Santorum is a “wafer” madness believer!

There is much to discuss in the feature story on Rick Santorum’s faith that has been served up by The New York Times. There is lots of interesting information, some questionable information and then a pretty large chunk of missing information.

However, I think many traditional Catholic believers will start reading this piece — after all, it’s the story of how one normal American Catholic turned into a traditional Roman Catholic — and then find themselves stuck right about here.

As members of St. Catherine of Siena, a parish here in the wealthy Northern Virginia suburb of Great Falls, the Santorums are immersed in a community where large families are not uncommon and many mothers leave behind careers to dedicate themselves to child-rearing, as Mrs. Santorum has. Mr. Santorum has been on the church roster as a lector, reading Scripture from the pulpit.

The parish is known for its Washington luminaries — Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court is a member — as well as its spiritual ardor. Mass is offered in Latin every Sunday at noon — most parishes have Mass only in English — and each Wednesday parishioners take turns praying nonstop for 24 hours before a consecrated communion wafer, a demanding practice known as Eucharistic adoration.

First of all, I think it would be more accurate to say that parishioners take part in a 24-hour cycle of unbroken prayers, with most participating for an hour — a short period of devotion that, for a traditional believer in a number of different traditions, would not be all that “demanding.” The wording in the story is a bit unclear. What does it mean to “take turns praying nonstop”?

However, the fingernails-on-chalkboard moment in this passage for many readers will be the return of the W-word — “wafer.”

Several years ago, there was a lively GetReligion comments-page discussion of this term that is worth revisiting. Here is how I started that “wafer madness” post:

There is no question what the Roman Catholic Church calls the holy bread that is consecrated during the Mass. It is called the “host.” Anyone who knows anything about Catholic liturgy knows this.

Now, how do you describe or define the host? Those seeking to be reverent tend to call it “consecrated bread.”

The problem, of course, is that the special bread used in Western Rite services is not simply unleavened bread. As the old saying goes, there are two acts of faith involved in meditating on the host during a Mass. The first is to believe that it is the Body of Christ. The second is to believe that it is, in fact, bread.

It does not take many words to explain what the word “host” means in this context. Why do journalists decline to use the right term and choose, instead, to push the “wafer” button? I honestly do not know.

However, the reference to Eucharistic adoration would seem to be key moment in this timely piece, since the thesis of the article appears to be that Catholics who actually practice the doctrines of the Catholic faith are not really Catholics. They are strange Catholics, as opposed to being normal Catholics. And what is a normal Catholic? Check this hint:

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.

Of course, the essence of Catholicism is that the teaching authority of the bishops is, in fact, the mechanism through which church tradition is applied to the unique challenges of the age. One does not have to agree with that fact in order to understand it and to write about these beliefs in an accurate and fair manner. The people of God play a crucial role in the Catholic faith, but there is no question that in Catholicism the pope and the bishops are the teachers and defenders of the faith handed down through the ages.

The thread running through this news story, it seems to me, is that Catholics who actually try to live out this faith in their day-to-day lives (especially if they are living public lives) are strange and a bit dangerous. We have seen the following question implied in the past (but not explicitly voiced in this story): What do you call a Catholic who actually believes the doctrines of his or her Church? You call them an “evangelical.” What do you call a Catholic who does not believe some or many of the doctrines of his or her Church? They are called “Catholics.”

The story includes some increasingly familiar information about the Santorums, such as the fact that Karen Santorum was once romantically involved with Dr. Tom Allen, the founder of Pittsburgh’s first abortion clinic, during a period in her life when she had broken with the Catholic faith. She returned to the faith after meeting her future husband.

This will not surprise anyone who knows anything about this family and its history.

The Times team also does a pretty good job of noting quite a few elements of the senator’s career that were shaped by this faith, including some that — for mainstream journalists — may not seem that obvious. Thus, readers are told:

Mr. Santorum’s religious beliefs would come to infuse every aspect of his political life — not just his views on social issues like abortion, but also his work to overhaul the welfare system, increase financing to fight AIDS in Africa and promote religious freedom. “He is passionate about all of these issues, which all come from a deep faith,” said Mike DeWine, the Ohio attorney general, who served with Mr. Santorum in the Senate.

