How Senator Rick Santorum, In Acting for His Church, Persistently Fails to Consider the Larger Public Good

By MARCI HAMILTON


hamilton02@aol.com
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Thursday, Aug. 11, 2005

Senator Rick Santorum has been in the news recently, touting his faith-based views on public policy. (Santorum's faith is Roman Catholicism).

In my recent book, God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law, I document the harm that comes from elected representatives acting according to the dictate of religious lobbyists, without consideration of the larger public good. This is a severe defect in our representative government -- and Santorum is the best modern example.

The Framers' Wisdom on Religion and Politics: Still Accurate Today

As a lifelong Republican, I respect the party; as a Christian, I honor the religion. None of my analysis, obviously, in any way arises out of anti-Republican or anti-Christian views. Instead, my conclusions are the result of years of studying the Constitution; the role it accords our elected representatives; and the way it separates state and faith so both can prosper - guaranteeing freedom of religion, and forbidding state establishment of religion.

The Framers understood the corrupting influence of religious entities in the political process. No wonder, then, that there were only two references to religion at the Constitutional Convention: First, James Madison cautioned that America should avoid England's example - where religious entities had the power to determine the requirements for a person's belonging to the electorate. Second, Benjamin Franklin suggested that they hire a member of the clergy to say a prayer each morning. Because no one was willing to pay for the pastor, that suggestion was dropped immediately.

There was an abiding belief, at the Convention and among the Framers, that representatives should be "filters" of factions -- including religious factions, of which there was quite a variety at the time of the framing -- within the society, not simply stand-ins for such interests. The Framers' view was that only if factions, including religious factions, were filtered -- refocusing all requests to encompass serious inquiry into the public good -- could the system produce good laws and good government.

Rick Santorum is no filter, as the following concrete examples will illustrate.

The Roman Catholic Clergy Abuse Crisis in Boston

Across the country, the Roman Catholic Church has been under fire from prosecutors, litigators, and childhood sexual abuse victims for its "handling" of its pedophile clergy. It is now well-documented that bishops, archbishops, and cardinals did not report known pedophiles to police. Instead, they moved pedophiles between parishes within their dioceses, or traded these men between dioceses - not only allowing the abuse to continue, but ensuring that pedophiles could start afresh with new trusting parents, and new potential child victims.

An uncontroverted fact is that the failure to report the abuse meant that the vast majority - 98% of the predators - avoided conviction due to the short statutes of limitations. In most cases, by the time the victims were ready to come forward, in adulthood, the limitations periods, set by the various state statutes of limitations, had long passed. Imagine how different the world would have been, had the Church timely reported these terrible crimes to the police, as soon as it learned of them.

Instead, the Church's coverup literally kept these pedophiles out of jail and circulating in society - whether or not they were defrocked. Meanwhile, the number of victims increased geometrically as a result of the secrecy; the next victim in line had no idea his or her beloved priest or teacher had already raped, sodomized, or molested fellow classmates.

Another uncontroverted fact is that the United States as a whole has paid an enormous price in terms of the harm done to these thousands of victims, and their families. These children had their souls murdered -- typically leading to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, mental illness, the inability to live up to their God-given abilities, divorce, broken families, and suicide.

Santorum's Outrageous Attempt to Blame the Culture For Church Wrongs

This is a nationwide problem, though Congress and the Department of Justice have been far too busy with other concerns to do anything about it. If one child is kidnapped in this culture - remember, for instance, Elizabeth Smart -- Congress will act immediately. But when thousands are raped and sodomized by priests, Congress is immobilized - despite the many things the federal government could do to protect children from these nightmares, and aid victims finally to seek the justice they serve.

Santorum might have been part of the solution, but instead, he has chosen to be part of the problem - continuing the denial that has afflicted the Church to which he belongs. According to Santorum, the Boston Archdiocese was itself a victim - the victim of a lax moral and sexual culture in the liberal Northeast. Here are his words on Catholic Online in 2002 -- words he has stood by, in the intervening years:

It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.

In other words, Santorum is suggesting, Boston's pedophiles were foisted upon a defenseless Church.

Of course, in putting blame on the Northeast's liberal culture, Santorum never elaborates on how his theory could possibly explain Gilbert Gauthe in New Orleans, who abused dozens of boys, and who was convicted in 1985. Or Ronald Kos in Dallas, who was a predator of unimaginable proportions from 1981 to 1992. Or the various perpetrators who, it has been confirmed, committed abuse in Davenport, or Tucson, or Toledo, or Portland, or Spokane.

For Pennsylvania voters, especially, he is going to have to explain whether he thinks Philadelphia is sin city as well -- if and when the purported 500-page grand jury report on clergy abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese is released.

What Santorum has done, is to use his position in the United States Senate to offer cover for the Church, which is despicable. But Santorum is not alone among the do-nothings: When the story in Boston broke in 2001, members like Sen. Pete Domenici and Sen. Ted Kennedy were heard to say that this was a problem for the Church, not them.

Santorum would not like to think he is another Ted Kennedy, but it looks like he is.

