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Rick Santorum’s Opus Dei Catholicism

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

In a recent post I explored the influence of the teachings of  Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer on GOP Presidential contender Rick Santorum. I warned that circumstantial evidence and the candidate’s own past statements suggested a strong identification with the secretive, ultra-traditionalist sect, Opus Dei, which Escriva founded.

The Washington Post now confirms much – and a great deal more – of what many of us have suspected all along.

I recently posted about Santorum’s connection to Opus Dei and some of Escriva’s teachings.  He is apparently not a member, but a “cooperator” — a designation for someone who supports the secretive organization’s goals of a more theocratic society built upon a foundation of ultra-orthodox Catholic notions of morality.  I wondered, how far does Santorum’s admiration for Opus Dei’s founder extend to his vision for America?

The Post suggests that the answer is very far indeed. The paper reported, for example, that Opus Dei paid for Santorum’s 2002 trip to Rome for a celebration of Escriva’s 100th birthday. He was accompanied by none other than Opus Dei evangelist, Rev. C. John McCloskey.  The future presidential contender used the occasion to launch his first attack on JFK’s 1960 campaign speech on the separation of church and state.

The Post also surfaces other important aspects of McCloskey’s relationship with the ambitious pol.  For example, “McCloskey enlisted Santorum’s help in converting then-Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to Catholicism.”   The relationship has continued, as Santorum also met with McCloskey the day before last week’s Illinois presidential primary.

In a previous post (here and in The Public Eye , I’ve discussed McCloskey’s divisive nature. He pines for a Church that has eliminated moderate and liberal faithful, who would be replaced by former conservative protestant converts. He further envisions a United States torn asunder by a secessionist movement bent on creating a separate theocracy.

The Post portrays a man who is deeply influenced by the Opus Dei founder:

During Senate debates about abortion, Santorum told the audience in Rome, he hears Escriva telling him that “it is not true that there is opposition between being a good Catholic and serving civil society faithfully.” In his public fight to uphold “absolute truths,” Santorum said, “blessed Josemaria guides my way.”

“‘As long as you are making straight for your goal, head and heart intoxicated with God, why worry… ?’” Santorum said, quoting Escriva, according to a transcript of the speech.

In my last post on this subject, I reviewed several of Escriva’s more troubling teachings – his condescending view of public education; his distrust of liberty and his call for his followers to be secretive about their dealings with Opus Dei.  Perhaps of greatest concern was his admonition that his followers should “Get rid of those scruples that deprive you of peace” – especially in light of Santorum’s gross mischaracterizations of President Obama’s call for Americans to pursue some form of higher education. And then there are Santorum’s repeated attempts to disingenuously paint JFK as a president who had no tolerance for people of faith in the public square.

Santorum is not stupid. He had to have known that president wasn’t being “a snob” about higher education or that the first Catholic president did want to exclude religious principles from public debate.

These are acts of demagoguery, perhaps  made in accordance with Escriva’s admonition to “put aside those scruples.”

Now the Good News

The New York Times reports that Santorum is losing the Republican Catholic vote to the more ideologically amorphous Mitt Romney.

Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has trailed Mr. Romney among Catholics in 10 of the 12 states in which Edison Research conducted exit polls that asked about religion.

With two exceptions, he has lost the Catholic vote by a minimum of 7 percentage points (in Michigan, where Mr. Romney grew up) and by as much as 53 percentage points in Massachusetts, where Mr. Romney was governor. He has even lost among Catholics in the South, although he was nearly tied with Mr. Romney among Catholics in Tennessee and won decisively among Catholics in Louisiana.

Why is that? I suspect that even many socially conservative Catholics are put off by Santorum’s often-strident tone. As one Maryland primary voter told Times  reporter Katherine Seelye, “I feel Governor Romney is more willing to tolerate different views and values, and the president of the United States has to accept and respect the right of every American to believe as they will.”  Perhaps some are put off by Santorum’s rejection of certain Catholic principles. Santorum embraces, for example,  the evangelical notion of creationism, a teaching that the Vatican rejects in favor of evolution.

But while Santorum’s path to the Republican presidential nomination is questionable, he may gain enough support to land a spot on the GOP ticket, or play a role in a Romney administration.

It is, therefore, more than reasonable for voters to ask themselves if they want an Opus Dei cooperator to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Apparently, most Republican Catholic voters, the Catholics who know Santorum and Opus Dei best, have already answered that question for themselves. How the conservative evangelical element of the electorate answers the question, may be different.

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