Catholic Leaders Challenge Gingrich and Santorum on Divisive Rhetoric Around Race and Poverty

January 19, 2012, 4:02 pm | Posted by

More than 40 national Catholic leaders and prominent theologians at universities across the country released a strongly worded open letter today urging “our fellow Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail.”

In the lead up to Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich has frequently blasted President Obama as a “food stamp president” and implied that some African Americans are more content to collect welfare benefits than work. Rick Santorum attracted scrutiny for telling Iowa voters he doesn’t want “to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”

The open letter reminds the two presidential candidates, vying for Christian conservative voters, that U.S. Catholic bishops have called racism an “intrinsic evil” and consistently defend vital government programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits that help struggling Americans.

The full text of the statement and signatories follow.

An Open Letter to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum

As Catholic leaders who recognize that the moral scandals of racism and poverty remain a blemish on the American soul, we challenge our fellow Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail. Mr. Gingrich has frequently attacked President Obama as a “food stamp president” and claimed that African Americans are content to collect welfare benefits rather than pursue employment. Campaigning in Iowa, Mr. Santorum remarked: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” Labeling our nation’s first African-American president with a title that evokes the past myth of “welfare queens” and inflaming other racist caricatures is irresponsible, immoral and unworthy of political leaders.

Some presidential candidates now courting “values voters” seem to have forgotten that defending human life and dignity does not stop with protecting the unborn. We remind Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum that Catholic bishops describe racism as an “intrinsic evil” and consistently defend vital government programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits that help struggling Americans. At a time when nearly 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty, charities and the free market alone can’t address the urgent needs of our most vulnerable neighbors. And while jobseekers outnumber job openings 4-to-1, suggesting that the unemployed would rather collect benefits than work is misleading and insulting.

As the South Carolina primary approaches, we urge Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Santorum and all presidential candidates to reject the politics of racial division, refrain from offensive rhetoric and unite behind an agenda that promotes racial and economic justice.

Francis X. Doyle
Associate General Secretary
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (retired)

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Institute Leadership Team:
Sisters Patricia McDermott, RSM (President) Eileen Campbell, RSM Anne Curtis, RSM Mary Pat Gavin, RSM Deborah Troillett, RSM

Sister Pat Farrell, OSF
President
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Rev. Bryan N. Massingale
Associate Professor of Theology
Marquette University

Rev. Clete Kiley
Director for Immigration Policy
UNITE HERE

Rev. Anthony J. Pogorelc,  M.Div., Ph.D.
The Catholic University of America
Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies

Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J.
University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice
Boston College

Sr. Patricia J. Chappell, SNDdeN
Executive Director, Pax Christi USA

Marie Dennis
Co-President, Pax Christi International

Rev. John F. Kavanaugh S.J.
Professor of Philosophy
St. Louis University

Rev. Jim Keenan, S.J.
Founders Professor in Theology
Boston College

Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
Senior Fellow
Woodstock Theological Center
Georgetown University

Sister Mary Ellen Howard
Executive Director
Cabrini Clinic, Detroit

Rev. James E. Hug, S.J.
President
Center of Concern

Sister Simone Campbell
Executive Director
NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Steven Schneck
Director
Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies
The Catholic University of America

Sister Karen M. Donahue, RSM
Justice Team
Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community

Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale
Assoc. Prof. of Theology
Boston College

Tom Allio
Cleveland Diocesan Social Action Director (retired)

M. Shawn Copeland
Associate Professor of Theology
Boston College

Sister Maria Riley, OP
Senior Advisor
Center of Concern

Todd Whitmore
Associate Professor
Department of Theology
University of Notre Dame

Terrence W. Tilley
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology
Chair
Theology Department
Fordham University, Bronx, NY

Michael E. Lee
Associate Professor
Theology Department
Fordham University, Bronx, NY

Paul Lakeland
Aloysius P. Kelley S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies
Director, Center for Catholic Studies Fairfield University

