Santorum Not Familiar with Catholic Teaching About the Poor

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I generally think questions sprung on candidates to name such-and-such country’s leader or to identify a text from their religious scripture are unfair gotchas that don’t tell us much of substance. But this interchange at the Values Voters Summit between Rick Santorum and a Catholic member of the progressive group Faith in Public Life is different. That’s because Santorum is such an uber-Catholic that it sometimes seems he could best the Pope in a pop quiz on Catholicism. And yet in this video, he appears to be genuinely unfamiliar with the phrase “preferential option for the poor.”

The Catholic principle of always considering the needs of the poor first is all over Catholic social teaching. It’s such a key tenet that it was one of the first concepts I learned in a graduate course on Catholic social thought and teaching. So the folks at Faith in Public Life perked up when they heard Santorum go after Rick Perry on immigration policy in a debate last month: “Why should they [illegal immigrants] be given preferential treatment?”

In fact, the Catholic bishops make no distinction between legal and illegal immigrants in Faithful Citizenship, the guide for Catholics that they recently reaffirmed and re-released (emphasis mine): “The preferential option for the poor includes all who are marginalized in our nation and beyond.”

Santorum is just the latest Catholic Republican to find himself on the defensive about whether the policies he embraces conflict with the Catholicism he espouses. If I were Newt Gingrich, I’d be wary of young Catholics armed with Bibles and video cameras.

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