Rick Santorum, Cafeteria Catholic

Sen. Rick Santorum has never been a particularly representative U.S. Catholic when it comes to social and political issues. He’s towards the far right wing of the “traditionalist” faction of Catholics, which is a distinct if influential minority (influential because they are relative observant and more importantly in tune with much of the hierarchy). I’d say on economic issues Santorum has always flirted with heresy insofar as his strictly-limited-government shtick and devotion to private property rights are pretty hard to square with papal doctrine going back at least to Leo XIII.

But up until this Pope, Santorum didn’t have to fear that his POV could at any minute be repudiated by the Supreme Pontiff, in emphatic and even colorful terms. But now ol’ Rick is clearly feeling off-balance, per this report from TPM’s Brendan James:

Ex-senator and onetime GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum has nearly reached his wits end after yet another statement by Pope Francis that has rankled conservatives.

In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday, Santorum appeared baffled by recent remarks by the Pope suggesting that faithful Catholics need not procreate “like rabbits.”

“Sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope and some of the things he says off the cuff, and this is one of them,” Santorum, a professed Catholic, said.

“When he speaks as the leader of the Catholic Church, I’ll certainly pay attention,” the former senator continued. “But when he speaks in interviews, he’s giving his own opinions, which I certainly will listen to, but from my perspective, that doesn’t reflect the idea that people shouldn’t be fruitful and multiply, and that people should be open to life as something that is a core value of the faith and of the Catholic Church.”

Santorum went on to repeat several times, “I don’t know what the Pope was referring to here.”

Liberal Catholics should have pity on Santorum and give him a little tutorial on what it’s like to fear thunderbolts from the Vatican, or to search for ways to distinguish “infallible teachings ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals” from less binding papal pronouncements–not to mention the experience of being mocked as a “cafeteria Catholic.” The alternative for Santorum and people who think like him is to insist implicitly or explicitly that they are more Catholic than the Pope.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.