Lisa Sowle Cahill
Monan Professor of Theology
Boston College

Eric LeCompte
Board Member
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Tobias Winright
Associate Professor of Theological Ethics
Saint Louis University

Christopher Pramuk
Assistant Professor of Theology
Xavier University, Cincinnati

John Sniegocki
Associate Professor of Christian Ethics
Xavier University, Cincinnati

Kathleen Maas Weigert
Carolyn Farrell, BVM Professor of Women and Leadership
Loyola University, Chicago

Daniel K. Finn
Professor of Theology and Economics
St. John’s University, Minnesota

Gerald J. Beyer
Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia

Jeannine Hill Fletcher
Associate Professor of Theology
Faculty Director
Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice
Fordham University, Bronx, NY

Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale
Assoc. Prof. of Theology
Boston College

John Inglis
Professor and Chair
Department of Philosophy
University of Dayton

Anthony B. Smith
Associate Professor
Department of Religious Studies
University of Dayton

David O’Brien
University Professor of Faith and Culture
University of Dayton

William L. Portier
Mary Ann Spearin Chair of Catholic Theology
University of Dayton

Alex Mikulich
Research Fellow
Jesuit Social Research Institute
Loyola University, New Orleans

Susan M. Weishar
Migration Specialist
Jesuit Social Research Institute
Loyola University

Kristin Heyer
Associate Professor
Religious Studies
Santa Clara University

James Salt
Executive Director
Catholics United

Vincent Miller
Professor of Religious Studies
University of Dayton

Nancy Dallavalle
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Religious Studies
Fairfield University

James P. Bailey
Associate Professor
Department of Theology
Duquesne University

Rev. Raymond Kemp
Director
Preaching the Just Word
Woodstock Theological Center
Georgetown University

Patrick Carolan
Executive Director
Franciscan Action Network

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Religious Right “Tent Revival” Promotes GOP Candidates

January 18, 2012, 5:13 pm | Posted by

Religious Right darling and disgraced former lobbyist Ralph Reed is back on the scene in the 2012 election cycle as head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

This past weekend, Reed organized an event across from the South Carolina debate site, featuring conservative religious voters, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and a number of the GOP contenders.  Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jim Galloway described the event as a “tent revival” with some questionable political and theological references:

Prosperity gospel was in vogue. With a few loud – perhaps accidental — bars of “Money, Money, Money,” the revival opened with a video address from Donald Trump, who declared that the world “is laughing at the stupidity of our leaders. They’re absolutely taking us to the cleaners.”

Reed’s Religious Right confab back inJune attracted few participants but a number of political heavyweights, like Representative Paul Ryan and presidential candidates Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.  At that event, there was an obvious schism  between the Tea Party, small-government side of the conservative movement and the Christian Right, social-issues contingent.

This division within the GOP ranks is continuing to crop up and it seems like Reed unsuccessfully hoped to alleviate the tension between the two camps at his South Carolina event. Galloway writes:

The Faith and Freedom Coalition is an attempt to unite evangelicals with tea partyists, but religiosity had the upper hand on Monday afternoon. When Reed asked tea party adherents to raise their hands, only a quarter of the audience did so.

Particularly with Religious Right leaders deciding at a meeting last weekend to back Santorum over Romney and facing  unanswered questions about their ability to actually influence the nomination or derail Romney’s momentum, Reed’s ability to deliver millions of evangelical votes for the GOP candidate is still unclear.  Given that the reports out of the meeting varied widely (some participants, like Family Research Council head Tony Perkins, said the decision hinged on “Obamacare” but Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention claimed social issues were paramount to the group’s decision), the Tea Party- Religious Right schism looks far from resolved.

photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

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What’s going on with evangelical and Catholic GOP voters

January 12, 2012, 12:08 pm | Posted by

The political buzz this week has focused on Mitt Romney’s victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, following his incredibly close win in last week’s Iowa caucuses.  Romney is the first non-incumbent Republican candidate in modern history to win both Iowa and New Hampshire’s nominating contests, fueling widespread speculation that the GOP nomination is solidly within his grasp.