You could add many other pieces of bipartisan legislation that emerged from the offices of Santorum and Sen. Joseph Lieberman on hunger, education, aid for children, etc.

There are many other details to discuss and I am sure some will surface in the comments pages.

However, I was surprised that the Times did not dwell more on the following angle:

Mr. Santorum has been a supporter of Regnum Christi, the lay wing of a conservative, cultish order of priests known as the Legion of Christ. In 2003, he was the keynote speaker at a Regnum Christi event in Chicago that drew protesters because the group’s charismatic founder, who had spent years denying that he had sexually abused seminarians, was scheduled to share the podium.

The founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, did not show up, but critics faulted Mr. Santorum for agreeing to appear at the group’s forum. “He was certainly lending them legitimacy,” said Jason Berry, a documentary filmmaker and the author of a book about Father Maciel.

And that’s all we get? I am sure that critics of Santorum would like to know more at this point. However, the fall of Father Marcial Maciel and the testing of Regnum Christi was not a strictly liberal Catholics vs. conservative Catholics affair. This is one case in which many people were supporters of this controversial group and its founder, yet changed their views quickly or at other points before the final act.

It simply is not enough to say that “Santorum has been a supporter of Regnum Christi.” Once that door is open, readers deserve to know much more. This is a point on which traditionalist Catholics, as well as progressives, would appreciate a bit of grilling for Santorum. As one GetReligion reader noted:

… Maciel wasn’t just alleged to have committed sexual abuse, the Vatican found him guilty of being a general sociopath, albeit after Santorum’s appearance in 2003! What does Santorum do with Regnum Christi now that the Legion’s founder is in disgrace?

A good and valid question, one that I too am surprised that the Times didn’t pursue.

What are the other crucial journalistic pluses or minuses in this piece? Please focus on the journalism, folks.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Ryan K.

    Tmatt,

    I think you hit the nail on the head in highlighting that this gets at the media’s odd posture of covering Catholics who actually believe their Church teachings as dangerous and odd. That is why I am at a loss in seeing pieces like this in the NYT for Pelosi or Biden, who also profess to be Catholics.

    The real media story that no one ever seems to cover, is why and how does the press arrive or conclude that certain candidates are genuine in their beliefs and others are disingenuous? This would be a fascinating thing to report on and discuss. You could even interview politicians like Biden and Pelosi and ask them how they feel about the press giving a pass of sorts to their Catholic convictions, in juxtaposition to Santorum.

  • Jerry N

    Tmatt, your observation of the theme of how practicing Catholics are dangerous helped me make sense of Gary Wills’ quote that Santorum is a “papist”, but not a Catholic. That line was almost Tudor-era in its anti-Romanism, and I at first just attributed it to the usual habit of interviewing a professional dissident, with the summary of how Wills believes in Vatican II (unlike Santorum?), which somehow democratized the Church when nobody was looking.

    However, with your observation it better fits as evidence that Santorum is dangerous, or perhaps just doesn’t belong in America.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    I have spiked several comments that were either straw man attacks on Santorum or on the mainstream press.

    Please talk about the journalism issues in this post and/or in this NYTs article.

  • Dan

    The reference to “a highly traditional Catholicism that adheres fully to what scholars call ‘the teaching authority’ of the pope and his [sic] bishops” characterizes what Tmatt rightly calls “the essence of Catholicism” as an arcane intra-Catholic sectarian belief understood only by “scholars.” As such, it is an inappropriate taking of sides. I would submit that, to convey the same idea neutrally but in secular language, the sentence should have been written as follows:

    “The Santorums seek to follow the Catholic faith as it has been proclaimed by the bishops of the Catholic Church in union with the pope.”

