iOS app Android app More

Rick Santorum Wins Over Evangelicals By Breaking With His Own Catholic Creed

Santorum Catholic Evangelical

First Posted: 01/ 5/2012 3:29 pm Updated: 01/ 6/2012 10:10 am

Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum is a darling of the Christian right, and made a tremendous showing among evangelicals in the Iowa caucuses. But Santorum himself is a Catholic, and while many of his more socially conservative positions have endeared him to the evangelical community, they actually conflict with the teachings of his own church. The theological tensions in Santorum's record pose potential political problems for his candidacy: Can he bring Catholics into his camp despite advocating unorthodox positions? And can he maintain his reputation among conservative Christians as a principled man of religious integrity, despite taking political stances that violate the teachings of his own faith?

Santorum has often defended the role of religion in political affairs, stating that his own faith was a significant factor in his Senate career.

"The social teachings of my faith were a factor in my work as a senator," Santorum wrote in a 2007 opinion piece for the Philadelphia Enquirer, explaining his votes in favor of global AIDS relief as rooted in Christian teachings to "care for the poor."

But on two issues in particular, Santorum has broken with official Catholic doctrine to side with hardline evangelicals against accepted scientific conclusions. On several other matters, Santorum's political positions have sparked ire among Catholics concerned with social justice.

Santorum has been one of the most prominent congressional defenders of intelligent design and the teaching of creationism. But the Catholic Church has long been supportive of evolution. In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared that there is no conflict between the Catholic faith and the scientific study of evolution, and Pope John Paul II went further in 1996, stating that science had produced an enormous body of persuasive evidence in favor of evolution.

Nevertheless, in 2001, Santorum offered an amendment to President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind education bill urging teachers to tell students that evolution is controversial and to provide lessons on intelligent design:

It is the sense of the Senate that (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why the subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.

Santorum's amendment cleared the Senate and eventually made it into the final bill in a revised version, which still explicitly challenged the legitimacy of evolution:

The conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

Santorum later boasted about his efforts on an Iowa radio station in the fall of 2009, claiming credit for eight years of school board conflicts over intelligent design and evolution.

"The next day, the Biology Teachers Association finds out about it, and it hits the fan!" Santorum told Iowa's WHO radio. "As a result, school boards have had to review their curriculum on science, and that's why all these controversies have come up."

Watch Santorum boast about his intelligent design education efforts (story continues below):


Santorum's claims of credit for the anti-evolution movement are overstated, however. The amendments did not actually require any action from educators, they merely established a vague and nonbinding sense of Congress.

"He's overblowing his role in that debate in evolution," says Jack Jennings, a long-time Democratic education staffer who now heads the Center for Education Reform.

"There's a provision in federal law that says nothing dictates the content in curriculum for states or school districts," Charles Barone, a former staffer for Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who helped write No Child Left Behind, told HuffPost.

Catholic teaching on evolution is nuanced and does not correspond directly with the views of aggressive atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins. Pope John Paul II argued that while evolution was a credible theory for the development of humans as material beings, it is incapable of describing the origins of a non-material human soul. The church does not accept hypotheses of human origin that exclude human development from other animals, but it also claims that the human soul is a divine gift independent of but compatible with material science.

In addition to evolution, Santorum has broken with both the church and scientists on the issue of climate change. Santorum is a staunch climate change denier, declaring climate change a "scheme" of the "left" that serves as "an excuse for more government control of your life."

That conspiracy theory is not the accepted view of the Catholic Church. While Santorum refers to climate change evidence as "junk science," the church today not only accepts climate change, but actively supports efforts to fight it in the name of social justice. Pope Benedict XVI is often referred to as the "green pope" for his devotion to environmental causes.

Santorum took the highest percentage of the evangelical vote of any Republican candidate in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, registering 37 percent of the vote, more than double the share secured by the next-closest candidate. But on several issues, Santorum's hardline conservative stance has sparked criticism from those of his own faith. Writing for the Faith in Public Life Action Blog, John Gehrig said that Santorum's defense of tax cuts for the wealthy, torture and the Medicare-ending budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) were inconsistent with Catholic teachings. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed the Ryan budget, writing, "A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly."

Unlike his stances against science, Santorum's virulently homophobic positions on gay rights are not inconsistent with the views of the Catholic leadership. But they're not particularly popular among American Catholics. According to a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly three-quarters of Catholics support gay marriage or civil unions in the United States, more than any other Christian tradition, and more than Americans overall.

Thus far, however, Santorum's campaign team in New Hampshire does not appear concerned with the candidate's political breaks with his own religious credo or from the beliefs of his fellow Catholics on the issue of homosexuality, or other issues, for that matter. Dan Tamburello, a New Hampshire co-chair of the Santorum campaign who is not himself Catholic, emphasized to HuffPost that, "The guy has what I consider to be unassailable integrity and character." Tamburello said that Santorum's New Hampshire campaign has picked up steam since the candidate's suprise second-place finish in Iowa, and that the campaign isn't worried about losing Catholic voters based on his record.

"The people of faith that support Rick, no matter what their denomination, they are actual people who are active participants in their faith communities, whether they're Protestants or Catholics or Episcopalians," Tamburello told HuffPost. "People who actually read and follow the Bible, they're making Santorum as their selection."

Nevertheless, many conservative Catholics remain enamored of Santorum. His aggressive stance against abortion rights, which, like the official teaching of the church, extends to opposition to the use of birth control, helped him to win the endorsement of CatholicVote.org, a Catholic anti-choice group, shortly after his strong showing in Iowa.

FOLLOW HUFFPOST POLITICS
Subscribe to the HuffPost Hill newsletter!