Cherry-picking Rick Santorum?

Here at “On Faith,” the Post’s Lisa Miller recently wrote that Rick Santorum could be called a “cafeteria Catholic,” someone … Continued

Here at “On Faith,” the Post’s Lisa Miller recently wrote that Rick Santorum could be called a “cafeteria Catholic,” someone who “cherry-picks” which teachings of the faith he wants to follow and which he doesn’t. He might even be “not all that Catholic,” says Miller. But what are Miller’s examples of Santorum’s alleged “cherry picking,” and do they really represent deviations from “rules and doctrines” of the Catholic faith, as she puts it?

Whitney Curtis

GETTY IMAGES

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks to supporters and caucus voters during a campaign stop March 17, 2012 at Westminster Christian Academy in Town and Country, Missouri.

First, the death penalty. Miller cites a 2005 statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, arguing for an end to the death penalty in the United States. As a senator, Santorum did not work to end the death penalty; quite the contrary. But what does the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church say on the subject? “The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

While the Catechism goes on to urge public authorities to consider the need for the death penalty in many societies as “rare” if not “non-existent,” it does not impose an obligation on citizens or public officials of the Catholic faith to abolish capital punishment outright. The question of the death penalty’s use is a prudential one, which Catholic teaching leaves up to the judgment of those invested with public authority—the laymen who hold office and the voters who choose them. In short, there is no Catholic “rule or doctrine” calling for the complete abolition of the death penalty. And the position staked out by the U.S. bishops does not change that fact.

Second, Miller mentions “torture.” She rightly notes the church’s unequivocal position against torture, but she tendentiously asserts that Santorum is in favor of it. She acknowledges—only implicitly to dismiss as obviously wrong—Santorum’s view that our government’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against captured enemy terrorists was not torture. Miller’s link to a news article elsewhere does not establish that she is right and Santorum is wrong about what constitutes torture. She has only identified a disagreement about a practice, not a “deviation” on Santorum’s part from what his church teaches. Miller’s Post colleague Marc Thiessen (also a Catholic) has written an entire book (“Courting Disaster”) responsibly making the case that the Bush administration had no policy amounting to “torture.” I recommend it to her.

Her third item is our policy toward Iran. Here Santorum is presented as ready to “threaten Iran with bombs,” whereas a committee of the bishops led by Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines recently counseled restraint. This seems to be a wholly manufactured difference between Santorum and leading prelates in his church. Even “preventive war” (taking steps to attack first against an imminent aggressor) is not ruled out by anything the church has ever authoritatively taught, nor even by the letter of Bishop Pates that Miller cites. As in the case of the death penalty, Catholic recognition that we live in a fallen world, where public authorities have a duty to protect innocent life, leads to the conclusion that deadly force can be morally employed, even preemptively. Also like the question of the death penalty, questions of war and peace are preeminently political judgments for the laymen invested with responsibility for the nation’s defense. The church has principles to offer, not policies, much less decisions in individual cases.

Finally, Miller mentions immigration. Though she writes that “only on this issue has Santorum explicitly distanced himself from the church,” it is perhaps her weakest example, because the church authoritatively teaches practically nothing about this subject. The U.S. bishops, Miller says, “support immigration reform that includes a way for illegal aliens to earn citizenship.” True enough. But Santorum, she writes, “wants to build a fence between the United States and Mexico” and on his Web site, she says, he “conflates immigrants with ‘drug cartels, violent criminals and terrorists.’” Score that as, respectively, a half-truth and a falsehood. Santorum’s site says “secure the border first,” but that isn’t the whole of his policy.

And as for his alleged “conflation” of “immigrants” with criminals and terrorists, try to find it yourself on that Web page. You can’t. What Santorum does say is that the Obama administration has given us an “exposed border and a nation vulnerable to drug cartels, violent criminals, and terrorists.” This is arguably so. But nowhere does Santorum say that “immigrants” generally or even “illegal immigrants” are part of that problem. Who’s doing the conflating here?

But let’s come back to Santorum vs. the bishops on this one. At most the bishops may be said to be speaking pastorally on this subject, but not authoritatively. Their views are worthy of respectful engagement, but they do not demand obedience. It is no test of anyone’s faithful Catholicism to inquire whether they agree with the bishops about immigration.

Miller seemed moved to write this critique of Santorum by the fact that conservative Catholics can sometimes be heard to call their liberal brethren “cafeteria Catholics.” But in the case of many (not all) liberal Catholics, there really are serious deviations from “rules and doctrines” taught by the faith. The teachings against abortion and contraception are unequivocal and authoritative. Ditto for the teachings on the priesthood of celibate men, and on the preservation of marriage as between one man and one woman. The bishops defend these doctrines as pillars of the Church’s teaching, and when they speak it is the church we hear. On these questions, it is our brethren on the left who are not “all that Catholic” if they are at odds with the bishops.

But the case is different for the principles that govern the use of the death penalty, the use of military force, or policymaking on immigration. The bishops are rightly revered as the shepherds of the faith, but they know that they lack the authority to “loose and bind” the voters and public officials of the Catholic faith on these questions. Individually and collectively, the bishops’ views (even the pope’s view) on these matters are instances where they speak for themselves, in a great ongoing conversation among Catholics. They know they cannot, and so they do not, speak ex cathedra on questions as intricate as immigration policy.

