Santorum’s Political Martyrdom

Rick Santorum was defending himself when he responded to George Stephonopoulus on ABC’s This Week: “To say that people of faith have no role in the public square?  You bet that makes (me) throw up.”

Stephonopoulus had given Santorum an opportunity to renounce an old statement about Kennedy; instead Santorum doubled down. It was the culmination of a week of media scrutiny of religious statements made throughout his political career.

On election night, tongue-wagging pundits suggested that Santorum’s attack on Kennedy caused him to lose the Catholic vote to Mitt Romney in Michigan.

“Rick Santorum has to be wondering where he would be tonight if he hadn’t attacked John F. Kennedy,” MSNBC anchor and liberal Catholic Lawrence O’Donnell said, ridiculing Santorum for attacking a popular former president.

Santorum’s line predictably blew up in his face, but on the day of the Michigan primary, a humiliated Santorum repented.  “I wish I had that particular line back,” he admitted to fellow Catholic and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, when asked about the “throw up” line.

Santorum clearly wanted the juvenile “throw up” part of his statement back, but what he didn’t want back was his criticism of Kennedy. Throughout his public life, Santorum gave several speeches on the issue, blaming the philosophy behind Kennedy’s speech for the secularism that dominates political life today.

In December of 2010, Santorum told Thomas More College of Liberal Arts students that, “Kennedy’s attempt to reassure Protestants that the Catholic Church would not control the government and suborn its independence, advanced a philosophy of strict separation that would create a purely secular public square cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths,” Santorum stated, arguing that Kennedy, “took words written to protect religion from the government and used them to shield the government from religion.”

By confessing “an absolute separation of Church and State,” Santorum reminded the students, Kennedy chose, “not just to dispel fear, but to expel faith,” after doubts were raised about whether or not his administration would be subject to the papacy.

Liberal Catholics were bewildered by Santorum’s attack on Kennedy, but more importantly they were upset that he challenged their philosophy. He did so by attacking their favorite Catholic hero, who Santorum argues, was anything but heroic in matters of faith.

As a prominent United States senator, Santorum heard a different call. In 2003 he gave a speech to the graduating class of Christendom College, cheerfully challenging them to be “radical” and a “rebel” against the prevailing popular culture.

At this point, Santorum was already under fire for his comments about gay marriage and for sponsoring a controversial bill banning partial birth abortion. In spite of the critics, he paraphrased Mother Theresa reminding them that, “God does not call on us to be successful, he calls us to be faithful.”

During the speech, Santorum marveled at Thomas More’s writings about loving one’s enemies, as he sat imprisoned in the London tower, spurned by his colleagues.

“We are all called to love one another, even people who disagree with us and hate us for what we believe,” he said. “This is a gift that comes only from God, so please ask him for it.”

“If you’re like me, you’ll need it,”  he joked to the audience. “Frequently.”

Santorum is one of the rare modern political figures that chooses Thomas More as his model, rather than Kennedy.

Liberal Catholics who cling to Kennedy’s Catholic legacy are no longer reassuring wary Protestants about their loyalty to America, as Kennedy did. Today, they use his legacy to champion values directly opposed to their Catholic faith.

More recently, these Catholics have given up on the principle of religious liberty itself, as the heated battle over the contraception mandate continues.

Santorum chooses More, an English saint who defied King Henry VIII for declaring himself head of the Church rather than the pope. When the king insisted on a divorce, interpreting his faith as he saw fit, More rightly recognized it as an unacceptable attack on the institution of marriage.

More’s heroic actions led to rejection by his colleagues, a lengthy imprisonment in the tower of London, and finally execution. This is why the church has canonized Thomas More as a saint, and today English Catholics can be proud of his unwavering principles and courage in a tumultuous era.

Santorum is no saint, but his choice to emulate More by fearlessly defending moral values and virtue is praiseworthy. His choice, however, means he will suffer further persecution and be a political martyr for his beliefs.

Santorum will probably fail to win the Republican nomination, but his legacy of courageous citizenship will only grow at a time when religious liberty is under attack. Perhaps he will inspire a second generation of American Catholic politicians as Kennedy did for his generation.

Charlie Spiering


Charlie Spiering writes in Washington D.C. for the Washington Examiner. He previously wrote for the Rappahannock News and worked as a reporter for columnist Robert Novak.

  • poetcomic1

      JFK and all the tainted fruits of Rose Kennedy’s loins are as Catholic as Nancy Pelosi.  Which is to say not at all.

  • publiusnj

    Santorum’s philosophy is a good one, but his tactic of undisciplined talk is one thing that separates him from St. Thomas More.  More was repeatedly questioned about his belief on the King’s supremacy and was not caught because he was very circumscribed in what he said.  Richard Rich has gone down in infamy for the way he deceived to put More on the chopping block.  Santorum, by contrast, has been undisciplined in his approach for years and his “chickens are coming home to roost.”
    What we need is a courageous defender of the Catholic position on the mandate who thinks before he speaks and who realizes he will never get an even break from the mainstream media.

    • Alex

      Santorum’s philosophy is a good one, but his tactic of undisciplined talk is one thing that separates him from St. Thomas More. ”

      Good one-sentence summary of Santorum.

  • Sherry McMahon

    May Rick Santorum and his family and his work be blessed abundantly for the courage he has shown Catholics who have been unable and/or unwilling to do themselves. His knowledge and understanding of his faith indicate his “fully developed conscience”. Many Catholics are woefully lacking in the moral basics of our faith. They at least deserve to hear what the Church teaches – in the context of God’s loving plans for us.

