Rick Santorum: Getting Ready for the Fight?

 

Deacon Keith Fournier

 
  12/4/2009
 

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) – I was returning from a workout. On the way to the gym I listened to the soundtrack from Rocky III to prepare myself. On the way back, I listened to it again to keep my enthusiasm for the day. I am a huge “Rocky” fan. At 55 years old I am feeling strong again because I am working out again. And, yes, I said “Rocky III”; I am a huge fan of the movie. It is the classic “fight back against all obstacles” film set in the motif of boxing, a metaphor for the struggles life brings.

The music from the soundtrack has helped me over the years to get back to the gym, the track,the Martial Arts dojo... and face other more serious challenges. I guess I am a bit, shall we say “schmaltzy”? However, I follow what I call the “Popeye principle” as I age. Those old enough to remember the cartoon character remember what he always said, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am”. Part of what I am is a fighter and I admire fighters, in every sphere. I turned the corner into my neighborhood just as the refrain to Frank Stallone’s song, “Pushin…getting ready for the fight” came over the speakers. I began to sing along and for the rest of the morning it ran through my head.

Upon entering the office I opened my laptop and read the news that former Senator Rick Santorum was heading to South Carolina on the heels of his recent Iowa trip. I got excited. It lends credence to the suspicion that he is running for the Presidency in 2012. I see a Santorum Presidential campaign within the “Rocky” Motif. After all, Rick is a tremendous fighter for children in the womb. He has won elections, and he has lost, but like every real fighter he gets back up. He also turns losses into teachable moments. We need a fighter!

I have great respect for former Senator Santorum's faith, his family, his gifts, his ability and his dedication. I can't help but reflect on the contrast between Rick’s approach and the approach of Patrick Kennedy to living and integrating their Catholic faith in their public service in political life. It comes down to fidelity. No faithful Catholic can call abortion a “private or personal choice.” Procured abortion is an objectively evil act, the killing of an innocent human person, a child. It is a violation of the Natural law and it should not be protected by the positive law of our Nation or any Nation.

No faithful Catholic can claim to care about the poor and defend abortion as a “choice.” Mother Teresa was absolutely correct in reminding us that they are the “poorest of the poor”. Any Catholic who supports the killing of these poor by hiding behind Orwellian language such as “choice”, “privacy”, or “personal decision”is morally incoherent. They should repent and return back to the truth or be voted out of office and replaced. We all know the truth. We operate on these children in the womb and place them back in their first home until they are delivered. We prosecute people who in the commission of another recognized crime kill them. Our medical science has confirmed what our conscience and the Natural Law - written on every human heart - long ago revealed, these children are our neighbors and it is always wrong to kill innocent neighbors.

The last time I saw Rick Santorum was at the Catholic Leadership Conference in Florida. I have known him for years and even served as the Deacon at the parish which he and his family attended in the 90’s. He is a wonderful man and would make a great President. He has tremendous courage, an attribute desperately needed in this desperate hour. I was there many years ago in the Senate Chamber when the Senator was defending our first neighbors in the womb against being partially delivered and having their heads crushed through the infanticide called “partial birth abortion.”

He spoke with passion that day, confronting the empty words of an opponent who was actually defending the brutal procedure. Pointing to a picture of a baby being delivered he proclaimed “This is a baby Senator!” At that very moment a baby cried, filling the chamber with the sounds of life and delivering the most poignant defense of the truth about life I have ever heard. I will never forget the moment.

Over the years I have known the Senator we have not always agreed on every issue but we have on the ones which matter most. His stalwart defense of life has been an inspiration. He has improved with age as a communicator. His plenary address at the conference was outstanding. His willingness to take questions and give such solid yet spontaneous answers added to the presentation. He is comfortable “in his skin” and has the communications skills of a true leader. I asked the last question of the night and his honest answer caused quite a response the next day in the Press. It had to do with his future plans.Would he consider running for the Presidency? His response indicated he was giving it serious consideration. The travel schedule I read about today confirmed my hopes.

I then began my daily review of news sources online and found his recent editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled “The Elephant in the Room: Catholics must heed teachings" Here are some excerpts:

“The health-care debate has provided its share of teachable moments. The one at hand has little to do with health care. The catalyst, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, supports government-guaranteed health care. However, its support hinges on an amendment barring government funding of abortions. The bishops' stance infuriated Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D., R.I.). "You mean to tell me the Catholic Church is going to be denying those people lifesaving health care? I thought they were pro-life," he told the Catholic News Service.

"Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., pointed out that the bishops do support lifesaving health care for all - including the unborn. Kennedy countered that his support for legal abortion doesn't make him "any less of a Catholic," because the Catholic faith "acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity." Tobin realized that Kennedy was no longer arguing about health policy, but rather about what it means to be Catholic. Unlike some bishops, this protégé of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua did not let Kennedy's distortion go unchallenged. "If you don't accept the teachings of the church, your communion with the church is flawed," he wrote in an open letter to Kennedy last month, "or, in your own words, makes you 'less of a Catholic.' " Tobin then turned to the real issue: What makes one a Catholic? Baptism? Family? Culture?

"More than that, Tobin said. Being a Catholic "means that you believe and accept the teachings of the church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the church personally, publicly, spiritually, and financially." Simply put, the church has membership requirements. Kennedy is free to reject them. What he is not free to do is redefine them for himself and condemn the church for not accepting his definition.

"But can't what Kennedy calls our "imperfect humanity" lead Catholics to support legal abortion? Tobin made short work of this political philosophizing. Our "imperfect humanity" refers to our common struggles with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity, or dishonesty, the bishop said. "Your rejection of the church's teaching on abortion falls into a different category. It's a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you've reaffirmed on many occasions."

"Kennedy and other politicians have an obligation to review any conflict with the church's core moral teachings with their bishop and determine if it's so grave as to require their leaving either public office or the church. A letter Tobin wrote to Kennedy in 2007 indicated that the bishop felt the matter was grave enough that he should not present himself for Communion. On MSNBC's Hardball, Tobin was more emphatic: "The point is that any Catholic in public office - his first commitment has to be to his faith ... because it involves your relationship with God," he told Chris Matthews. "And if ... your job gets in the way of your faith, ... you need to quit your job and save your soul. Nothing can become more important than your relationship with God."

"In a recent attempt to defend Kennedy, Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Bucks County said, "We don't legislate at the orders of the Vatican; we legislate what is in our conscience and what we think is good for our country." I agree. But in 16 years as a Catholic in public office, I never received an order from the Vatican or any clergyman.

"I also agree with Murphy - as does the catechism - that Catholics must be true to their consciences. But that is not a free-floating guide that we can define ourselves. A Catholic is required to form his conscience in accordance with the church's teachings on faith and reason, and to act in a morally coherent and consistent way, both privately and publicly.

"Finally, the church maintains that there is a natural law that forms the basic moral foundation of society and that can be known through the exercise of reason. Thus, a Catholic public official with a well-formed conscience can arrive at correct moral conclusions not by faith, but by reason.”

****

Perhaps my readers can, by reading part of this editorial written by Senator Rick Santorum, get a glimpse of the reason I am excited about the prospects of his candidacy. I wish I could just ask him “Rick…. Are you ‘pushin…getting ready for the fight?”

Well, I guess I just did.