Evangelical voters, an oft-discussed constituency in the Iowa caucuses (who went largely for Rick Santorum last week), are also part of the mix in the New Hampshire primary.  The overall New Hampshire voter base tends to be more moderate than in Iowa and Santorum fared significantly worse in New Hampshire, garnering just over 9% of the vote.  Romney handily won in New Hampshire and even did well among evangelical voters, who have been perceived as less supportive of his candidacy either for theological or ideological reasons. (Romney’s performance among evangelical voters in New Hampshire was comparable to Santorum’s performance among evangelicals in Iowa.)

Catholic Republican primary voters in New Hampshire also voted for Romney; 45% of Catholic primary voters supported Mitt Romney on Tuesday.  Despite Santorum’s Catholicism, he didn’t manage to pick up significant Catholic support from Romney, even given his momentum coming out of Iowa and his far-right views on social issues.  As David Gibson at Religion News Service hypothesizes, Santorum may actually be the most “evangelical” candidate in his rhetoric and beliefs, even though he’s  a practicing Catholic.  Gibson writes:

Santorum’s religious rhetoric is just as important in cultivating his evangelical appeal, and that is something new for Catholic politicians.

He has “an evangelical style,” [Deal] Hudson notes, which can be seen in his references to home-schooling his children, his support for teaching creationism in public schools, and his regular testimony about his personal relationship with Jesus. (Santorum adds that the U.S. needs to have “a Jesus candidate.”)

Santorum seems like an appealing choice to socially and theologically conservative evangelical voters who find Romney unpalatable.  According to Elizabeth Dias at TIME and other reports, some evangelicals are rallying this weekend to try to come to a consensus about which candidate to back in an attempt to unseat Romney as the GOP front-runner, and Santorum is their most likely pick.

Now, all eyes turn to South Carolina, where the nation’s third Republican primary contest will happen on January 21.  As Tobin Grant at Christianity Today puts it,

Because evangelicals made up only one-quarter of the primary voters in New Hampshire, their influence is smaller than in Iowa or in this Saturday’s primary in South Carolina. Still, if Romney had done as poorly with evangelicals as he did in Iowa, his margin of victory could have slipped into the single digits. This weekend, a strong showing among evangelicals could mean the difference between a win or a loss in South Carolina.

Romney is polling better in South Carolina than he ever has before, and having the endorsement of popular Tea Party governor Nikki Haley can’t hurt.  The newest TIME/CNN/ORC poll has Romney leading but shows a significant surge from Santorum. If Romney wins by a significant margin, it seems very unlikely any other Republican candidates can continue to challenge him for the nomination.  If Santorum manages to pull off an upset though, it could keep things interesting in the ongoing GOP primary fight.  We’ll be watching!

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Compassionate conservatism’s comeback?

January 10, 2012, 3:23 pm | Posted by

In the wake of Rick Santorum’s virtual tie with Mitt Romney for first place in the Iowa caucus, a once-common term — “compassionate conservatism”– has re-entered the political lexicon. Political blogs across the spectrum, religious publications and prominent newspaper columnists are debating whether Santorum is the new standard-bearer of this label. The discussion actually says more about the state of conservatism than it does about the former senator from Pennsylvania.

The argument for Santorum’s compassionate conservatism is that he talks about poverty as a moral issue on the campaign trail and his record as a lawmaker, at least on a few issues, jibes more with social justice Christianity than with Tea Party radicalism. Santorum stood up for lifesaving international aid at a GOP debate while others scored cheap political points by demonizing it. As a senator he strongly supported the PEPFAR program to combat AIDS in Africa and stood up for solutions that help the poor, such as debt relief and community health centers. These stances are commendable.