Ironically, Miller’s standard for Santorum’s Catholicism is just the kind of test John F. Kennedy insisted was wrong for his fellow Americans to apply. The complaint about Kennedy in 1960, in some Protestant circles, was that he would, as president, do the bidding of Rome or of the American bishops, sacrificing his judgment (and his constitutional responsibilities as president) to religious authority. According to Miller, Rick Santorum can only be a completely good Catholic if he lets the bishops make immigration policy, remake our criminal justice system, and determine whether we can attack Iran. Luckily for Santorum, she is wrong.

Matthew J. Franck is Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, Lecturer in Politics at Princeton University, and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Radford University.

  • ccnl1

    Beyond politics and onto the nitty-gritty:

    Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus’ sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is “authentic Jesus” like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus’ case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

    For added “pizzazz”, Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the “pew people” to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the “filicider”.

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of “pretty wingie thingie” visits and “prophecies” for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immaculate conceptions).

    Current problems:
    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, “propheteering/ profiteering” evangelicals

  • usapdx

    Most USA RCs are CAFETERIA CATHOLICS easy just by the RCC teaching on birth control. Ask them or look at their family size. Ricky is something else.

  • homeschool4joy

    Thank you, thank you for this! I decided to cancel our Post subscription of many years because of Lisa Miller’s outrageous anti-Catholic columns–not simply because of her (inaccurate, obnoxious) positions, but moreso because the Post chose to present them unchallenged and unanswered. If this kind of response had been published simultaneously with her rants, I would have been inclined to remain a subscriber. You said everything that needed to be said–I feel much better now, even though far fewer readers will note your words–their loss!

  • dcmeteor

    Death penalty to protect innocent people? How is a captured and convicted person, behind bars, a danger to society? To execute a person strapped down is not self defense,, it is murder. Immigration? “What would Jesus do?” Lock the poor people out of course. Protect the wealthier nation from poorly educated foreigners. Torture? Is any rational person denying that water boarding is torture?

  • Alyosha1

    This column is simply incorrect on Catholic teaching on War. As Joseph Ratizinger (then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now Pope Benedict XVI) said in 2002:

    The “concept of a ‘preventive war’ does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church… One cannot simply say that the catechism does not legitimize the war but it is true that the catechism has developed a doctrine that, on one hand, does not exclude the fact that there are values and peoples that must be defended in some circumstances; on the other hand, it offers a very precise doctrine on the limits of these possibilities.”

    Since the mid-20th century the Church has limited the just causes of war to self-defense against an ongoing attack (or humanitarian intervention where one is defending another against an ongoing attack). While the Church has admitted the possibility of a just pre-emptive strike, that would only apply in circumstances where a coming attack was certain, imminent, and grave. There is nothing in the just war doctrine that would permit a preventive war.

    Just because a teaching involves prudential judgment does not mean that there is no possibility of objectively violating the Church’s teaching.

  • dave3

    what a joke you and the catholic church are. glad I left over 25 years ago.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    You are, without a doubt, the first catholic apologist I’ve come across in my life that felt it necessary to prove that the church does not prohibit murder. We’re aware.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    You mean, as a home schooler you’ve chosen to isolate yourself a basic republican institution because you didn’t like what you were hearing? I might die of shock.

  • davidls45

    If I understand this article correctly, Mr Santorum should be considered a good main-stream Catholic. As a follower of the teachings of the Buddha I actually find this very frightening. But not really surprising. Murder is OK. War is OK. Hatred of women is OK. Racism is OK. Child molestation is OK. But only if they occur in conformity to church doctrine.
    Thought for the day – Buddhists have never started a war.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Well, ok. I suppose they didn’t start the second world war, but I’m afraid that a nation of zen buddhists is somewhat responsible for what went down in the Pacific theater.

  • jimwalters1

    If the Catholic Church says “X is immoral”, than anyone who says “I am for X” is in disagreement with the Catholic Church. That holds whether X is “abortion” or “the death penalty in all but the rarest circumstances”. The weaseling the authors do to try to justify Santorum’s position on this could easily be used to justify a Catholic politician taking a pro abortion rights stand. The bishops have no problem coming down hard on politicians who do that.

    Catholic teachings do not line up neatly with either party. Catholic teachings on sexual and reproductive morality tend to line up with the Republican line. Catholic teachings on virtual everything else (social policy, the death penalty, war, immigration, etc.) line up more closely with the Democrats. The right tries to pretend that the violations on the left are critical, while the violation on the right are inconsequential. That is nonsense.

    The line that Santorum doesn’t support torture because he doesn’t consider waterboarding torture just makes me sick. It is something straight out of George Orwell. Anyone who tries to push that one should be ashamed. The US has always considered waterboarding torture – at least until W got into the White House.

  • PhilyJimi

    The Christian faith/clut is based on human sacrifice, why would it be opposed to the death penalty? How ironic is this post on Good Friday.

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