Rick Santorum’s Catholic journey

An interesting look at the candidate’s transformation from “nominal Catholic” to conservative icon, in Sunday’s New York Times:

Rick Santorum was, in his own words, a “nominal Catholic” when he met Karen Garver, a neonatal nurse and law student, in 1988. As they made plans to marry and he decided to enter politics, she sent him to her father for advice.

Dr. Kenneth L. Garver was a Pittsburgh pediatrician who specialized in medical genetics. The patriarch of a large Roman Catholic family, he had treated patients considering abortion but was strongly opposed to it.

“We sat across the table and the whole evening we talked about this issue,” Mr. Santorum told an anti-abortion group last October. He left, he said, convinced “that there was only one place to be, from the standpoint of science as well as from the standpoint of faith.”

For Mr. Santorum, a Republican candidate for president, that conversation was an early step on a path into a deeply conservative Catholic culture that has profoundly influenced his life as a husband, father and politician. Over the past two decades, he has undergone a religious transformation that is now spurring a national conversation about faith in the public sphere.

On the campaign trail, he has attacked President Obama for “phony theology,” warned of the “dangers of contraceptives” and rejected John F. Kennedy’s call for strict separation of church and state. His bold expressions of faith could affect his support in this week’s Super Tuesday nominating contests, possibly helping with conservative Christians, especially in the South, but scaring off voters uncomfortable mixing so much religion in politics.

Central to Mr. Santorum’s spiritual life is his wife, whom he calls “the rock which I stand upon.” Before marrying, the couple decided to recommit themselves to their Catholic faith — a turnabout for Karen Santorum, who had been romantically involved with a well-known abortion provider in Pittsburgh and had openly supported abortion rights, according to several people who knew her then.

The Santorums went on to have eight children, including a son who died two hours after birth in 1996 and a daughter, now 3, who has a life-threatening genetic disorder. Unlike Catholics who believe that church doctrine should adapt to changing times and needs, the Santorums believe in a highly traditional Catholicism that adheres fully to what scholars call “the teaching authority” of the pope and his bishops.

“He has a strong sense of that,” said George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, where Mr. Santorum had a fellowship after losing his bid for re-election to the Senate in 2006. “He’s the first national figure of some significance who’s on that side of the Catholic conversation.”

Check out the rest.


  1. I think I heard from one account also that he attend the EF/TLM. Can someone verify this claim?

  2. “Unlike Catholics who believe that church doctrine should adapt to changing times and needs, the Santorums believe in a highly traditional Catholicism that adheres fully to what scholars call “the teaching authority” of the pope and his bishops.”

    As if it were legitimate to be any other Catholic. We may all have some issues that we’d wish the Church would change on, but we all know that it can’t. The Magisterium is the Magisterium. It’s established. Whoever wrote this doesn’t have a clue on how Catholicism works.

    And this phrasing, “an early step on a path into a deeply conservative Catholic culture” makes it sound as if we’re something like the Amish.

    It just goes to show you how much society has changed, and changed for the worse, since the 1960s sexual revolution. What shold be normal and traditional is looked upon as perverse.

    And people wonder why I despise the media.

  3. Rick is a rare Cathlolic (and politiican), truly living out his faith. The fact that it/he makes so many, especially Catholics, “uncomfortable”, is more than telling.

    Without question he is the modern day example of “counter cultural radial faith” , just as Christ asks of all of us.

    Despite what Catholics think of his politics, every “uncomfortable” Catholic should use what he stands for as the bellwether of their own holiness, especially all who rationalize artificial birth control.

  4. This article, in the Sunday New York Times (slightly above the fold) is one of the fairest that I have read about Rick Santorum.

  5. Also, forgot to mention FRONt PAGE.

  6. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    You are, of course, aware, that Santorum, is upset that nations cannot jail people for the ‘crime’ of being Gay, including the United States. Are you good with that as being an example of being a ‘bellweather of holiness’

  7. What???? Where did he make that statement? You can’t besmirch someone’s reputation without proof. Show me or you’re nothing but a demogogue.

  8. “Rare Catholic?” I don’t know about that. Then I guess I celebrated Mass last night with a church-ful of oddities. Wonderfully (or not surprisingly), there were several hundred more this morning. Practicing, church-going Catholics are not all that rare. I will grant, though, that there is always room for those who choose to spend part of their weekend elsewhere.

