Summer 2003, Vol. 6, No. 2

Table of Contents
Summer 2003

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Articles in this issue

From the Editor
St. Francis to the Rescue

Keeping the Shi'ites Straight

Masses of Torts

The Trouble with Missionaries

Jihad for Journalists

The Smart Saga

Ghosts of New York

Santorum v. Sodomy

The Irreverent Eagle

The Latest Japanese Cult Panic

Israel's Tele-Rabbi

Letters to the Editor


Santorum v. Sodomy
y Christine McCarthy McMorris


The idea was to do a friendly feature on the transformation of a hard-edged right-winger into a paragon of compassionate conservatism. But that’s not the way AP reporter Lara Jakes Jordan’s two-hour interview with Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) turned out.

During the interview, Santorum, a Roman Catholic, blamed his church’s sexual abuse scandal on “the right to privacy lifestyle” and then proceeded to warn that the Supreme Court’s pending decision on the constitutionality of Texas’ sodomy law could put the nation on a slippery slope to moral depravity.

“If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.” Homosexuality was, he added, “antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.”

Jordan’s story, “Family Values Drive Santorum’s Politics,” moved on April 21, and in the news lull after the fall of Baghdad it created a firestorm. By April 22, the Senate’s Republic whip was receiving the lash of near-universal condemnation from newspapers large and small across the nation.

“Hear ye, hear ye,” cried the New York Times, “Senator Rick Santorum feels obliged to offer gratuitous guidance to the Supreme Court in the form of an ad hoc, highly unlearned ruling that equates homosexuality with bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery.” “Rick Santorum has contracted serious cases of foot-in-mouth disease and intolerance,” opined the Greensboro, N.C. News and Record. “Just apologize,” ordered the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In light of the forced resignation of Mississippi’s Trent Lott as Senate majority leader for seeming to lament the passing of the segregated South, the question at hand was whether Santorum should step down from his number-three position in the Republican hierarchy. Not even so dire a prospect led home-state editorialists to pull their punches.

“[B]ecause it is still respectable to show distaste for gays in the name of moral behavior,” declared the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Sen. Santorum does not feel the need to step down from a leadership role or readily apologize for speaking like an oaf.” Concurring chastisement came from the Allentown Morning Call, Erie Times News, Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, and Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.

In an April 25 editorial, the Wall Street Journal, one of the very few newspapers to spring to the senator’s defense, took refuge in the Supreme Court’s soon-to-be-overturned decision in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986): “Let’s see if we have this right. By expressing a legal view of privacy already enshrined in a Supreme Court decision, Rick Santorum is somehow unfit for U.S. Senate leadership?”

In contrast to its studied rebuke of Lott, the White House gave Santorum a tepid endorsement. “The president thinks the senator is an inclusive man,” spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters April 25, “And that is what he thinks.” But the story marched on, in part because more substantial—and inflammatory—excerpts from the interview, released by AP April 23, had put Santorum’s Catholic faith on the table.

 AP: I mean, should we outlaw homosexuality?

SANTORUM: I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts. As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships.

AP: OK, without being too gory or graphic, so if somebody is homosexual, you would argue that they should not have sex?

SANTORUM: …In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.


“Santorum’s remarks are being interpreted by both conservative and gay-advocacy groups as part of his Catholicism,” Alfred Lubrano and Steve Goldstein wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer April 24.“There is a tenet running through the faith that encourages the devout to ‘hate the sin but love the sinner.’” The same day, Adam Nagourney and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times wrote that Santorum was “a Roman Catholic who attends Mass every day” and whose “religious views inform a philosophy that many of his colleagues describe as unwavering and as conservative as anyone’s in the Senate.”

On April 25, the Washington Post’s Alan Cooperman, looking more deeply into the theological issues, turned to Chester Gillis, chairman of the theology department at Georgetown University. “He’s been listening to the bishops or maybe the pope,” Gillis said, noting that this set Santorum apart from the many Catholics who “disagree with Church teachings on sexuality.”

