Religious Biography profile-santorum

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum was raised in a Catholic family that settled in Butler, Pa., when Santorum was a child. Santorum’s parents, who both worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs, required their three children to attend Mass every week. “You had to basically be dead not to go” to church, Santorum said in a 2005 interview with The New York Times.

After graduating from Penn State University, Santorum earned graduate degrees in business and law and practiced as a private attorney before winning a Pennsylvania seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990. Santorum represented Pennsylvania in Congress, first as a representative and later as a senator, from 1991 to 2007.

America was the belief in every person being given rights by God, using those rights to serve Him and to serve our country, to serve their fellow men. Because, in fact, we are our brother’s keepers.

– Rick Santorum speaking in a May 2011 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network

Santorum said in a 2005 interview with The Washington Post that when he first met his wife, Karen Garver Santorum, neither was particularly devoted to their shared Catholic faith. But the couple’s courtship fostered a stronger religious commitment: “Maybe we were the sun in each other’s lives that caused the seed to germinate,” he said.

Santorum and his wife have seven children. In 1997, Karen Santorum gave birth to another child who had been diagnosed with a fatal birth defect and died shortly after birth. In his 2005 book, It Takes a Family, Santorum tied his and his wife’s decision not to terminate the pregnancy to his advocacy against abortion, writing, “[I]nstead of giving our child a death sentence we gave him a name: Gabriel Michael, after the two great archangels.” In 2004, Santorum and his wife were elected to the Order of Malta, a Catholic religious lay order. The Santorums attend services at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls, Va.

While serving in Congress, Santorum became known for his social conservatism rooted in his Catholic faith. According to The Washington Post and The New York Times, he organized a Catholic study group for GOP members of Congress and regularly attended Mass at Catholic churches in the District of Columbia and Virginia. In his book It Takes a Family, Santorum mentions God frequently, champions “the traditional Judeo-Christian worldview” and supports the idea that religious organizations, not government, should provide social services. Santorum also is a vocal opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, which he described in a 2008 Pew Forum interview as “a dramatic departure from the Judeo-Christian ethic that … marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman.”

In 2002, Santorum wrote an essay for the Web magazine Catholic Online criticizing liberalism in the city of Boston for contributing to the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. “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,” Santorum wrote. “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.”

Santorum’s essay also called on church leadership to “fight against an array of ‘isms’ – moral relativism, cultural liberalism – inside and outside of the Church” and encouraged Catholic laity to “reclaim our nominally Catholic colleges, schools, hospitals and social welfare agencies for the sake of our souls. … Many Catholic social service agencies, while serving the human needs, have been co-opted by a secular culture.” Santorum later was criticized for his essay by several Massachusetts politicians, including Sen. John Kerry, then-Gov. Mitt Romney and then-U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.

In March 2011, before he announced his presidential candidacy, Santorum criticized a speech by John F. Kennedy in which Kennedy, seeking to ease public fears about his Catholic faith during the 1960 presidential election, told a gathering of the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” According to The Boston Globe, Santorum said he was “appalled” by Kennedy’s statement, arguing that it caused “great damage” and condemning how “Catholic politicians, following the first Catholic president, have followed his lead, and have divorced faith not just from the public square, but from their own decision-making process.” In a May 2011 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Santorum further discussed Kennedy’s speech, concluding Kennedy’s statement “was the wrong message at the wrong time.”

Published on November 8, 2011