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Right Turn
Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 02/22/2012

Santorum, Romney and religious judgments

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have an interesting history when it comes to abortion and the Catholic Church. Surprisingly, they share a common path on the former but diverged sharply when it came to the church’s egregious record on child molestation by priests.

Much has been made of Romney’s change from pro-choice to pro-life. Fewer know that Santorum made the very same evolution, just in time to run for office, as Sam Stein reports: “Prior to entering public office, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was a self-admitted pro-choice Republican unwilling to dabble in the cultural conservative politics that now defines his presidential campaign, a review of old campaign documents and interviews shows.” The report continues:

In a December 1995 Philadelphia Magazine article — which the Huffington Post pulled from Temple University archives — Santorum conceded that he “was basically pro-choice all my life, until I ran for Congress... But it had never been something I thought about.” Asked why he changed his mind, he said that he “sat down and read the literature. Scientific literature,” only to correct himself and note that religion was a part of it too.

It is remarkably similar to Romney’s evolution. Some suspect that was a shift of convenience, too, but Romney has explained his conversion to his pro-life stance in conjunction with stem cell legislation.

We can be cynics and say both these men made a decision of convenience. Or we can take them at their word, look at their records post-switch and decide if they are sincere. As for me, I think most politicians are short on sincerity, but in any event I heartily encourage public, hard-to-reverse and unambiguous pandering in my direction.

In contrast to abortion, these two candidates took starkly different approaches when the molestation scandal unfolded roughly 10 years ago. This report spells out the sequence of events:

When the Catholic Church child abuse scandal began garnering major national attention in the early 2000s, Santorum insinuated that liberalism was to blame, speciously pointing to the fact that many instances of abuse were being reported in Massachusetts.
“While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm,” the senator wrote in July 2002.
Romney, who would become governor of Massachusetts months later, was, naturally, not pleased.
“Senator Santorum is a fine person, and we’re all entitled to make a mistake once in a while,” Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s spokesman then and now, told local press at the time.
Julie Teer, another spokesperson for Romney, swiped a bit further. “What happened with the church sex abuse scandal was a tragedy, but it had nothing to do with geography or the culture of Boston. What we know now is that the sex abuse was occurring around the country and around the world. Boston was just the first to find out about it.”

Santorum did not leave it there. In 2005 he tangled with George Stephanopoulos, reiterating his view that liberalism was at the root of the scandal. “I think what I’m saying is that the culture of liberal sexual freedom and the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s had a profound impact on everybody and their sexual mores. It had a profound impact on the church,”he said.

Let me begin by saying Teer was wrong: This was not a “tragedy” like a hurricane or a drought. This was an episode involving great evil (Santorum, of all people, should have realized this), both by those committing the heinous acts and by the church officials who turned a blind eye and worse.

It is not surprising that victims, family members and others affected by the church scandal did not take kindly to Santorum’s bizarre accusations.

Santorum still has not walked back his comments. As late as last month he brushed off an interviewer’s question about his take on the church scandal.

I don’t quibble with my colleague Kathleen Parker’s observation that Santorum’s views can largely be attributed to his “his allegiance to the Catholic Church’s teachings that every human life has equal value and dignity.” But some things are inexplicable. One would be how a religious person — any person — could view those horrible events through the prism of left-right politics. Ironically, the Mormon governor whose social conservative bona fides are routinely questioned grasped the enormity of the events; the Pennsylvania senator entirely missed the boat. Someone should press Santorum to explain. It would be a teachable moment.

By  |  10:00 AM ET, 02/22/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, Culture

 
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