determine government policy. As he put it:
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president — should he be Catholic — how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”
He specifically referred to birth control, too, saying he would follow his conscience in accordance with what he believed to be in the national interest and not cave in to “religious pressures or dictates.”
Santorum is more like Kennedy than he may realize — he follows his conscience. It’s true that on some issues, such as contraception, where the bishops are at odds with many other Catholics, he sides with the bishops. (I’m tempted to recall my father Robert Kennedy’s observation that priests are Republican and nuns Democratic.) But Santorum has also taken positions at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. He has opposed the church’s pro-immigrant policies. He has attacked President Obama’s “phony theology,” which he says involves caring for the Earth — no matter Pope Benedict’s pronouncements on protecting the environment.
Nor in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed did Santorum cite papal views on the financial crisis. On Feb. 15, in an address at Rome’s Major Seminary, the pope said that “the world of finance, while necessary, no longer represents an instrument that favors our well-being or the life of mankind; instead it has become an oppressive power that almost demands our adoration.” Somehow Santorum missed that.
Can he be so ignorant of what Kennedy actually said and what the pope has actually preached? Or is he using his faith for political purposes?
Santorum has since expressed regret for his choice of words about Kennedy, but his words cannot be forgotten.The challenge is not Santorum — it is the 28 percent of Americans who think the separation of church and state should be abolished.
Santorum is encouraging division and intolerance. The subtext of his remarks is that America should be a conservative religious nation — and that Kennedy was denying it. Well, he was. Here are his words to the ministers in Houston:
“I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.”
Perhaps Santorum should recall the Gospel’s teachings, which might direct us to positions different from those he advocates. Jesus told his followers that they would be judged on how they clothed the naked, fed the hungry and welcomed the stranger. His directive to love God and our neighbor leads many faithful Americans to support same-sex marriage and to see that marriage itself can be strengthened when couples make love without fear of an unplanned pregnancy. Each of these positions can be made in a secular setting, but they also have a moral argument, grounded in faith.
In 2012, people of many faiths are running for office — Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, my own godson, Joseph Kennedy — and one can disagree with their policies while respecting their religious views. Bishops, priests, nuns, ministers, rabbis and imams lobby Congress and state legislatures on various issues. They have a voice. They just don’t always win every election or argument. Welcome to democracy.
By: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, The Washington Post Opinion Pages, March 2, 2012
Since the firestorm over contraception and religious freedom erupted, there seems to be some kind of consensus that the “culture war” has returned to the fore of American politics. The consensus is wrong. The culture war never stopped.
In fact, former Sen. Rick Santorum explicitly says so himself!
While campaigning in Columbus, Ohio, Santorum said President Obama’s “agenda” is,
not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.
I’ve been trying to make this case (though not in the way Santorum is making it) all along.
Out of political convenience or cultural distance, Beltway conservatives refuse to see this: Hardcore conservative opposition to Obama has always been cultural and theological. The pop-theological mainstream of American evangelicals has so thoroughly assimilated the ideal of American capitalism that any deviation, however modest, from it is tantamount to radical godless humanism. And, in an extension of an older intradenominational debate, conservative Catholics like Santorum deeply mistrust the ideal of “social justice” as championed by the Catholic left.
As I’ve argued before, the line between culture and economics is disappearing. Santorum has muddied this picture somewhat with rhetoric aimed at blue-collar voters to the effect that he doesn’t believe that if we just cut taxes, ”everything will be fine.”
But such rhetoric, while interesting, is hollow; his economic agenda is full of tax cuts, and I see nothing in it that’s affirmatively different from Republican orthodoxy.
There’s a sense in which the proxy cultural war is nothing new. In Unadjusted Man in the Age of Overadjustment: Where History and Literature Intersect, historian Peter Viereck argued compellingly that the long strand of populism, from William Jennings Bryan to Robert La Follette to Joseph McCarthy, was all about “smashing Plymouth Rock” (i.e., the snooty Eastern Establishment). What McCarthy really hated about the likes of Alger Hiss wasn’t the communism per se, but his resemblance to the likes of Dean Acheson.
As McCarthy said in a famous 1950 speech in Wheeling, W.Va., the ones “who have been selling this nation out” were those
who have had all the benefits … the finest homes, the finest college educations, and the finest jobs in government that we can give. This is glaringly true in the State Department. There the bright young men who are born with silver spoons in their mouth are the ones who have been worst.
Unlike McCarthy, the Tea Party never felt it had to define Obama as an “enemy within”; born in Kenya, he was the ”enemy without”!
Make no mistake. Such has been the animating spirit of the Tea Party all along. That’s what is fueling the Santorum “insurgency” right now. Culture war is the big picture. Fail to see it, you won’t fully understand the 2012 presidential campaign.
By: Scott Galupo, U. S. News and World Report, February 22, 2012
“We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.”
Rick Santorum teed off on a venerated former president Sunday morning for telling America that the separation of church and state was “absolute..” Was it the guy responsible for the above quote? No, that was Ronald Reagan, running for re-election in 1984 (h/t BB).
It’s Democrat John F. Kennedy who made Santorum “throw up,” the GOP presidential contender told ABC’s George Stephanopoulus, with his famous 1960 speech to Baptist ministers trying to assuage widespread fears about his Catholicism in order to become our first, and still our only, Catholic president. Santorum claims that JFK said that “people of faith have no role in the public square,” and urged ABC’s viewers to go read the speech for themselves and see.
So I did. (It’s here.) And not surprisingly, that’s not what Kennedy said at all.
First, here’s what Santorum said about Kennedy:
To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up and it should make every American…Now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square.
I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. 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. This is the First Amendment. The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion. That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square. 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 foreign at the time of 1960.
Let me start by saying: Santorum sounds literally hysterical. It’s a troubling sign of the GOP’s desperation that he’s virtually tied with Mitt Romney for the lead in the 2012 primaries. It pains me to actually have to take him seriously.
Of course, there’s no place in Kennedy’s speech where he said “people of faith are not allowed in the public square,” or anything close to that, and Santorum’s saying it three times doesn’t make it true. Here’s one key passage:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
It is absolutely clear that Kennedy accepts “people of faith in the public square” – his goal is to make a place for people of every faith in our public life. Kennedy doesn’t even go as far as Christian right hero Reagan, who actually said the separation of church and state protects the right of non-believers, too.
Kennedy doesn’t say he won’t consult with faith leaders; he says he won’t take “instruction on public policy from the Pope.” In fact, he confided in and took advice from Archbishop Philip Hannan, whom he befriended when he was first elected to Congress; Hannan gave the eulogy at Kennedy’s funeral. Sadly, Hannan died last September, after a long career as Archbishop of New Orleans, or else he might be able to refute Santorum from experience.
Kennedy doesn’t promise to renounce his own Catholic beliefs or disobey his conscience, either:
If the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.
Ironically, Kennedy spoke passionately on behalf of the Catholic Santorum’s right to be in the public square.
If this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser — in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.
Santorum didn’t lose his chance to be president on the day he was baptized. He lost it – if he ever had it – when he lied about our first Catholic president, who just happened to be a Democrat. For shame.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, February 26, 2012