The Religious Bigotry of Rick Santorum
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed May 27, 2015 at 07:25:36 PM EST
Now that Rick Santorum has announced that he is running for president, again, it is worth reminding ourselves that he is a coarsely obvious religious bigot. I published this post when he was running in 2012. To my knowledge, he never retracted or apologized for his prior statements. -- FC

Rick Santorum has sought to project a sunnily suburban, regular guy appeal as he vies for the GOP presidential nomination. But whenever I have seen him during the campaign, there seems to be a seething and loathing just beneath the surface that he has to struggle to keep from leaking out.  

But back in 2008, while a senior fellow of the neoconservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, we got a glimpse of what it is that is so churning under his public face.  In a speech, he quietly explained to students at Ave Maria University, in Naples, Florida  that Satan, the "Father of Lies", is destroying America.  Part of Satan's effort, according to Santorum, has been to so transform the mainline Protestant churches in America -- that they are no longer even Christian.  

This may come as a surprise to the 45 million people of the member communions of the National Council of Churches, such as The Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA).  But Santorum's view that the mainline churches have gone the way of Satan is unambiguous --  as is his suggestion that his own Catholic Church remains Satan free.  

Kyle Mantyla at RightWingWatch has posted an audiotape and transcript of Santorum's speech at the school, which was founded by Domino's Pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan.

Here is the section where Santorum denounced the historic Protestant churches:

And so what we saw this domino effect, once the colleges fell and those who were being education in our institutions, the next was the church. Now you'd say, `wait, the Catholic Church'? No. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic, sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it. So they attacked mainline Protestantism, they attacked the Church, and what better way to go after smart people who also believe they're pious to use both vanity and pride to also go after the Church.  [Emphasis added]

How bad is this?  Well, let's consider that it cannot be construed as a slip of the tongue or an offhand remark.  This is part of a formal presentation that is still posted on the web site of Ave Maria University.  

I cannot recall any major pol challenging the legitimacy of anyone's religious traditions in the U.S. -- let alone demonize some of the central religious traditions in the history of the country.  This is of a piece with the far right attacks on Muslims, atheists and Jews -- and should be denounced in the same terms.

This is what religious bigotry looks like.

that the mainstream churches learn about this and consider it significant enough to let their members know.

It's one thing to support a political party, but I think letting members know that is what this guy thinks of them might not be a violation of the separation of church and state.

(Of course, I'm not a constitutional lawyer.)

Other than that... I'm not in the least surprised, knowing where this guy comes from.

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 11:36:27 PM EST

But what I find mind-boggling is that the right wing protestants and Catholics are making common cause, while they obviously don't trust one anothers' "holiness". Egad! Maybe they will eat one another up and leave the rest of us alone. (We should be so lucky.)

by phatkhat on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 02:40:37 PM EST

A year prior to this speech, Pope Benedict issued a document stating that Protestants were mere "ecclesial communities" that did not deserve the designation of "church" and that they lack the "sacramental priesthood." In other words, according to the Pope's view of Catholic doctrine, Protestant ministers have no right to baptize or serve communion. Here's a link:

It seems to me that Santorum has taken this line of thinking just one step further, concluding that if Protestants don't have real churches and their ministers aren't real ministers, they must have been taken over by Satan. His conclusion is hurtful and exclusionary, and it takes some twisted logic to get from point A to point B, but regarding someone like Santorum, who is on the right wing of the right wing, one can see how he could conclude that attacking Protestant churches was an okay thing to do.

by MLouise on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 12:26:38 AM EST
to link Santorum's comments to what Pope Benedict said. And furthermore, Benedict was not calling into question the baptism of Protestants. That is nowhere evident in his papacy and would be a complete repudiation of the church's teaching on baptism.

by gregmetzger on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 01:59:06 AM EST
The 2007 statement said that Protestant churches lack "sacramental priesthood." Most mainline Protestant churches observe two sacraments ~ baptism and Holy Communion. What the Pope's statement appears to be saying, then, is that Protestant ministers do not have the capacity to preside at the sacraments. I've encountered at least two priests who interpret RC church teaching in precisely that way, including the one who insisted that my sister had to be rebaptized when she joined the RC church. She had been baptized in the Lutheran Church as an infant.

Rick Santorum is hyper-strict Catholic. So what I was saying is that I can see how he could go from "Protestant ministers lack the sacramental priesthood" to "Protestant churches have been taken over by Satan." It may not be a common thought-progression, but it is not outside the realm of possibility. We've certainly seen enough examples of such convoluted thinking and demonizing of "the other" in articles on this website.

by MLouise on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 08:49:33 AM EST
RC priests who didn't accept non-Catholics as Christians, and wonder now if they might have been somehow connected to Opus Dei.

