Some Catholics oppose Santorum! Imagine that!

Yes, it’s Catholic voter time again.

But before we get into that, raise your cyber-hands if you think one of the most important stories in the year — think religious liberty, think higher education, think politics — is the growing evidence of deep, bitter rifts inside American Catholicism linked to (a) basic matters of doctrine and (b) the degree to which people practice the faith (the old reality of the “pew gap” statistics) in sacraments and worship?

With that in mind, consider this rather strange headline from CNN (hat tip to my former student Chris Moody of Yahoo! News) on a rather predictable story:

Loudly Catholic Santorum loses Ohio Catholics

(CNN) – Rick Santorum, a conservative Catholic who is outspoken about faith-based issues, lost Catholic voters by a wide margin in Ohio on Tuesday, potentially a key factor that allowed Mitt Romney to squeak out the narrowest of victories overall in the state.

According to CNN’s exit polls, Romney took 43% of Ohio Catholics on Super Tuesday, compared to 31% for Rick Santorum, and Romney beat Santorum overall by 38% to 37%.

I assume that “loudly” refers to the fact that Santorum has been so vocal about his Catholic beliefs that some journalists have insisted on calling him an “evangelical.” This also implies that the opposite of a “loud” Catholic is a “quiet” Catholic and that this is the kind of Catholic who is a hit with the mythical “Catholic voter” bloc. Loud Catholics are scary.

This brings us back to that “Catholic voter” typology that I developed years ago after talking to a veteran Catholic priest here in Washington, D.C. However, let me note that I have tweaked this to reflect some valid points linked to a recent post on a related topic (click here for a refresher). The “ex-Catholic” reference has been changed to affect a reality that, frankly, I should have thought of long ago.

The four basic “Catholic voter” camps:

* Ex-Catholics. While most ex-Catholics are solid for the Democrats, the large percentage that has left to join conservative Protestant churches (including some Latinos) may lean to GOP.

* Cultural Catholics who may go to church a few times a year. This may be an undecided voter — check out that classic Atlantic Monthly tribes of American religion piece — depending on what is happening with the economy, foreign policy, etc. Leans to Democrats.

* Sunday-morning American Catholics. This voter is a regular in the pew and may even play some leadership role in the parish. This is the Catholic voter that is really up for grabs, the true swing voter that the candidates are after.

* “Sweats the details” Roman Catholic who goes to confession. Is active in the full sacramental life of the parish and almost always backs the Vatican, when it comes to matters of faith and practice. This is where the GOP has made its big gains in recent decades, but this is a very, very small slice of the American Catholic pie.

Now, who thinks that it is highly likely that Santorum is doing just fine with the fourth camp, but that many if not all folks from the liberal side of camp one and most from camp two are lining up to vote against him? In other words, the most controversial fact about Santorum to many Catholics is that he is an enthusiastic advocate of Catholic moral teachings. In other words, Catholicism is a very controversial topic among Catholics in North America.

But here is the big idea, once again: It adds very little to news coverage to talk about a “Catholic vote” without adding layers of information about these radically different forms of Catholic voters. There is no one “Catholic vote.”

Nevertheless, one of the main New York Times stories from Ohio served up the “Catholic vote” myth, as usual.

Oh, by the way, make sure you check out the classic photo on the top of the report, the one with the elderly nun clutching her rosary at a Santorum rally. I would have thought that Santorum would be a hit with young Catholic nuns, these days, as opposed to the older generation. Then again, this sister is dressed in a habit. She is one of THOSE nuns.

The “challenge” reference in the first sentence below refers to winning the votes of blue-collar workers:

Mr. Santorum’s challenge was slightly different. He did not have to expand that base, per se, because many blue-collar voters in Ohio were already part of his natural constituency, made up of anti-abortion activists, evangelicals, some Tea Party supporters and people who called themselves very conservative.

Stephanie McGee, 23, a nurse who voted at the Holy Family Church here in Steubenville, said that she favored Mr. Santorum because “he believes in traditional family values and is not afraid to stand up for them.” …

Michigan polls had also showed an interesting turn of events in Mr. Romney’s favor with Catholics, an important subset of voters. In Michigan, they favored Mr. Romney, who is Mormon, over Mr. Santorum, who is Catholic, by seven percentage points. Exit polls in Ohio showed that Catholics here favored Mr. Romney as well.

Obviously, McGee is one kind of Catholic voter and, if you happen to know the Steubenville area, it isn’t hard to picture her being a very traditional Catholic believer. But she is only one Catholic voter. The polls show that, whether journalists want to write about that reality or not.

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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.

  • Handle

    Now, who thinks that it is highly likely that Santorum is doing just fine with the fourth camp, but that many if not all folks from the liberal side of camp one and most from camp two are lining up to vote against him?

    tmatt, a surprising number of camp 4 are Ron Paul backers.