      I think there should be some kind of “crash course” to help educate Catholics – starting with bishops and priests – on the principles that are key to understanding the moral issues. Many Catholics have never been told, for example, what is wrong with In Vitro Fertilization – or that there are more effective, and moral ways of addressing fertility problems.  I would venture to say that most Catholics have never read Humanae Vitae, let alone been in a study group to better appreciate it.

    Education of the American Catholic should be an immediate priority. We should take the “best of the best” –  like Archbishop Chaput , Bishop Robert Baker, Dr. Robert George for example –  teaching on John Paul II’s writings on Love and Responsibility, Theology of the Body, etc – for the Priests – high quality DVDs that can ensure fast and wide delivery. There are some wonderful resources available that have been recently introduced that would be an effective way of addressing the key issues. Also Catholic Medical Association (CMA) has excellent information on healthcare concerns.

    Recommended reading and internet resources that are information sources that are in accordance with what the Church teaches should be made available – as opposed to the misinformation and disinformation from so very many “Catholic” sources that have led so many Catholics away from Truth.

    There is a lot to be done to help prepare the “person in the pew” to deal effectively with the current environment. In the past, I think some of the “legitimate” sources of information were developed by theologians for theologians. At least today, there are many “user friendly” resources available. This time is one of great opportunity. Let’s do it right, and do it now!

  • Francis Wippel

    I disagree with the premise that Santorum’s comments about JFK cost him the election in Michigan.  Santorum was outspent in Michigan something like 5 to 1 by Romney.  Now, we’re seeing the same thing happen in Ohio, where Santorum’s once huge lead in the polls is gone.  That lead didn’t disappear because of Santorum’s comments about a now extremely disgraced President who happened to claim himself a Catholic.  Romney has a huge money advantage, and like it or not, that made the difference.
    How many voters even remember JFK today?  The only voters voting in our elections this year who could have also voted for JFK in 1960 are those age 70 or older.
    As for Santorum’s comments about the JFK speech, well, he was right.  That speech has been used as justification for keeping religious people out of politics by those who seek a secular society.  Ask Barry Lynn if you don’t believe me.
    I have family members who are devout Catholics who chose not to vote for JFK because of that speech Santorum referenced.  To them, it was as if JFK was apologizing for being a Catholic, and would make sure that his faith would play no role in his decision making.  In Barack Obama, we have President who is doing exactly that, and we all see where that has gotten us. 
    God Bless Rick Santorum and his family, and best to his campaign tomorrow and going forward.

  • Richard Bastien

    Charles Spiering is quite right: Santorum is unlikely to win the Republican nomination, but he is a role model for Catholics in the public square. He is being pilloried by the mainstream media precisely because he refuses to compromise his faith. We need more Catholics like him! 

  • Michael Ferguson

    “In 2003 he gave a speech to the graduating class of Christendom College, cheerfully challenging them to be “radical” and a “rebel” against the prevailing popular culture.”
    And yet, as the author well knows, he went on in the not-to-distant future to publicly campaign for Arlen Specter, a liberal, pro-abortion Republican (until switching parties in 2009), against Pat Toomey, a pro-life, Catholic running for office. Santorum’s assistance is credited with helping Specter push over the line (which he barely did at 51%).

    I think it’s interesting that Santorum claims Thomas More as his inspiration (and who is anyone to judge whether it’s true or not). Because, in reality, it certainly seems that Cardinal Wolsey is a more apt historical figure for someone with Rick Santorum’s legislative record.

    • Mark Rutledge

      Mr. Santorum explained his support for Specter during the Arizona debate.  Whether you agree with his reasoning or not, to accuse him of abandoning his faith in the name of expediency is fallacious, if not slander.

      • Michael Ferguson

        Mr. Rutledge,

        I did no such thing, unless you accuse Cardinal Wolsey of abandoning the Faith. I’m merely saying that Wolsey is an apt comparison to that episode, since he certainly compromised his previous moral statements for the sake of political expediency.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    I consider that, in his famous letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Blessed John Henry Newman showed his wisdom by giving, not abstract principles but (then) topical examples:

    “Suppose England were to send her ironclads to support Italy against the Pope and his allies, English Catholics would be very indignant, they would take part with the Pope before the war began, they would use all constitutional means to hinder it; but who believes that, when they were once in the war, their action would be anything else than prayers and exertions for a termination of it?  What reason is there for saying that they would commit themselves to any step of a treasonable nature…   

    For instance, let us suppose members of Parliament, or of the Privy Council, took an oath that they would not acknowledge the right of succession of a Prince of Wales, if he became a Catholic: in that case I should not consider the Pope could release me from that oath, had I bound myself by it.  Of course, I might exert myself to the utmost to get the act repealed which bound me; again, if I could not, I might retire from parliament or office, and so rid myself of the engagement I had made; but I should be clear that, though the Pope bade all Catholics to stand firm in one phalanx for the Catholic Succession, still, while I remained in office, or in my place in Parliament, I could not do as he bade me.

    Again, were I actually a soldier or sailor in her Majesty’s service, and sent to take part in a war which I could not in my conscience see to be unjust, and should the Pope suddenly bid all Catholic soldiers and sailors to retire from the service, here again, taking the advice of others, as best I could, I should not obey him.”