  9. Ron Paul is a better conservative and I do think Catholics should vote for him instead.
    He’s pro-life and anti-war. He agrees with the principle of subsidiarity, that govt. should operate from the most local level as possible.


  10. It sounds to me like Mr. Rick Santorum is a good Catholic. Notice I didn’t say perfect, because none of us is.
    Would someone please inform the secular newspapers that Catholics don’t call the Sacred Host a “wafer,” or a “consecrated wafer.” Granted, in most instances it looks that way. The most common terms I’ve heard used are “host,” “consecrated host,” “bread,” “unleavened bread,” “Eucharist,” “Holy Eucharist,” “Body and Blood of Christ.” Some of the terms have multiple meanings; for example, “Eucharist,” so it can be confusing outside of a specific context. Where did the reporter get the term “wafer?”
    Another one that I’ve seen even in religious publications is saying someone “takes” Communion. Catholics “receive” Communion. They do not “take” it. Someone hands it to the communicant and the communicant “receives” it.
    Hope I’m not being an old fuddy-duddy here.

  11. Bill McGeveran says:

    I also hate the expression “take communion” and assume that anyone who uses it is not Catholic. But maybe it has come into use without my approval/?
    (As for Rick Santorum, I admire his sincerity and commitment, but as a presidential candidate…dont get me started..)

  12. Joe Cleary says:

    I agree – it is one of the fairest articles I have read about him.

    Like all of us who post at the Bench of all stripes, Santorum finds topics of faith and Church and culture very interesting and is enjoys talking/ debating about these topics. Fine points of theology and Church doctrine can and are often lost in the media sound bite/ news cycle. So when he says that he all but threw up when he read Kennedy’s speech, he is making a point ( the speech is too often seen as arguing that religious beliefs were not worthy of inclusion in the public square) . But by missing the purpose of the speech, Santorium allows himself to be defined yet again as someone who will impose religious views on the country.

    Whatever you think of Kennedy, he made that speech in 1960 to convince the country that as President he would be faithful to the Constitution and he would not be an agent of the Pope. ( sounds almost fumy today to think that a catholic politician would be a puppet of the Pope) That very slander contributed to Al Smith’s loss in 1928. Catholics from our nation’s founding were viewed as less loyal to the country because we “obey the Pope”. Kennedy knew the Pope wasn’t going to order him to say ” create Catholicism as the State religion of the USA” but his speech made it clear that to those who harbored such latent papist fears, that if some such nonsense ever happened, he would be loyal to the Constitution and step aside if his religious beliefs interfered with his duties as President.

    ( I would remind everyone that in this era, folks like John Courtney Murray were silenced by the Church for suggesting that religious liberties as found in the United States were a human right that should be embraced by the Church)

  13. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    When the US Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence V Texas that the state cannot criminalize Gay sex, Santorum publically condemned that ruling. The case involved two non-related adults in Texas who were thrown in jail because they had consensual sex in their own bedroom.

    In a 2003 interview, the AP quotes Santorum as saying the following (via wikipedia):
    “Santorum then brought up the then-pending U.S. Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, which challenged a Texas sodomy law, and said that “he did not have a problem with homosexuals, but a problem with homosexual acts”, “the right to privacy doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution”, and “sodomy laws properly exist to prevent acts which undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family.”[4][5]

    Lets repeat all together now….”sodomy laws properly exist”

  14. “There you go again.” Ronald Reagan’s response in 1980 to Jimmy Carter’s repeated assertion of falsehoods regarding RR’s record.

  15. Tom in Lazybrook says:


    What is false about Rick Santorum’s advocacy of legislation used to throw Gay men in prison for the ‘crime’ consensual sex between non-related adults? Please read my comment with the direct quote from his AP article and reasses.

  16. Where are the folks like John Courtney Murray now? We need theologians like him today.

  17. J Rimshas says:

    The article was interesting in the way it examined Bishop-led Catholics as if they were a historical artifact. “the Santorums believe in a highly traditional Catholicism that adheres fully to what scholars call “the teaching authority” of the pope and his bishops.” What scholars call? It takes scholars to figure us out? Wow. We must be dinosaurs.

    I’m with several of my fellow layman here. I like the piece, I admire Santorum’s sincerity and dedication and cheer his faithfulness to his Faith. But I could not vote for him.

  18. Joe,

    The issue with Americanism was that the faithful had the right to decide doctrine for themselves. King Obama would be happy. Just write your own bible and catechism.

