Rick Santorum certainly doesn’t mind saying controversial things. The latest to hit the MSM are these statements, which seem wrong on several levels:
In remarks last year at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen in Warner, N.H., Santorum had told the crowd of J.F.K.’s famous 1960 address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, “Earlier in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up. You should read the speech.”…
On Sunday, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Santorum whether he stood by his statement last year…
Santorum defended his remarks, telling Stephanopoulos that “the first line, first substantive line in the speech, says, ‘I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute.’”
“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum said. “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”…
“Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision saying, ‘No, faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate.’ Go on and read the speech. ‘I will have nothing to do with faith. I won’t consult with people of faith.’ It was an absolutist doctrine that was abhorrent at the time of 1960.”
Later in the interview, Stephanopoulos asked Santorum, “You think you wanted to throw up?”
“Well, yes, absolutely,” Santorum replied. “To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up.”
So Santorum not only said it, but he repeated it.
What’s wrong with Santorum’s statement? The “throw-up” part is not only “unpresidential” in tone—making Santorum sound too emotionally fragile and reactive (imagine, for example, if a woman had said it)—but more importantly, Santorum is misstating Kennedy’s position.
I happen to have already read Kennedy’s speech, and I even wrote about it in 2007 at some length. Nowhere in the speech does Kennedy say or even indicate that “people of faith have no role in the public square.” In fact, he says that he himself is a man of faith:
But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith, nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.”
“My church”—it’s pretty explicit, isn’t it?
What Kennedy was saying is something different. He stated that no Church officials would dictate to him how to make decisions. But he never said that his conscience (a word he uses a great deal in the speech, and which has a traditional meaning in Catholicism) is completely devoid of religious sentiment and feeling, or uninformed by his religion in any way.
It’s Santorum’s statement that might make a lot of voters “almost throw up,” especially when he says [emphasis mine]: “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.” If he had replaced the words “the church” with “religion” (or “religious people”) and there would be no problem, except that then he would have been in basic agreement with Kennedy and he wouldn’t have been making the statement in the first place.
[NOTE: But aren't all Catholics bound by what the Pope says? That's not only an extraordinarily complex subject, but one outside of my field of expertise. But I refer readers to this:
The doctrine of Papal Infallibility does not mean the Pope is always right in all his personal teachings. Catholics are quite aware that, despite his great learning, the Pope is very much a human being and therefore liable to commit human error. On some subjects, like sports and manufacturing, his judgment is liable to be very faulty. The doctrine simply means that the Pope is divinely protected from error when, acting in his official capacity as chief shepherd of the Catholic fold, he promulgates a decision which is binding on the conscience of all Catholics throughout the world. In other words, his infallibility is limited to his specialty--the Faith of Jesus Christ.
In order for the Pope to be infallible on a particular statement, however, four conditions must apply: 1) he must be speaking ex cathedra . . . that is, ``from the Chair'' of Peter, or in other words, officially, as head of the entire Church; 2) the decision must be for the whole Church; 3) it must be on a matter of faith or morals; 4) the Pope must have the intention of making a final decision on a teaching of faith or morals, so that it is to be held by all the faithful. It must be interpretive, not originative; the Pope has no authority to originate new doctrine. He is not the author of revelation--only its guardian and expounder. He has no power to distort a single word of Scripture, or change one iota of divine tradition. His infallibility is limited strictly to the province of doctrinal interpretation, and it is used quite rarely. It is used in order to clarify, to ``define,'' some point of the ancient Christian tradition. It is the infallibility of which Christ spoke when He said to Peter, the first Pope: ``I will give (o thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven.'' (Matt. 16:19). Certainly Christ would not have admonished His followers to ``hear the church'' (Matt. 18:17) without somehow making certain that what they heard was the truth--without somehow making the teaching magisterium of His Church infallible.]