    Historically, “Anglican” has been he name for people who believe in everything except the teaching authority of the Pope and “his” bishops. However, today there appears to have arisen a church led by certain public figures who deny the teaching authority of the pope and bishops yet, with the the indispensable aid of the media, arrogate to themselves the power to pronounce on who is and is not a Catholic. Once such figure is Garry Wills, who is quoted in the article as pronouncing an ex-communication of Senator Santorum from the Catholic Church (apparently for the heresy of believing in the pope’s teaching authority): “Santorum is not a Catholic, but a papist.” I will leave to exegetes of the new “church” to explicate what, in this context, a “papist” is and how it results in excommunication from the Catholic Church.

  • Julia

    Just finished reading that NYT piece before checking in at Get Religion. You hit the same points that grabbed my attention.

    The “wafer” v “Host” business is galling. Why not grant Catholics the courtesy of using their own terms for their sacred matters?

    “Perpetual adoration” is not a fringe activity in the Catholic world these days. My parish is not a hot-bed of traditionalism, but it is the regional center for 24/7 adoration, not just on Wednesdays, where people from all over the city sign up for one hour shifts.

    Additionally, the reporters don’t seem to know the difference between a Mass in Latin and a 1962 Mass. There is no rule that the New Mass has to be said in the vernacular. Many parishes have the regular New Mass occasionally in Latin – in part or totally. In fact, using some Latin is common in Lent. We even use some Gregorian chant in Lent and have a fair number of people sing along with us.

    Why not run an article like this past a practicing Catholic to note the odd or mistaken statements?

    Re: this section of the article leaves a very important issue dangling.

    Mrs. Santorum was nearly 20 weeks pregnant; doctors discovered a fetal anomaly. After a risky operation, she developed an infection and took antibiotics, which the couple knew would result in the birth of a baby who would not survive.

    Critics likened it to an abortion, but in a 1997 interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Mr. Santorum said that was not the case.

    Then nothing. No reasoning from Mr. Santorum or any statement from a Catholic expert on why side-effects are not considered the same thing as a “procured abortion” in Catholic moral theology. They leave the reader with the idea that Mr. Santorum is just brushing it off. This was a 3 page article – surely there was room for discussing this incredibly inflammatory issue to some degree.

  • Thomas Szyszkiewicz

    It is little wonder that the Times believes Rick Santorum is dangerous. They published an editorial a couple of days back about an effort in New Hampshire to repeal the current same-sex ‘marriage’ law. This line from the editorial sums it up: “Representative David Bates…argues that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, and he even included a sentence that says: ‘Children can only be conceived naturally through copulation by heterosexual couples.’ This is breathtakingly dangerous foolishness.”

    If, for the Times, Biology 101 is “breathtakingly dangerous foolishness,” then someone who actually believes what the Church teaches will be something even worse.

  • Thomas Szyszkiewicz

    It is little wonder that the Times believes Rick Santorum is dangerous. They published an editorial a couple of days back about an effort in New Hampshire to repeal the current same-sex ‘marriage’ law. This line from the editorial sums it up:

    Representative David Bates…argues that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, and he even included a sentence that says: ‘Children can only be conceived naturally through copulation by heterosexual couples.’ This is breathtakingly dangerous foolishness.

    If, for the Times, Biology 101 is “breathtakingly dangerous foolishness,” then someone who actually believes what the Church teaches will be something even worse.

  • northcoast

    Dan (#4) Your third paragraph would in no way describe us Anglicans whose Christian faith is described by the non-British entries of the Anglican/Episcopal 39 Articles of Faith; so to me that sentence is a distraction from your point. I won’t cite examples since they have nothing to do with the subject here, but various versions of the Book of Common Prayer can be found on the Internet, and the Articles of Faith will be found near the back of the book.

  • Dave_c

    Many of the Catholics who doubt/reject Church doctrine or Catholic politicians who argue that their personal religious beliefs do not inform that political votes claim themselves to be Catholic (and the Catholic church does not claim that they are not Catholic), so reporters is correct to refer them as Catholics. And my impression is that these Catholics get mentioned more often in press. e.g. The news report for WA state to legalize same-sex marriage mentions that Governor Gregoire is Catholic but doesn’t highlight that the Church is opposed to same-sex marriage. So for the average reader it would seem that’s what normal Catholics are like. Then it would be natural to characterize Santorum as “not-normal” Catholic who practices his faith quite differently. I’m not sure if that’s entirely the fault of the journalist.

    re. Juila, I’ve frequented several Catholic parishes in the past and I’m not too sure about the “Perpetual adoration” and “Mass in Latin” bit. I never got the impression that Eucharistic adoration is done frequently. May be once a year; and apart from a few Latin phrases, Mass is mostly in native language. Getting back on topic, I think some statistics on how big the “sweat-the-details-Catholic” slice is would be helpful.