Cooperman pointed out that on January 16 the Vatican had issued a directive instructing Catholics in public office not to “put aside the church’s teachings when making public decisions on such matters as abortion, euthanasia and same sex marriage.” Santorum, however, required no such directive.

A year earlier he had talked about his beliefs with John L. Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter during a visit to Rome for a five-day congress marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of the church’s secretive and “ultraconservative” organization, Opus Dei. While stating that he was “not a member of Opus Dei,” Santorum described himself as an admirer of Escriva, who called for unity between one’s faith and one’s work.

John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech to Southern Baptist ministers in Houston, in which the presidential candidate vowed not to take orders from the Vatican, “has caused much harm in America,” Santorum said. “All of us have heard people say, ‘I privately am against abortion, homosexual marriage, stem cell research, cloning. But who am I to decide that it’s not right for somebody else? It sounds good, but it is the corruption of freedom of conscience.’” Santorum went on to tell Allen that he considered George W. Bush as “the first Catholic president of the United States.”

Once Santorum’s conservative brand of Catholicism became part of the story, his views were attacked as those of a religious zealot. “What do you say about a law that lets police break into an apartment and arrest two men for having sex with the wrong person?” asked Ellen Goodman in her May 1 syndicated column “Tallyho, Taliban.” On May 25, New York Times columnist and soon-to-be executive editor Bill Keller worried that Santorum was “a Catholic theocrat” who would “even criminalize couples who use contraceptives.”

Among the few columnists who came forward to defend the senator on religious grounds, the Dallas Morning News Rod Dreher wrote April 26 that “when liberals demand that [Santorum] apologize in part for his religious convictions, they go too far.” Though declaring her opposition to Santorum’s views, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Debra J. Saunders asked in a May 1 column, “So, only the left can tell people what to do while devout Christians such has Santorum are supposed to keep their mouths shut?”

Appearing on Meet the Press May 11, Republican commentator Mary Matalin maintained “it’s not good enough to say, as the senator did, ‘I love this person, I accept this person. But my teaching argues against the act.’ You now have to reject your religious doctrine.” In turn, Matalin’s words of support for Santorum reportedly shocked and embarrassed fellow members of the Republican Unity Coalition, a group supporting gay rights that includes former president Gerald R. Ford.

Within the Catholic world, opinion on Santorum was also divided. As early as April 22, William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religion and Civil Rights told Cox News Service that Santorum’s statements were “in keeping with his Roman Catholic convictions.” In the May 11 issue of the weekly Our Sunday Visitor, columnist David Carlin declared, “The moral left wants…to silence anybody who, like Santorum, points out flaws in their legal argument.”

“It is the Vatican and Sen. Santorum who are on the slippery slope,” retorted the National Catholic Reporter in a May 9 editorial. “All that we view as immoral need not necessarily be made illegal.” On May 18, when Santorum appeared at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia to deliver the commencement address, 100 students and faculty walked out in protest, and dozens of others attached rainbow-colored tassels to their mortarboards. For his part, the senator associated himself with the views of Thomas More, the royal chancellor who refused to support Henry VIII’s divorce and was executed for his pains. More died, Santorum told the graduates, “in his words, ‘the king’s good servant, but God’s first.’”

For all the commotion, the controversy seemed to have little impact, one way or another, on the stolid citizens of the Keystone State. A Quinnipiac University poll released May 22 found Santorum enjoying exactly the same fifty-five percent approval rating that he had when Jordan’s story appeared a month earlier.

On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled against Texas in Lawrence v. Texas, overturning sodomy laws in 13 states and Puerto Rico. Santorum, declining requests for interviews, issued a short press release asserting that the court “has determined to slide down the ‘slippery slope.’”

In a June 27 editorial, the Post-Gazette noted that Pennsylvania’s own sodomy law had been struck down by the state supreme court 23 years earlier and was formally repealed by the Legislature in 1995. “The sky has not fallen in this state because policemen no longer peer into bedrooms,” the newspaper observed, “and—contrary to what Sen. Rick Santorum might think—Pennsylvania has not as a consequence lurched into a gulch of incest, marital infidelity and other immorality.”



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