  • tmatt

    HANDLE:

    Got a URL for that? I mean, I am not surprised. But where is your info from?

  • Joe

    I would have thought that Santorum would be a hit with young Catholic nuns, these days, as opposed to the older generation.

    This link suggests that you may be right: http://theothermccain.com/2012/02/25/nuns-for-santorum/

  • sari

    B

    ut here is the big idea, once again: It adds very little to news coverage to talk about a “Catholic vote” without adding layers of information about these radically different forms of Catholic voters. There is no one “Catholic vote.”

    tmatt,
    Members of the media routinely refer to Protestants, Jews, Muslims, etc. in the same way. Likewise, pollers tend to lump all members of any given religion together rather than reflect very real differences in worldview. Minority votes may matter little at the national level, but they can effect huge change locally.

  • Stan

    The first journalistic error here is that the author should have been very specific that the percentages he gives are those who vote in Republican primaries. Inasmuch as a majority of Catholics are Democrats rather than Republicans, the percentage of Catholics who support Santorum is much smaller. As far as the picture of the elderly nun, inasmuch as the average age of American nuns is quite advanced, it might be difficult to find many young nuns to photograph.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt
  • Beate

    Not journalistic, but as a #4 Catholic, Santorum’s stance on immigration bugs me.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Poorly that headline was written.

    The vast majority of us Ohioans are thankful that the flyover media will leave us alone until November, when once again we will be deemed important enough for another two-day visit from the “experts”.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I’m surprised that in stories or analysis of the Ohio Catholic vote and Santorum’s choice of Steubenville for his election night gathering, I did not see one mention of Steubenville University which is one of the most successful and rapidly growing Catholic institutions of higher learning. It is also solidly traditional, orthodox, and very charismatic.
    As for the Catholic vote going to Romney. The media didn’t recall that many Ma. solidly Catholic pro-life leaders have publicly defended Romney’s pro-life, family issues record as governor here. That includes former Boston mayor Ray Flynn and Harvard Prof Mary Ann Glendon. I know they are why virtually every member of my family voted for Romney. And I am sure the Romney people made sure Ohio Catholic voters knew this.

  • Roseanna Hallman

    as a #4 Catholic, I voted for Ron Paul. Tom Woods convinced me. The GOP stance against immigration bothers me, and I don’t like the pro-war attitude that all the candidates except Ron Paul seem to exude. Even Obama, who ran as an anti-war candidate is beating the war drums against Iran these days. Whatever happened to the Just War Theory of the Church? You can look it up. Pope JP II and Benedict have brought it up repeatedly. Catholics who are faithful should listen up.

  • Julia

    Stan:

    LCWR is the more liberal of the two associations of women leaders of religious orders.

    The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious represents the more traditional orders that are attracting lots of young recruits. Check out their websites. CMSWR is quite different from the LCWR.

    http://www.cmswr.org/

    http://www.lcwr.org/

  • Stan

    Julia, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious may be the more traditional, but they are also by far the smaller of the groups.

  • Julia

    On MSNBC just now, Chuck Todd was saying that people are saying Romeny might get Louisiana but he didn’t see it happening because of the Catholic vote which should go to Santorum.

    Just before that, a financial reporter told him that McDonald’s was down overseas, but is reporting sales up 11% in the US just recently. She asked him if he could guess what product is responsible for that increase. He guessed McRib and she said no it’s the fish filet. Todd said he got his fish sandwiches somewhere else and she said you know why the sale of fish sandwiches suddenly rose, don’t you? He didn’t – she had to tell him it was because of Lent. He looked baffled. You know, no meat, she added. He continued to have a blank look on his face.

    Most reporters don’t get Catholics of any stripe. Even my son who rarely goes to church avoids meat on Fridays in Lent.

  • Julia

    Should have said most media people don’t get Catholics. The reporter on Chuck Todd’s program did.

    BTW my non-church-going,fish-eating, Cultural Catholic, Libertarian son favors Gingrich. And he backs the bishops’ fight on religious liberty. Catholics are all over the place.

  • Maureen

    Re: Steubenville and Steubenville University, they also didn’t mention Steubenville’s close partnership with EWTN, the world’s biggest Catholic radio, tv and media network. Steubenville not only has its own EWTN panel discussion show, it also has many professors who have shows on EWTN. There’s this whole Steubenville/Alabama axis.

    It’s so oblivious, it’s funny. Especially since Santorum’s campaign obviously knew it.

  • Maureen

    And of course Mother Angelica is a Franciscan from northeast Ohio, whereas Steubenville U is run by Franciscans from southeast Ohio. So Irondale, Alabama is not really that far off, no matter what the map says.

  • Maureen

    Oops. Franciscan University of Steubenville, that is. Franciscan University, for short.

    Sigh… the Rule of Internet Criticism strikes again.


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