  • Troy

    Dave C,

    Frequenting several parishes doesn’t inform one of what occurs at that parish. Consistent with Catholic attitude on devotions, we don’t proclaim we are doing them from the pulpit. We just do them. Maybe once year there is a call for more people to participate. In the meantime, it just happens.

    Usually what happens is a parish might have a weekly 24 hour adoration with people signing up for an hour at a time. However, in multiple parish communities, one will have 24-7 adoration where we can go if so moved.

    Final comment:. If the NYT wants to write an article to illuminate the public on Santorum’s beliefs, they might want to get the basics right on his religion.

  • Michael

    I read the article yesterday, and the wafer comment grated on me as well. I wonder when the NYT will do a hard-hitting piece on Michelle Obama’s ex-boyfriends? So relevant.

  • Jettboy

    You get the sense that Santorum’s faith is strange, out of touch, weird, and “cultic” from this article. Conservative Catholics, welcome to the Mormon Moment that used to be the Catholic moment.

  • Faith

    I live in the Arlington Diocese. The frequency of Adoration and Latin Masses varies from diocese to diocese as I understand it. I don’t attend St. Catherine’s, Santorum’s parish, but I do attend another parish, that is considered more liberal. However, we have Adoration every Sunday afternoon and every First Friday. And though we don’t have Latin Mass as St. Catherine’s does, there are several parishes that do and we certainly do say some of the prayers at some of the masses in Latin and this does increase during Lent. So the frequency of these practices really depends on the diocese.

  • http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com Karen V

    I’m not sure the host vs. wafer locution is so clear cut. For most (non-RC) Americans a “host” is someone of the male gender who sponsors a party or other event. A wafer is usually understood to be something one eats. A parenthetical reference like “host (‘consecrated wafer’)” might be in order. (I remember when I lived in Italy that the ricepaper-like edible sheet used to cover torrone nougat was referred to as a “host” since it was the same material cut into circles for consecrated use. But that use of host had no connotation of consecration.)

    Gary Wills’ quote that Santorum is a “papist”, but not a Catholic means quite specifically that he thinks Santorum has declined to accept the Vatican 2 statement that the church is its people, not just the pope and his bishops. The author described that explicitly and although I would have liked a bit more follow-up, it shows why Santorum’s practices are not considered typical Catholic practices.

    His wife’s relationship with an abortion provider whose work she promoted is relevant in the context of their turnaround on what has become a major mission in their lives and I actually would have preferred more information on what triggered the changes. (Since the subject was introduced twice, a bit more editing would have provided room for the information.) I’d like to know more about their thinking and religious justification on the antibiotic use.

    Look, this is a candidate who sends his children to an Opus De-affiliated school, who supports Regnum Christi. who explicitly doesn’t believe in common notions about the separation between church and state, who promises to speak out about the harm of contraception as President. People should know that they are not getting a JFK Roman Catholic president. I think the piece explains this pretty well.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Strictly as a matter of journalism: Many non-Catholic readers would not know a Catholic Host from a game show host. “Wafer” is accurate and descriptive. If elsewhere in a piece the writer wants to say that Catholics call it the Host, fine. But for a general readership, clarity trumps jargon terminology.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Mass is offered in Latin every Sunday at noon — most parishes have Mass only in English — and each Wednesday parishioners take turns praying nonstop for 24 hours before a consecrated communion wafer, a demanding practice known as Eucharistic adoration.

    1) Most parishes have Mass only in English? In Boston, there are Masses in 20 different languages. In New York, 25. In Washington, 20. And I’m sure there are similar numbers around the country.