A friend of mine invited me to a RC church, and I was thrown out - refused communion and asked to leave.

As I left, the priest came out and tried to convert me.  My friend was so ashamed at the way I had been treated that he stopped going to church (and I think he later joined a Pentecostal church).  I politely declined the priest's attempt and left.

Shortly after that, I was personally insulted in public by a RC monk, who was quite derogatory towards non-RC Christianity in general (he was also an ordained priest).  

This all happened at my school, where there was a "war" going on between the different churches over converts.  Eventually the Pentecostals won me over by using missionary dating/flirty fishing (and then the brainwashing and misery started).

Oh... and the Pentecostals don't recognize the baptism from the mainstream churches either.  They convinced me that I had to be properly baptized (immersed in a lake by an AoG minister)... something I'm now ashamed of.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 10:31:40 AM EST

Thanks for sharing it.

by gregmetzger on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 01:59:35 AM EST

Rick Santorum may be a Catholic, as am I, but we couldn't be more different in our respective outlooks on the world. Rick is indeed a religious bigot, and sad as it is, there is unfortunately a market for that sort of thing in today's political world. Rick doesn't speak for me, and I can only hope that he would wise up and abandon the attempt to appeal to people's hatreds and discontent.

by khughes1963 on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 11:23:04 AM EST

I can only wish that Santorum ends up the Republican nominee.

by nogodsnomasters on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 03:53:04 PM EST
want Santorum to achieve that much political success.  It would profoundly distort our political culture for a very long time, to the detriment of all.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 07:19:20 PM EST

Actually, both Santorum and Romney are suffering internet ridicule related to canines. Santorum famously ranted to a female reporter about gays leading to "man-on-dog sex" (Cornyn out-bid him later by referring to man marrying box turtle). A syndicated sex columnist asked his readers to submit a new definition of the somewhat Latinate name "santorum", and then created a web page declaring said invented definition - thus creating "the Google problem".

Romney strapped his dog carrier, with dog inside, to the roof of his car and went for a multi-state highway drive. Regarding Romney's action, it's one thing if you put the crate inside a stall of a livestock trailer, so there is some windbreak. It's another thing to have poor Fido freezing in a 60mph wind on the top of the car.

by NancyP on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 12:33:49 PM EST

We've also seen similar attacks on Mainline Protestantism from right-wing evangelical sources.  In fact, it's quite common!  

This is not so much a Catholic vs. Protestant phenomenon as it is the Religious Right's attack on everyone else that doesn't fit their narrow definition of Christianity.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 04:46:40 PM EST

from deeper within the Christian Right. In 1982 I was talking with a woman who held a paying job during the week and served as her church's minister on Sunday. I don't recall her denomination, but it was similar to the multitude of storefront churches that are outside the mainstream represented by the outside-the-mainstream churches like the Assemblies of God. She referred to Christians as distinct from Catholics. Obviously, she was ill-informed about history (something I've found true of many in the Christian Right), not realizing that, if the Catholic Church had not "kept the Faith" until 1518, there would have been no Christian Church for her spiritual ancestors to reform and protest against.

by eeyore on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 07:05:52 AM EST

It is certainly true that the attacks on mainline Protestantism are not new and that there is a broad and sustained effort by the Religious Right to undermine the churches that have been at the center of American culture; and that this takes many forms; but there is also a distinctly Catholic view being offered by Mr. Santorum, presented to a distinctly Catholic audience at distinctly Catholic Ave Maria University.  

Keep in mind that he was, at the time, trying to invent himself as a national politician with a distinctly Catholic identity. Part of the program is, of course, trying to avoid conflict with evangelical Christianity in all of its flavors, while seeking to displace the mainliners at the historic center of American Christianity by any and all means possible.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 02:44:36 PM EST

holding everyone else's beliefs as being inferior to yours, or just plainwrong. Assumptions are just stated baldly by people, (politicians, talk show hosts, religious figures) who believe profoundly in their own baloney. But do their followers ever bother to ask themselves, "by WHAT AUTHORITY does this speaker make this claim?" I think we need to get into the habit of asking ourselves that question. Rick Santorum's go-to authority seems to be his own rationalizations, not the church's, not anybody's.

by kiliastrom on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 06:10:18 PM EST

Are we surprised? This is the intolerant voice of an Opus Dei cooperator talking the company line.