But when deciding whether a politician deserves to be called a compassionate conservative, we should examine how consistently he defends the most vulnerable and those at the margins.

Santorum’s compassion is very selective. He advocates breaking up immigrant families and opposes the DREAM Act. He calls climate change a liberal hoax. He supports torturing detainees in US custody. He endorsed Representative Paul Ryan’s immoral federal budget plan and says poor Americans should suffer more. And few politicians exhibit greater hostility toward gay and lesbian Americans.

Santorum also uses moral arguments to defend economic policies that harm struggling Americans. His unwavering defense of deregulating big business and huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy is standard fare for the GOP, but when it comes to helping poor Americans, he argues that protections for the unemployed and the working poor create dependency rather than help people get back on their feet. When job seekers outnumber jobs 4-to-1 and 49 million Americans are trapped in poverty, this sort of rhetoric is dangerous, misleading and insulting.

It’s a sad commentary on our nation’s politics when a record as uneven and troubling as Santorum’s enables him to seize the mantle of compassionate conservatism. A real compassionate conservative movement would be a welcome change from today’s radicalized GOP and a valuable contribution to addressing poverty and inequality. But this ain’t it.

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A Response to Thomas Peters’s Defense of Rick Santorum

January 6, 2012, 11:57 am | Posted by

Rick SantorumThat John’s piece this week outlining the Catholic case against Rick Santorum garnered a response from conservative Catholic blogger Thomas Peters is unsurprising. That Peters’s argument is so thin, however, is a little disappointing.

The biggest problem with Peters’s rebuttal is that he missed the ultimate point of John’s piece. While Peters reads it as a “theological assassination” of Santorum in defense of President Obama, John wasn’t trying to make the case for any other presidential candidates. He doesn’t even claim that Catholics can’t or shouldn’t vote for Rick Santorum.

As John makes clear in his conclusion, he simply wants to caution against anointing Santorum as some kind of ideal Catholic candidate. And to make his case, he lays out a series of issues on which Rick Santorum is publicly and clearly at odds with the position of the Catholic bishops and the Church at large. These are factual and historical points that exist regardless of either John’s or Peters’s opinions about any of these issues.

A review of Peters objections:

Immigration
Peters dismissively acknowledges that Santorum has “room to grow” on this issue, but then goes on to blame the President and Democrats at large for not reforming the system in the last three years. As I explained before, such comparisons are distractions from rather than rebuttals of John’s point, but I’ll humor Peters for a minute.

While Catholics have a very legitimate critique of this administration’s record on overzealous deportations, when it comes to the kind of comprehensive reform the Catholic bishops support it’s not any kind of secret which party has prevented it from passing over the last ten years.

I’d particularly encourage Peters to revisit the vote count for the DREAM Act last December, which was filibustered by 36 Republican and 5 Democratic Senators. The Catholic bishops, of course, emphatically supported the bill, and Rick Santorum has attacked his rivals over the issue.

But Peters “doesn’t see where…Santorum is saying something different” than the bishops on immigration reform. I find this statement puzzling, as John quoted Santorum openly acknowledging his disagreement with the bishops on this issue word-for-word in his original post:

“If we develop the program like the Catholic bishops suggested we would be creating a huge magnet for people to come in and break the law some more, we’d be inviting people to cross this border, come into this country and with the expectation that they will be able to stay here permanently.”

Poverty, Inequality and Financial Reform
Peters doesn’t even really try to engage with the substance of John’s points here — instead he just makes vague taunts about “lefty Catholics” at large and FPL’s “agenda”. As our “agenda” on these issues is pretty much the same as the Bishops, Peters should probably take his complaints up with them. I’ll just reiterate the facts:

The Bishops expressed serious reservations about Paul Ryan’s budget because of its refusal to raise adequate revenues, the disproportionate cuts to programs that protect the poor and vulnerable, and the unfair way it put the burden of Medicare cost-cutting on seniors. Santorum full-throatedly endorsed Ryan’s plan and proposed one of his own that would do the same things.