    2) Eucharistic adoration once a week is “a demanding practice”? Imagine their dismay if they realized that there are parishes that have perpetual Eucharistic adoration and that people get up at 2:00 in the morning to go spend an hour before the Lord — and they do it on a weekly or more basis. Willingly.

    Or imagine that there was an order of nuns founded around perpetual Eucharistic adoration, one that has been doing it for 150 years, and whose former president was key in supporting ObamaCare and who was then rewarded by the President for her support by being appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

    The New York Times does not do its research.

  • http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com Karen V

    Thomas, your explanation of the NYT editorial quote is misleading. Clearly the “This is breathtakingly dangerous foolishness,” referred to “lifestyle choice” rather than basic biology. Their language would have been clearer if they had said

    That leaves intolerance, fear and an attempt to impose religious beliefs through the law as motivations, and they have been evident in abundance. Representative David Bates, the Republican who filed the repeal bill, argues that since “Children can only be conceived naturally through copulation by heterosexual couples, marriage should be restricted to heterosexuals.” He believes homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. This is breathtakingly dangerous foolishness.

  • http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    As far as I can tell, our country has a mixed bag of anti-Catholic sentiment since its founding. By mixed bag, I mean that the parties who hold Catholics in suspicion are diverse. It would not be easy to divide them along political, ethic, or religious lines. Throughout US history, there has been an ebb and flow of tolerance of Catholics.

    Now, tolerance is based on many things, one of which is how “in your face” those being tolerated are. The more in-your-face they are with their odd ways, the less tolerated they are. So, there are the kind of Catholics that are tolerable–mainly those who disagree with their church on key doctrinal elements and who do not participate very actively in the faith, and who therefore do not form their daily and public lives in accord with that faith. The “normal” Catholics. And those that are intolerable–those that actively and actually adhere to the express doctrines and disciplines of the Catholic Church.

    Santorum apparently is in the intolerable group. And so you have the NYTimes and the HuffPost characterizing him they way they do: Weird. Scary. Extreme. Not your average next-door-neighbor Catholic. Not the kind of Catholic we like.

    I am not sure that the Times (or anyone else) simply do not know the right words or the meanings of the words they do use or the practices they describe. I have my suspicions that they know full well what they are doing and the net effect of what they publish on their readers, and have chosen to publish what they have by intent.

  • http://revolutionofhearts.wordpress.com Katharine

    I’m surprised that the past history of Regnum Christi has not been brought up.

  • http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    @Karen V,

    I agree wholeheartedly that Santorum is not a JFK (or RFK, TK, or any K progeny) Catholic. And I agree that the nation has a right to know who he is. It is a question of the way in which these facts are presented.

    On the other hand, please correct me if I’m wrong, but you sense something disagreeable in the fact that he sends his kids to an Opus Dei school? That he is not a JFK/Pelosi/Sebellius Catholic? If so, please explain what you are seeing that is so disagreeable. If my prior post makes it tmatt, you will understand my curiosity, and I want to say explicitly I am simply trying to understand, not start an argument.

  • http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com Karen V

    @AuthenticBioethics,

    I’m a religious leftist, so yes I object. Were I Catholic, I’d be firmly in the Vatican 2 camp.

    And I thought the article was overall fair.

  • http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com Karen V

    @AuthenticBioethics,

    I’m on the religious left, so yes I would object to the Opus Dei.Regnum Christi flank. Were I Catholic, I’d be firmly in the Vatican 2 camp.

    And I thought the article was overall evenhanded in its presentation of the facts to a general audience. It could have been tweaked but I think it gave a view of who Santorum is, whether you like him or not.

  • http://remarquepaperworks.com Barbara Weeks

    Vatican II camp? Did I miss something in the last forty-plus years? Vatican !! in no way denied or disavowed the teaching authority of the Pope and the bishops. It promoted use of the vernacular at Mass but did not outlaw Latin in some cases. It recognized the importance of the role of laity but did not make them equal to the Pope nor did it raise members of the U.S. Congress to the College of Cardinals.

