Mitt Romney: The Sodium Pentothal Question

This Monday morning, Research on Religion has put up its hour-long interview with your diarist about the new free e-book (seriously, no dollars and zero cents right here folks), America’s shifting political-religious landscape and why a certain someone might have to publicly eat his hat if the GOP overperforms in Pennsylvania.

There may be one explosive aspect of this interview near the end, where I bust out what friends and colleagues have started referring to as “Mitt Romney: The Sodium Pentothal Question.” The question is this: Does Mitt Romney harbor some dislike for Catholic clergy, or at least their drinking?

This is not a political question. As I say in the interview, if I could get it out of him, I don’t think I’d actually do anything with it for a good long while. I’d just like to know.

I’m curious because he was given what many would consider good cause to dislike Catholic priests. If someone could go through what he went through without holding at least a mild grudge, he’d be a saint.

Flash back to France, 1968, while Romney is doing his foreign mission. Romney is driving a vehicle with five other Mormons, including the mission president and the president’s wife up front. Around a sharp corner comes a car in the wrong lane and — bam! — hits the Mormons head on.

The crash breaks a few of Romney’s bones and puts him in a coma. It badly damages the mission president and it kills his wife “Sister” Leola Anderson — who had been a sort of surrogate mother for the 170-plus young Mormon missionaries very far from home.

Now, a curious fact about this accident is the car that struck them was piloted by a Catholic priest who some of the Mormons on the scene believed to be drunk. (This detail was edited out of my Washington Times review of a Romney book.)

Romney doesn’t have firsthand observations of this because he was knocked unconscious, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe it, or that it hasn’t had an effect. When he awoke from his coma, Romney found himself with a dead president’s wife, a broken and largely absent president and a whole mission full of young distraught missionaries that he had to console and turn around.

A few days after I recorded this interview last week, Romney took part in the Al Smith Dinner roast. A number of Romney’s very funny jokes to the assembled Catholic eminences had to do with sobriety. Sample: “Usually when I get invited to gatherings like this, it’s just to be designated driver.”

I know, I know. Sometimes a joke is just a joke. And if the car crash in ’68 had never happened, we likely would never have gotten Mitt Romney, Turnaround Artist. Romney, with Saint Paul, might reason that the Good Lord had mysteriously worked evil toward good, yet again, and let it go at that.

Still, my guess is, the crash left a different kind of mark. If I could ever ask Romney an off-the-record question, that’d be the one.

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