By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) led a phalanx of Massachusetts politicians yesterday in demanding that the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, apologize for blaming the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal on "liberalism" in Boston.
In an indignant, unusually personal speech on the Senate floor, Kennedy said that "Boston-bashing might be in vogue with some Republicans, but Rick Santorum's statements are beyond the pale."
Other Massachusetts Democrats quickly piled on. Rep. Edward J. Markey said Santorum should apologize for maligning "the courageous Boston parishioners who finally stood up to decades of an international Catholic Church coverup."
Sen. John F. Kerry said the families of Massachusetts soldiers who have died in Iraq "know more about the mainstream American values of Massachusetts than Rick Santorum ever will."
Rep. Barney Frank called Santorum a "jerk."
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, said Santorum's remarks were "unfortunate" but stopped short of asking for an apology.
What drew the concentrated ire of the Bay State's congressional delegation was Santorum's decision this week to repeat his three-year-old comment that liberalism was at the root of the scandal over child sex abuse in the church.
"Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture," Santorum wrote in a July 12, 2002 article for the Web site Catholic Online. "When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. 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."
Since Santorum wrote those words, the scandal has spread from Boston to almost every diocese in the country, has forced three bishops to declare bankruptcy and has cost the church close to $1 billion. In a study for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice reported last year that 4,392 priests had been accused since 1950 of abusing more than 10,600 children.
Asked by the Boston Globe this week whether he stood by his remark, Santorum said he did. "I was just saying that there's an attitude that is very open to sexual freedom that is more predominant" in Boston, the Globe quoted him as saying Tuesday.
Santorum, who has been touted as a candidate for president in 2008 but faces a tough reelection campaign next year, recently published a conservative manifesto titled "It Takes a Family" that criticizes liberal politicians.
A spokesman for Santorum, Robert Traynham, said yesterday that "It's unfortunate that the senior senator from Massachusetts, in consort with the extreme left, has chosen to take three-year-old comments out of context and politicize them on the Senate floor."
Asked to explain the proper context for Santorum's comments, Traynham said that "what the senator was talking about was the whole sexual revolution in the 1960s and '70s, and how that unfortunately created a culture where these unfortunate sex abuse scandals occurred."
The abuse, Traynham said, "was particularly worse in Boston and the reason why, according to the senator, is because of some of the social institutions that call Boston home. When you take a look at Harvard University and some of the other universities in Boston, I think it's an open secret that there is a liberal bias, unfortunately."
In his floor speech, Kennedy noted that more than a dozen current U.S. senators were educated in Boston, including Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who went to Harvard Medical School. He said that child sex abuse "happens in every state of this great nation -- red states and blue states, in the North and in the South, in big cities and small."
Santorum's remarks rekindled a debate over the underlying causes of the scandal. Conservative Catholics point to seminaries that, they say, opened to gays and tolerated sexual experimentation from the 1960s to the early 1980s. Many liberals in the church blame celibacy, which, they contend, makes the priesthood a magnet for men who have psychosexual problems.
Based on statistics publicly reported by many of the country's 195 dioceses, the Boston-based lay activist group BishopAccountability.org has calculated that the highest percentage of abusive priests from 1950 to 2003 was in the diocese of Covington, Ky. Boston was among the 10 worst dioceses, but several other cities commonly regarded as liberal culturally and politically had relatively low rates of abuse. Just 1.6 percent of San Francisco's priests have been accused of abuse, for example, compared to more than 4 percent nationwide.
"The reason we know so much about Boston is that Boston is the diocese where the most church documents have been released," said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the group.