Providing a Financial Windfall to the Catholic University of America, at the Expense of the Old Soldiers Home

Santorum also has used his position in Congress to protect the purse of Catholic institutions. For example, in 1998, he and Kennedy backed a little-noticed amendment to an unrelated bill that required the Old Soldiers' and Airmen's Home to sell its excess property to Catholic University of America and only Catholic University. In other words, there would be no free market bidding.

The Soldiers' Home, as it is called, is where enlisted servicemen can retire and get care, if they have no other options. It is funded by a small deduction from the payroll of enlisted men and women. The Department of Defense and Congress have refused to raise the deduction amount, but the demand has remained steady, leading to large deficits in the Home's budget.

Because the Home rests on many undeveloped acres in Washington, DC, it was decided that it ought to sell some of its excess property to the highest bidder, in order to raise funds to continue its worthy work. However, its neighbor, Catholic University, had its own designs on the property -- which it hoped to use at the time for a biomedical research facility, dormitories, and retail space. Later, it would say it was to be used for a Peace Center.

That in itself was fine, of course. What was not fine, was that CUA did not feel like paying market price for the property it sought. Thus, it approached Santorum and Kennedy, who were all too willing to slip in the amendment that forced the Home to sell to CUA alone, with CUA the only bidder.

That price probably would have been about one-third of the appraised value of the property. This was quite the financial hand-off.

Retired soldiers -- already angry over having been promised a lifetime of medical care, yet having health benefits cut repeatedly -- were outraged when they learned what had happened. A group called me, and, after consultation, we held a press conference.

There, I made it very clear that there was an obvious and actionable constitutional problem here. If there is one thing the government may not do under the Establishment Clause, it is to create a sweetheart financial deal for an individual religious organization.

Once outed, neither Santorum nor Kennedy defended their attempt to get CUA a discount at the expense of veterans, because they had no leg to stand on. Instead, they agreed to amend the law.

The right result would have been to open the bidding to every potential buyer, and to let the Home take the offer of the highest bidder. Instead, a bidding process was instituted wherein CUA obtained the right of first refusal on any "high" bid.

In the end, CUA got a deal, but not nearly the deal Santorum and Kennedy would have underwritten. And this is the one sweetheart deal we discovered. One can only cringe, wondering just what financial privileges for the Church Santorum and Kennedy have managed to push through, during their years in the Senate.

Once again, though, the public good was simply not a factor in Santorum's method of "governance." If the Church needs anything, apparently, he is its good soldier, regardless of national values, such as the value of honoring the valiant vets who staked their lives on preserving our precious freedoms.

That is a betrayal of what the Framers believed was most necessary in a good representative: a virtuous character that seeks the best for the entire country, not for any one faction or political ambition.

Intelligent Design as a "Science": Santorum's Attempt to Have Religion Taught in Our Public Schools

Santorum even presaged the conservative trend in his own Church. Recently, Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schonborn announced, with the Pope's approval, that evolution is inconsistent with Catholic theology. At the time, Santorum was already pushing to get creationism - or, as it is now known, "intelligent design" -- added to the public school curriculum.

When the No Child Left Behind Act was being considered, Santorum introduced an amendment that would have required a discussion of what he called the "continuing controversy" over biological evolution, as part of the public school biology curriculum. In other words, he was interested in introducing what is in fact a religious belief, into the teaching of hard sciences to all American students. While other representatives worried about the knowledge gap between our students and other science students around the world, Santorum aimed to widen it by teaching religion in place of science. Despite his efforts, the amendment did not pass.

The Problem with Santorum: Choosing a Religious Agenda Over the Public Good

Of course, there are many other arenas where Santorum has pursued the Catholic agenda at the highest levels. In 1996, he approved $75 million on "abstinence-only" education -- which is nothing but education in religious values, utterly divorced from social reality. All unbiased studies are showing that abstinence-only education does not reduce teenage pregnancy or sex - but it does reduce teenagers' knowledge of critical information, such as how to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS.

In addition, Santorum co-sponsored the so-called "Workplace Religious Freedom Act," which gives workers the right, in their jobs, to refuse to sell products regarding which they have moral objections. For example, pharmacists - though they are licensed professionals -- could refuse to sell birth control, and to sell emergency contraception solely on the basis of the pharmacist's beliefs and regardless of the patient's beliefs. According to Santorum's view, even a rape victim should not be able to avail herself of the "morning after" pill or, later, RU-486.

Santorum also voted to ban abortion on all military bases - once again, regardless of the beliefs of the soldier, who typically has no other medical options while serving in the military.

Santorum is a representative, that's for sure. The question is, for whom?

It is certain that he is not the independent-thinking sort of representative the Framers hoped would be serving in government - the kind who would put the common good above any one faction's demands.

The irony in all this is that Santorum has just published a book entitled, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. His record indicates that he is hardly an expert on that latter term.


Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. An archive of her columns on church/state issues - as well as other topics -- can be found on this site. Her email address is Hamilton02@aol.com. Professor Hamilton's most recent work is God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press 2005).

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