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Senator Santorum on Being Catholic and a Politician 

Rick Santorum

In the wake of the Vatican's recent doctrinal note on political life, ZENIT has been interviewing prominent Catholic politicians and thinkers on how they view this balancing act of faith and public service. Here, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, shared his views.

Rick Santorum

ZENIT: Many people say that President John Kennedy set the pattern for Catholic politicians. And that pattern was: state comes before creed. Is that an accurate assessment of the U.S. situation? Is it justifiable?

Santorum: In order to approach this question, it is necessary to go back to the Bible. We must render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to God that which belongs to him.

I believe most politicians should heed this command from Christ. However, most politicians look at this issue in varying degrees. Some politicians believe their faith plays no role in their decision-making in state affairs, while others believe it plays an essential role in making the best decisions for the state.

I affirm that your creed and values shape what is best for the state. In fact, I believe politicians have an obligation to the state and its constituents, to do what is in their best interest. In reality, there should never be a conflict between your creed and your legislation because both should be oriented toward the good and what is best for society.

Q: Some politicians say their function is to represent the views of their electors, and therefore, that they are not able to obey the Vatican or Catholic doctrine. Is this just an excuse, or is there a real conflict here?

Santorum: I believe that as a politician I have a responsibility toward my electors; however, I do not believe that one should be swayed by public opinion in making important legislative decisions.

Edmund Burke was right when he said that what you owe first and foremost to your electors is your best judgment. To ignore your best judgment and defer to public opinion is to do a disservice to society. This is the reason we have elections. During elections, the constituents decide if your judgment is correct.

Unfortunately, there are some politicians who are completely dictated by opinion polls. The populous ends up defining their legislative agenda. A politician has a duty to be guided by the best information available to him, not by the desires of the public. Ultimately, a solid value structure will result in the best policies for the public.

Q: How can the Church and lay Catholic leaders help Catholic politicians in their task of being faithful to moral principles?

Santorum: Primarily, Catholic politicians will be faithful to moral principles if the Church, and in particular, the clergy, are truly faithful to the teachings of the magisterium of the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, the greatest problem we have today is the lack of orthodox clergy who hold to the true teachings of the Church. Many within the Church are espousing "Catholic lite," as George Weigel calls it. This is a watered-down version of the Church's teachings.

A vicious cycle results since many unorthodox clergy are soft-pedaling the faith and passing this erroneous brand of Catholicism to younger generations. The result is an uneducated laity with soft values.

Also, in order for Catholic politicians to be faithful to moral teachings, they must be held accountable. Their elite status in society should not let others be dissuaded from criticizing them if they behave in an unprincipled way. The only way that immoral politicians will change is if the public has the courage to confront them. Only then, will these politicians be forced to act morally.

Q: The Vatican document criticizes moral relativism, but American society places a high value on tolerance and respect for a diversity of opinions. How can Catholic politicians tread the line between being faithful to moral principles and not being seen as intolerant?

Santorum: The cultural elite, that is, our universities, the media and our arts, place a high value on tolerance and moral relativism. We are currently engaged in a culture war, wherein many Americans do not believe in absolute truth and are dictated by moral relativism.

I cannot accept the fact that many hail tolerance as the greatest virtue. They worship tolerance to the point of not being able to make judgments at all. This is wrong. As G.K. Chesterton said, "Be careful not to be so open-minded that your brains fall out."

The greatest virtue is truth. Tolerance, in the true sense of the word, is a great good. If one is truly tolerant, one is respectful of other people's opinions. This does not mean agreeing with them, but giving them the right to profess their opinions. But, when tolerance is understood in a libertarian, modern way, we falsify the meaning of reality. I don't think we should accept tolerance as believing every point of view is equal and good. To do this is to blur the lines between good and evil.

It is also to renounce the God-given gift of judgment. As Christ commanded us, we should not be afraid to call black, black or white, white. It is our duty to do so. If we do not do this, we are doing an injustice to the true meaning of tolerance. If we understand tolerance in this way, there is never a fine line between being faithful to moral principles and being tolerant.

In addition to being leaders in society, politicians are a reflection of society. Politicians have a duty to hold fast to moral principles in order to govern effectively. As one of our Founding Fathers, John Adams, wisely proclaimed: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. ... Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Q: The Vatican document calls to mind the example of St. Thomas More and praises how he followed his conscience, even at the cost of losing his positions and ultimately his life. What lessons do you think More can teach Catholic leaders and politicians today?

Santorum: The great Thomas More teaches politicians and all people that the key to life is keeping your eye on the eternal, yet at the same time, to serve God, here on earth.

As Christ commanded us, we have to live in the world, but not be of it. Man is called to strike a proper balance in loving God and doing his will, yet be firmly grounded in his earthly duties.

More presents the perfect balance of someone who strives to serve the Lord and his king consistently. However, there are times when you try to serve both and you run into conflict. More demonstrates through his martyrdom that one must always be willing to stand up for what one believes and for the teachings of the faith. In sum, as More eloquently puts it, we must be "the king's good servant, but God's first."

Q: Recently the U.S. Senate passed a bill to ban partial-birth abortion. If it passes Congress and gets President Bush's signature, will the courts allow it?

Santorum: The threat of a U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the constitutionality of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban is not persuasive.

My legislation was specifically authored to mitigate the concerns that the court had with a Nebraska law prohibiting the partial-birth procedure. In that case, known as Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court's ruling cited two points of contention, both of which have been addressed in my bill.

The language in S.3 applies the law specifically to one rogue form of abortion and it includes documentation to show that the partial-birth procedure is never medically necessary to protect the health of the mother. The margin by which the ban passed the Senate illustrates the strength of our argument against partial-birth abortion.


ZENIT is an International News Agency based in Rome whose mission is to provide objective and professional coverage of events, documents and issues emanating from or concerning the Catholic Church for a worldwide audience, especially the media.

Reprinted with permission from Zenit - News from Rome. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2003 Zenit



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved