Rick Santorum, a proudly letter-of-the-canon-law kind of Catholic, was once a good bit more relaxed in the practice of his natal faith, according to a profile of the Republican presidential hopeful’s religious journey that appears in today’s New York Times.

Reporters Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Laurie Goodstein attribute the hardening of Santorum’s religious beliefs to his relationship with his father-in-law, Dr. Kenneth L. Garver, a physician and father of 11. Garver’s daughter, Karen, who went on to marry Santorum, apparently went through something of a rebellious period: as a young woman, she was romantically involved with a doctor who performed abortions who was many years her senior. But when she married the man who would go on to become a congressman and then a U.S. senator, her rebellious days came to a close.

From Stolberg and Goodstein’s article:

The Santorums’ beliefs are reflected in a succession of lifestyle decisions, including eschewing birth control, home schooling their younger children and sending the older boys to a private academy affiliated with Opus Dei, an influential Catholic movement that emphasizes spiritual holiness.

That description of Opus Dei kind of snapped my head back for a minute. Opus Dei is essentially a secret society of laypeople whose members generally hail from among society’s higher ranks, affording the organization a degree of temporal power not typical of your everyday prayer circle. Stark distinctions are made regarding the roles played by the sexes.

There are various strata of membership in Opus Dei. For instance, married people, known as supernumeraries, play a different role from the single people, called numeraries, who live in Opus Dei housing. Here’s a bit from an article about Opus Dei that appeared in the Jesuit magazine, America, in 1995:

According to two former numeraries, women numeraries are required to clean the men’s centers and cook for them. When the women arrive to clean, they explained, the men vacate so as not to come in contact with the women. I asked [Opus Dei spokesperson] Bill Schmitt if women had a problem with this. “No. Not at all.” It is a paid work of the “family” of Opus Dei and is seen as an apostolate. The women more often than not hire others to do the cooking and cleaning. “They like doing it. It’s not forced on them. It’s one thing that’s open to them if they want to do it. They don’t have to do it.”

“That’s totally wrong,” said Ann Schweninger when she heard that last statement. “I had no choice. When in Opus Dei you’re asked, you’re being told.” According to Ms. Schweninger [a former Opus Dei member], it is “bad spirit” to refuse. Women are told that it is important to have a love for things of the home and domestic duties. “And since that’s part of the spirit of Opus Dei, to refuse to do that when you’re asked is bad spirit. So nobody refuses.”

In other words, no home ec classes for the Santorum boys.

The Santorums, of course, are entitled to practice their religion as they see fit — an entitlement, if you will, that is one of those things that truly does make America great. The problem is, Rick Santorum thinks you should live by his religious beliefs, too. In a chilling Washington Post Outlook piece, Sarah Posner imagines what Santorum’s America would look like.

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