NYTimes 'Takes Issue' With Santorum's Catholic Faith, Which Is Not Open to the 'Modern Era'

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and religion reporter Laurie Goodstein profiled GOP candidate Rick Santorum for the front of Sunday's New York Times and seemed uncomfortable with his brand of strong Catholicism: "From 'Nominal Catholic' to Clarion of Faith – In Santorum's Religious Journey, Wife and Family Were Key."

The Times described how Santorum's dinner-table discussion with his future father-in-law led him on his path of strong anti-abortion and Catholic convictions.

For Mr. Santorum, a Republican candidate for president, that conversation was an early step on a path into a deeply conservative Catholic culture that has profoundly influenced his life as a husband, father and politician. Over the past two decades, he has undergone a religious transformation that is now spurring a national conversation about faith in the public sphere.

On the campaign trail, he has attacked President Obama for “phony theology,” warned of the “dangers of contraceptives” and rejected John F. Kennedy’s call for strict separation of church and state. His bold expressions of faith could affect his support in this week’s Super Tuesday nominating contests, possibly helping with conservative Christians, especially in the South, but scaring off voters uncomfortable mixing so much religion in politics.

Central to Mr. Santorum’s spiritual life is his wife, whom he calls “the rock which I stand upon.” Before marrying, the couple decided to recommit themselves to their Catholic faith -- a turnabout for Karen Santorum, who had been romantically involved with a well-known abortion provider in Pittsburgh and had openly supported abortion rights, according to several people who knew her then.

The Times could not even discuss the tragic loss of Santorum's son without wedging in its preferred liberal labeling of partial-birth abortion.

The loss of the Santorums’ son Gabriel, in 1996 -- just as the senator was leading the fight in Congress to ban the procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion -- was devastating for the couple. Mrs. Santorum was nearly 20 weeks pregnant; doctors discovered a fetal anomaly. After a risky operation, she developed an infection and took antibiotics, which the couple knew would result in the birth of a baby who would not survive.

Critics likened it to an abortion, but in a 1997 interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Mr. Santorum said that was not the case. Mr. Schoeneman, the couple’s friend, said the death convinced them that “God had a purpose in Gabriel’s life, and they were going to live out that purpose in their lives.” Both Santorums began speaking out more strongly against abortion; Mrs. Santorum became prominent in her own right after publishing a 1998 book, “Letters to Gabriel.”

This portion was particularly dense with slant:

Many Catholics take issue with Mr. Santorum’s approach to their faith. Mr. Santorum, polls show, has lost the Catholic vote in every primary contest so far, some by wide margins.

Garry Wills, a cultural historian and professor emeritus at Northwestern University, is among many Catholics whose touchstone is the Second Vatican Council from 1962-65, which opened up Catholicism to the modern era and proclaimed that the church is its people, not just the pope and his bishops.

“Santorum is not a Catholic, but a papist,” Mr. Wills said in an e-mail.

Mr. Santorum’s defenders say there is nothing troubling about his approach to faith and politics. “What he is saying is something very simple: I should not shed my moral beliefs when I walk in the Oval Office,” said Mr. DeWine, who is also Catholic.

The blunt statement that Santorum "has lost the Catholic vote in every primary contest so far" is far from obvious, as the Times' own David Leonhardt explained last week. As for "Many Catholics," the Times means "Many Catholic Democrats."

Regarding Garry Wills' "papist" crack, my MRC colleague Tim Graham reminded me that Wills has been trashing the Catholic Church hierarchy in books as far back as 1972.