  • Julia

    Issue 1) The Host – 5. Biology The animal or plant on which or in which another organism lives.
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/host
    Before the consecration of the Mass it is a wafer and afterwards it is a Host.

    Issue 2) Lots of people and religious groups use and like initials, but Catholics do not call themselves “RC”s. It’s rather jarring to read that.

    Issue 3) Practices do vary a bit from one Catholic diocese to another. The point is that “adoration” is not rare at all, whether it’s “perpetual” 24/7 in a regional center or one day each week or month.

    Issue 4) Novus Ordo Masses can be entirely or in partially in Latin; there is no requirement that it be in the vernacular. The noon Mass mentioned in the news article is not identified as either a Novus Ordo Mass in English or a 1962 Mass which is only said in Latin.

    Issue 5) Only dissidents like the SPPX think and say that Vatican II is not legitimate. The dispute is about reading more into it than is there. Vatican II did not require vernacular and it restated that Gregorian chant in 1st place for Mass.

  • Susan

    There is almost total ignorance about the content of the documents that came out of Vatican II, and, sadly, popular “journalism” is the primary spreader of misinformation. Benedict XVI was a theological advisor, seen as a reformer, and made notable contributions in the “Vatican II” Council… but you are unlikely to read that in any American newspaper or periodical article.

    The understanding of Catholicism in American popular culture and media is one-part fantasy and one-part nightmare. It must meet some national psychological need, and that says more about America then it does Catholicism.

  • Maureen

    Actually, “host” has nothing to do with a symbiotic or parasitic host. That’s from “hospes”, meaning guest and host — ie, two people in a hospitality relationship to each other.

    “Hostia” is the Latin word for “sacrificial offering, sacrificial victim, sacrifice.” “Host” is the English version.

  • taad

    Santorum is on solid ground with his take on JFK. Read what Archbishop Chaput said in 2010 about JFK and his speech on religion:http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/3489

  • Julia

    Thanks Maureen – glad to know that. I knew there was some good reason why it was called a Host after consecration. I was giving it a good shot, but missed the mark.

  • TeaPot562

    Re Perpetual Adoration. The Orange Diocese in California, split off from the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1975. The Orange Diocese established an Adoration program in 1977. Each of some 60+ parishes was asked to set a day each month, e.g. the 16th of the month, and have the practice of adoration from the conclusion of the last morning mass on that day until the first morning mass on the following day. Some parishes set the date on a specific day of the week, for instance from the First Friday of the month until the first morning mass on the Saturday immediately following.
    So some days of the month have two or more parishes involved in this practice at the same time. My wife and I usually take the hour from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Some people drop in for a short visit – say 15 to 20 minutes.
    The practice of Adoration is suspended during the Easter Triduum;
    Some parishes have a separate chapel available for Adoration. We don’t have that luxury. For our diocese as an entity, Adoration operates, except when a Mass is being celebrated, about 362 days a year.
    For those seeking a biblical reference, check the 6th chapter of John’s gospel.
    TeaPot562

  • John Pack Lambert

    The Times has stooped to the level of Rev. Jefferts in describing an organization that Santorum was connected with as “cultish”. I guess if it is a conservative Evangelical who uses the word it is bigoted, if it is the Times it is “enlightened”.

    If there is a public enemy number one it is the NYT.

  • Alejo

    I thought overall the article was good.It didn’t have as many tongue in cheek blows as an article about Santorum usually has. I mostly agree with Mattingly’s observations, but I’m just happy to see an article where Santorum isn’t ridiculed. The media has been extremely unfair to him. It is interesting to see the reaction that a Catholic who actually believes his faith gets from the media. The default Catholic to most Americans is indistiungishable from a liberal Episcopalian. Catholics have hidden their faith so much for the sake of acceptance into Protestant America that we have forgotten what being a Catholic means and looks like. I don’t think people should vote based on religion or race/ethnicity, but I think it says A LOT that Santorum’s strongest support is among Evangelical Protestants while Romeny has gotten most Catholic votes. Even self-identified Catholics don’t know how to react to a fellow Catholic that actually believes. Very sad.


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