What Santorum is saying comes directly from their playbook. Opus Dei is a cancer upon both the Catholic Church an American democracy.  This pernicious group must be exposed so that the disinfecting power of sunlight can dry up its poisonous venom.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 08:40:12 PM EST

Under Popes Benedict and John Paul II has been very clear that Protestants are not really part of the Church. These conservative fathers of the Church have encouraged ecumenicalism in certain ways up to a point, like being observers or affiliates of the World Council of Churches, sponsoring world Christian youth get-togethers where everything but communion is done together, and so on. But I think Rick Santorum's statements come more from the same place that conservative Evangelicals feelings about Sojourner's magazine, or "emerging" Churches that have Evangelical theology and progressive activity do. It's not primarily that Presbyterians, and those from other mainstream denominations aren't Catholic, because there are good, rigid, uncompromising and stern Protestants that agree with his social views, but for Christians in mainstream denominations who think like me (what about Catholics who do?), he only has condemnation, dismissal, and perhaps, exorcism.

by arachne646 on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 02:42:27 PM EST
I don't agree with Santorum on much of anything, and he would be the first to accuse me of being a Bad Catholic. Let him, I welcome the charge, if he means to be a Good Catholic is to defend the Empire of God aspects of the institutional Church. A lot of us see commentary from the more conservative Catholics inviting us to leave to become Episcopalians. We stay precisely because our witness is important.

by khughes1963 on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 07:25:52 PM EST

"But I think Rick Santorum's statements come more from the same place that conservative Evangelicals feelings about Sojourner's magazine, or "emerging" Churches that have Evangelical theology and progressive activity do."

Can you clarify what you mean about emerging churches with Evangelical theology and progressive actions? Are you saying that they are in the same category as Sojourners or the same category as conservative Evangelicals? I'm trying to better understand your comment.


by rlalitheia on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 03:11:12 AM EST

I think it may be that the real point is being missed. NAR and such are approaching everything as if it were a religion and if it doesn't jive with their beliefs, then it has a false religion or a "phony theology" and it is of the devil.

For example, mainstream media keeps harping on the "radical islamic policies" statement by Alice Stewart ( rum-obama-_n_1289335.html).

Ms. Stewart insists she meant to say "radical environmentalist policies". And I believe that is true. But what is being missed is that environmentalism is considered a false religion by the NAR as is anything else not in lock step with their views. Hence the comments from Santorum saying that protestant Christianity was no longer Christian.

by rahilliard on Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 09:00:56 AM EST

Alice Stewart clarifies what was meant and calls it, "theological secularism". s-secretary-obama-radical-islamic-policies/

by rahilliard on Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 11:56:05 AM EST

I agree that many Right Wing Christian groups assert that evironmentalism is a religion. But I don't think Santorum's statements would necessarily derive from NAR's position on that. Santorum's extreme Catholicism and the NAR's post-denominationalism seem to be pretty well mutually exclusive. After all, the NAR thinks Catholic devotion to Mary equates to worship of a demon named The Queen of Heaven. And I can't imagine Santorum's accepting the "new apostles, new prophecy" belief of the NAR, since that is a direct challenge to the teaching authority of the Catholic Magesterium.

Whether or not Santorum could be considered more generally a Dominionist is an open question in my mind. It would be helpful if one of the researchers who write this blog would chime in with a clarification. Thanks!

by MLouise on Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 12:33:01 PM EST
Santorum's Catholicism would seem to preclude his association with NAR doctrine. That makes me wonder if there is something more to his personal beliefs which in his mind would align him with NAR goals.

by rahilliard on Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 02:57:54 PM EST

The joy of social media is that outrageous statements by politicians can get circulated widely in hours. Santorum has far more recorded material than Akin, and Akin was defeated by a single (exceptionally stupid and offensive) statement he made.

Googling the single word santorum still comes up with the Dan Savage "definition" as #1 hit (via wikipedia) in 2015, after his presidential candidacy announcement. Sen. "Man-on-Dog" is now the subject of an internet meme that will never die.

Politics is show biz for "ugly" people ("ugly" in show biz terms is any ordinary-looking human)

by NancyP on Thu May 28, 2015 at 07:51:35 PM EST

Rick Santorum's recent remarks about religious freedom have revealed a concerning underlying bigotry. His suggestion that churches should not be forced to perform same-sex marriages is rooted in a narrow-minded belief that the faith community should be exclusive and only accept those of a certain belief system.  buy homes Gautier This pervasive attitude of exclusion and intolerance has no place in a modern, progressive society and serves to undermine the very principles of religious freedom that Santorum claims to champion. It is essential that we recognize the outdated and damaging nature of Santorum's beliefs and work to create a more inclusive environment for all.

by isabelladom on Wed Feb 22, 2023 at 01:44:35 AM EST

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