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Rick Santorum Unfamiliar with Catholic “Preferential Option for the Poor”

October 7, 2011, 2:30 pm | Posted by Nick Sementelli

After the last Republican presidential debate, I noted Rick Santorum’s odd choice of words to describe his opposition to giving “preferential treatment” to undocumented immigrants. The phrase, of course, bore a striking resemblance to the Catholic principle of giving a “preferential option to the poor and vulnerable” in public policy–a value that forms the basis of the Catholic Bishops’support for policies like the DREAM Act.

But in an interview at Values Voters Summit today, Rick Santorum, a Catholic, appears to be unfamiliar with the phrase:

FPL: Do you agree with the Catholic Church’s position that there should be a preferential option for the poor in public policy?

SANTORUM: I’m not too sure I understand what that term–preferential option for the poor in what respect?

FPL: In all areas of public policy the Church has said, in my understanding, that we should be considering the poor first–that there should be a preferential option.

SANTORUM: Should we be considering the poor with respect to our public policy, the answer is yes.

FPL: Do you think that includes immigrants?

SANTORUM: Including legal immigrants, yes.

Santorum’s unfamiliarity with the phrase is a little surprising given its prevalence in Catholic social teaching including the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, prominent Catholic encyclicals and statements, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ guide to civic participation, Faithful Citizenship.

Santorum’s final qualification is also incompatible with Catholic teaching, which doesn’t draw strict distinctions about legal status when deciding who is deserving of justice and compassion.

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