  19. Tom. this lie if told over and over does not make it factual. I understand you are against the Catholic Church and Her non negotiable teaching on the sacrament of marriage being between one man and one woman. Show me where he has said that he supports putting someone in jail for being gay with a link not from a gay activist site. Looking for Deacon to address this at some point. He has tried several times to allow you to learn through very kind comments but it does not seem to be working. The Church teaches we are to love the sinner, but to hate the sin and that gay sex acts are gravely disordered and serious sin. This teaching comes from natural law which means it cannot change. The jail thing is something you have no basis of proof on as you spouted it first about the Vatican, then Nigeran Catholic Bishops, and now Santorum. When asked for some proof, the only thing you came up with was the link to the gay activist site.

  20. Klaire, after decades of attacks by the state secular atheist religon on religious liberty with a special focus on the Catholic Church and Her teaching, we are alive, strong, and growing. The good news is that this rebirth of Catholic clergy who are closely linked to Pope JPII and his outreach to the youth are now coming of age in the Catholic leadership in what could be the exact moment of Her greatest need.

    We had another very strong sermon on the urgency of Catholics to get engaged in the battle against our faith through prayer and also being active in the political arena to end this latest offensive attack on relgious liberty. The priest seem to gaining in courage and speaking out boldly as this one also included references back to Humanae Vitae and the predictions that have all come true.

    We are having two more panel discussion in the diocese on this attack on religious liberty one in a suburb of Cincinnati and the other in Daytong. The one we just had was outstanding and had a great panel with the large church packed full. The Bishop here is by no means considered a conservative, but he now sees that this is no a time to sit back and allow this essential freedom to be taken from us.

  21. No, the last thing we need is those attracted to John Courtney Murray whose writing was used by those in open dissent from Catholic teaching at the Hyannisport conclave to give democrats cover when they supported things like abortion. It is those in dissent from Catholic teaching that has helped us arrive at this latest direct attack on religious liberty.

    I think the Bishops have finally caught on that sitting back and allowing open dissent has consequences, but it will take a generation of new solid Bishops and Cardinals to clear out the mess created in the last few decades.

  22. Ron Paul has zero chance to get elected. It is going to be hard enough to have a serious challenge to Romney without going down that road. both Santorum and even Newt have a much better shot. In fact, if one would get out, it might start to solidify the race. I do not see Paul exiting as this is the only time every four years when he can get his views on the air. If you can’t attract at least 15% in several primaries, this should start to reduce the field and allow greater focus. But, whoever is the nominee of the four running, most conservatives should support because any of them are far better than Obama and this attack on religious liberty goes away on day one.

  23. I vote Super Tuesday and we have all 36 in our greater family going out to vote for Santorum. But I will support whoever is nominated against Obama, the worst president in my lifetime and that is saying a lot since I am in my 70′s and lived through Carter.

  24. pagansister says:

    Yes, Mark, I too lived thru Carter AND “W” which wasn’t easy. President Obama is getting my vote again. Never voted for either Carter or “W”.

  25. You’re a fanatic Tom. What does that have to do with Klaire’s comment? You bring that up from left field. Sodomy You’re a demogogue.

  26. What does it say about the state of both Catholics and of our culture when it is a radical position, worthy of comment, to actually belief what the Church teaches and attemtps to integrate it into his life?

  27. It says that many who say they are Catholic dissent from both the teaching and authority of the Church to define its own teaching. As to the culture, that has been under attack since the supreme court decided that protecting government from religion was what the first amendment said rather than protecting religious belief from government. When this allowed the government to enforce a secular godless state religion on the people, we were on the way down hill fast. Why? Because our founders built the structure of the government around the ban of the state from forcing any, especially a secular atheist religion on the people or to interfere in any way with our ability to practice our religion in the public square. In many ways, the Bishops battle now is in some ways like trying to close the barn doors when the cow was let out of the barn decades ago. We will continue to decline unless the rulings and legislatin built around this not only elimination of religious freedom is reversed, but the original restored to full power. Anyone who wonders why government does not seem to be working for the people anymore can find the answers in the clear writings of the founders that warned that removal of or distortions of religious liberty were a problem for the government created would not work without that pillar holding up the roof.

  28. I too see a Church full of people who attend Sunday Mass and drive off after Mass with cars displaying stickers of politicians who work against the Church…Obama being the biggest right now

Leave a Comment