The Church is concerned with reforming the kind of unregulated capitalism and financial misconduct that led to the global recession. As a Senator, Santorum voted for deregulation that helped precipitate the crisis, and he continues to get his facts wrong on the cause of the meltdown.

Rick Santorum has adopted Randian “makers/takers” language and derided calls for more progressive taxation levels as “redistribution of wealth.” The Pope doesn’t even know this is supposed to be a dirty word.

Workers Rights
Here Peters just asserts that the issue is complex, but his view lines up with Santorum’s so there’s apparently nothing to see here.

Climate Change and the Environment
Peters’s bizarre lecture on the actual motivations of the environmental movement aside, the facts again here are simple. The Pope is concerned about the dangerous consequences of not addressing climate change; Rick Santorum thinks it’s a liberal conspiracy. The Catholic bishops celebrated the EPA’s recent mercury ruling; Santorum condemned it.

Torture and War
This one is a mess. Once again, rather than rebut the substance of John’s argument, Peters has to change the subject and introduce specious arguments. Accuse “the left” broadly of refusing to criticize President Obama? Check. Compare torture to drone assassinations without any explanation of the point? Check. Reduce Iranian foreign policy to a choice between bombings and nuclear apocalypse? Check. Excuse Santorum’s Catholically indefensible policies because they at worst prove “Santorum cares most for the safety of American citizens and interests”? Check.

Again, simple point: Santorum supports torture; Church doesn’t. Pope cautioned against Iraq war; Santorum championed it.

Peters ends with a long complaint that John didn’t bring up abortion and marriage. Unfortunately, that’s because they’re not related to the ultimate point of John’s post. Peters is, of course, right — there’s no debate about whether Santorum is in line with the Church’s opinions on these issues. He’s pretty vocal about his stances, and religious and political commentators don’t seem to have any trouble recognizing and noting them.

John’s goal was to help bring to light some of the issues that get less attention as “moral issues” in the media — and help political commentators avoid making the mistake of suggesting that examining a candidates’ positions on abortion and marriage is sufficient to determine whether they’re representative of Catholic political thought.

Now, I recognize that Peters and many other conservatives might argue that these two issues are so important that they essentially overwhelm a candidate’s divergent views on any other topics. Making tough calls between imperfect candidates is the nature of our two-party democracy, particularly for Catholics, and I wouldn’t have any problem if Peters’s contention just boiled down to that personal judgement.

To go further, I don’t really care if Peters wants to argue this is the only acceptable voting standard for Catholics at large, or that the only appropriate candidate for Catholics to vote for Rick Santorum because his Catholic “pluses” outweigh his Catholic “minuses.” The U.S. Bishops voting guide, Faithful Citizenship, asks all Catholics to weigh that exact kind of judgment, and such an opinion is certainly a reasonable one worth debating.

Even further, Peters is welcome to join Rick Santorum and argue that the Church is wrong on these issues — that any of these particular policies are matters of prudential judgement in which he and Santorum have reached different conclusions than the Church hierarchy. I would probably disagree with many of their conclusions, but I don’t think it would make either of them “bad Catholics.” Discrediting and demeaning my fellow Catholics’ faiths when I disagree with them just isn’t really something I’m interested in.

But, of course, Peters didn’t engage in a substantive debate about John’s factual arguments. Nor did he have the courage to admit he and Santorum just have a different position than the Church. In his eagerness to claim the mantle of Catholicism for his favored candidate, Peters seems not only willing to overlook Santorum’s discrepancies on a wide range of Catholic issues, but also to actively deny that they even exist. Combined with his propensity for putting words in people’s mouths and dishonestly ascribing ulterior motives, this dangerous obfuscation of fact in service of partisan politics damages Peters’s credibility and emblemizes the concerns many of us in the faith and politics have about the Catholic right more broadly.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

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