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Wednesday, January 16 2013

Rick Santorum's Catholic Fundamentalism, LGBT Rights, and the Common Good



Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum


Rick Santorum's Catholic Fundamentalism, LGBT Rights, and the Common Good

"God has given us this great country to allow his people — to allow his people to be free, has given us that dignity because we are a creation of his, and we need to honor that creation. And whether it's the sanctity of life in the womb or the dignity of every working person in America to fulfill their potential, you will have a friend in Rick Santorum."
-- Rick Santorum's near-victory speech in Iowa, January 3, 2012

Rick Santorum's dramatic rise to the top tier of Republican presidential candidates has brought closer scrutiny to the candidate and his evocation of themes rooted in his Catholic faith.  But Santorum's fidelity to Catholic teachings is conspicuously limited to those which match the conservative politics of the voters he is trying to reach. In many ways, therefore, he is a typically American "cafeteria Catholic" – but one of the extremely conservative variety.

In 2006, I was asked by the editors of Contemporary Sociology to review Santorum's book It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.  Like many Evangelicals who talk in a folksy and conciliatory tone, Santorum the Catholic Evangelical uses compassionate language to soften the effect of the logical ends to which his political theology relentlessly leads. His book celebrates themes of caring and responsibility, protection, fulfillment in life, fairness, freedom, opportunity, prosperity, community, service, cooperation, trust, honesty, and openness, but, as I wrote in 2006, "The reader is suddenly hijacked into a radical libertarian political philosophy of a free market that develops the common good as the private good...For Santorum the market becomes a privileged moral force that develops the common good."

What does this have to do with LGBT rights and freedoms?  All too often LGBT activists isolate their struggle from a comprehensive sense of social justice, particularly as pertaining to the common good.  That's a big mistake, because it allows Santorum to try to appropriate the "common good" and portray LGBT people as its enemy.

Santorum's anti-LGBT positions are more than well documented.  But it's important to understand that his appeal to Catholic and Protestant Evangelicals and Tea Party folks is not just a highly moralistic view of homosexuality, it has a deeper relationship to the family and its role in the division of labor in the economy.  For these conservatives, the "natural family" of father, mother, and children is not only the divine basis for society but also that of the economy— particularly in the need to expand the pool of laborers. It's no small wonder that Santorum has seven children; they are needed to work in the family, in the economy, and in the Kingdom of God, evangelizing the world to claim others for Christ. 

According to this worldview, homosexuality is anti-labor because gays and lesbians cannot be generative in a natural way.  Gay relationships cannot be sanctioned by religious or civil marriage because not only would this be contrary to the Bible but also contrary to nature and the natural division of labor in which the family is the first unit of the economy.  Santorum's logic requires him to view LGBT rights as a threat to the natural family and to the economy.  As he said in his Iowa speech, "when the family breaks down, the economy struggles." 

This thinking is parallel to the Vatican's campaign against recognizing gay identity as an integral part of one's personhood.  Since homosexuality is not, in their view, a natural variation of human sexuality but an impulse toward "intrinsically morally disordered" behavior, Catholic natural law fundamentalists can justify their political campaigns against gay rights in general. 

The Catholic fundamentalism to which Santorum subscribes is shared by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Robert George, the intellectual guiding light for the National Organization for Marriage and co-author of the Manhattan Declaration. Other like-minded organizations include Opus Dei, Regnum Christi (Legion of Christ), Legatus, the Thomas More Society, Acton Institute, Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project, the National Catholic Register, Catholic News Service, LifeSite News, First Things, OpusFidelis, CatholicVote.org, EWTN and its affiliates, and an array of Catholic schools and colleges run by Opus Dei and Regnum Christi members.  All of these organizations and outlets pride themselves as being orthodox Catholics and closely follow the moral directives of the Vatican, except on matters of the economy and defense that just might run contrary to U.S. capitalist interests.

In 2012, the Republican Party is counting on these Catholic fundamentalists to provide intellectual, legal, and economic muscle for the Party's efforts to galvanize those Evangelical and Tea Party voters eager to stop the advance of LGBT and women's rights and freedoms, dismantle the social welfare safety net, and de-regulate the economy. 

And they're getting help from the increasingly conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which utilizes scholars and public policy experts from the fundamentalist coalition to craft their policies on marriage, family life, and religious liberty. With the predominant focus on fighting LGBT equality, the bishops make common cause with, and contribute to the political success of, politicians whose far-right approach to economics flies in the face of Catholic social justice traditions and notions of the common good.  One indicator of how the U.S. Catholic hierarchy has moved to the right is how easy it is to name "conservative" spokesmen in the hierarchy such Archbishops Chaput, Wuerl, and Dolan.  But one is hard pressed to name a single outspoken progressive bishop.  And certainly not a single bishop has recently defended LGBT rights for employment, housing, education, and security (such as bullying and hate crimes)— not a one!

Instead, the Vatican and its U.S. Catholic fundamentalist arm has placed a chilling effect on the U.S. Catholic bishops and clergy regarding any support of LGBT rights. Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis has not only inserted opposition to marriage equality directly into worship via prayers said at masses in the archdiocese, he has also ordered priests who disagree with the his aggressive anti-equality stance to keep their mouths shut.

As dispiriting as it is for many Catholics to watch the bishops in action these days, the good news is that most American Catholics do not share the hierarchy's obsession with opposing LGBT equality. Far from it.  Every poll in recent years indicates that Catholics are the most supportive of Christian denominations regarding LGBT rights and freedoms.  The pro-equality views of American Catholics are therefore not represented accurately in the public arena by the bishops, but by progressive lay organizations such as Catholic for Equality, Catholics United, Catholic Democrats, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Our faith motivates our efforts to expand civil and human rights for all, protect the weak and marginal in society, and to provide a social welfare safety net for the poor, working, and middle classes.  Rick Santorum, who recently and ridiculously declared that America has no classes, does not share those Catholic values rooted in Catholic social teaching. 

As Faith in Public Life's senior writer John Gohring recently observed, "it's a political delusion to think Rick Santorum is a standard-bearer of authentic Catholic values in politics. In fact, on several issues central to Catholic social teaching – torture, war, immigration, climate change, the widening gap between rich and poor and workers' rights – Santorum is radically out of step with his faith's teachings as articulated by Catholic bishops and several popes over the centuries."

Submitted by Joseph Palacios, Director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation

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