National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 14, 2004

Endorsement exposes faulty logic

With his enthusiastic endorsement of pro-choice stalwart Arlen Specter, R-Pa., pro-life champion Rick Santorum, R-Pa., has, arguably, done more for the cause of abortion rights than either Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Tom Daschle, D-S.D., or John Kerry, D-Mass., will ever be able to achieve.

Whatever one’s view of Specter or his pro-life opponent Pat Toomey, Santorum’s pivotal role in the primary election battle does us all a favor by exposing the faulty logic of those who would use the sacraments to punish pro-choice Catholic politicians.

A little background: Specter, a four-term senator increasingly out-of-step with his party on social issues, faced a surprisingly strong challenge from Toomey, a social and fiscal conservative. Specter was strongly backed by President Bush and the national Republican political apparatus, fearful that Toomey would be a weak general election candidate at a time when continuing Republican control of the Senate is a top priority. Santorum, a leading conservative Catholic legislator, to considerable criticism from his supporters, opted to endorse Specter over Toomey, Santorum’s ideological brother. More than a few pro-lifers and self-proclaimed “faithful Catholics” saw Santorum’s endorsement as a betrayal. And that same betrayal would, of course, go for Bush.

Santorum’s and Bush’s support proved critical in Specter’s razor-thin margin of victory.

Santorum apologists offered a tortured analysis in an attempt to prove that the senator’s endorsement actually serves the antiabortion cause. Given that Specter will likely inherit the chairmanship of Senate Judiciary Committee (a key battleground in the fight over pro-choice or pro-life judicial nominees) should he win in November, few right-to-lifers found the explanation satisfactory.

What is clear, however, is that Santorum’s endorsement served his short-term political interests. To party stalwarts, he proves that he is a team player, a highly valued virtue in the Bush administration. Plus, as a member of the Senate leadership, the ambitious Santorum had little choice, short of political suicide, but to endorse his pro-choice home state senior senator.

Bottom line: Santorum’s parochial political interests combined with the very real prospect of Republicans losing the Senate outweighed the theoretical prospect of furthering abortion rights.

So, as often happens in politics, pragmatism trumped principle.

Now, contrast Santorum’s actions with those of a pro-choice legislator who truly believes the abortion issue belongs outside the political arena. What’s worse from a pro-life point of view -- placing a pro-choice senator in charge of the Senate Judiciary Committee or casting one of the scores of votes in Congress against, for example, the ban on partial-birth abortion?

Any honest pro-life advocate will tell you it’s not even close.

So should Santorum’s bishop deny him Communion for the “manifest grave sin” of endorsing the senior Republican senator from Pennsylvania over the pro-life alternative?

To ask the question, it seems, is to answer it. Santorum’s endorsement -- even if he believes that Specter’s chairmanship will further the cause of legal abortion -- clearly falls within an area reserved for his “prudential judgment.” He’s a senator, after all, not a theologian.

The circular-firing-squad mentality infecting too many conservative Catholics and a number of bishops should stop now. Before it is too late.

National Catholic Reporter, May 14, 2004

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