This is the best piece
I've seen on our new Republican superstar. As you might have guessed, Rick Santorum has a history of corruption as long and rich as that of any other politician.
I can guess your two-word response: Ho
. You expected as much.
Still, check out the article. I think you'll learn about scandals previously unfamiliar to you -- fake charities, misappropriations of funds, livin' large off the taxpayer teat, the K Street project, and all of the rest of it. Like most other Republicans, Santorum seems to define "morality" purely in terms of how one should and should not use one's wee-wee. Ethicists have no business talking about money.
The following paragraph deserves special attention:
Santorum has frequently insisted that his political values are guided by his religious values, and that John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech describing a separtion between the two had done "much harm" in America. But despite inviting such scrutiny, there's been little discussion of Santorum's ties to ultra-conservative movements within the Roman Catholic Church Santorum's comments about JFK were made in Rome in 2002 when he spoke at a 100th birthday event for Jose Maria Escrivade Balaguer, founder of the secretive group within the church known as Opus Dei. Although Santorum says he is not a member of Opus Dei -- which has been criticized by some for alleged cult-like qualities and ties to ultra-conservative regimes around the world -- he did receive written permission to attend the ultra-conservative St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls, Va., where Mass is still conducted in Latin and a long-time priest and many parishioners are members of Opus Dei, mingling with political conservatives like Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and former FBI director Louis Freeh.
Time for a long digression. I promise to bring this post back to Santorum eventually. Until then, bear with me.
Many view the Catholic Church as a monolith. Most Americans think that Catholics are Robots From Rome who all think, act and worship in the same way.
Nonsense. There is far, far
greater room for variety, even creativity, within Roman Catholicism than you'll find within, say, the Southern Baptist tradition. True, Rome tries to keep its worldwide flock on the same page concerning the most basic issues of theology. But I think it's a losing battle.
Take, for example, the issue of keeping abortion legal: Within American Catholicism, opinion is split almost 50-50, a division which roughly mirrors the divergence besetting the country as a whole, give or take a few percentage points. By contrast, roughly 90 percent of Baptists insist on reversing Roe vs. Wade.
You'll never see the equivalent of a Karl Rahner or an Archbishop Romero within any fundamentalist or evangelical Protestant denomination. There are many Catholics who question the literal truth of the Bible, and some even view the Gospel story itself as a kind of divine metaphor. Even a conservative Catholic scholar like Luke Timothy Johnson can admit, grudgingly, that the New Testament contains contradictions, historically problematic material, and iffy Greek grammar. Evangelicals never allow themselves to state that obvious fact.
Politically, there have been communist Catholics and Nazi Catholics and everything-in-between Catholics. This country has Catholics who call themselves Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals. Any political ism you can think of will have at least a few Cat-lick representatives.
But the fact that Catholicism contains both liberal and conservative wings should not blind us to the fact that the Church's conservative faction is freaky
. And scary.
Alas, the ultra-conservatives have learned that they can get their way by continually threatening to leave the Church -- a threat they mutter under their breath while braying about their devotion to the papacy.
Most of you have not heard of the sedevacantist
movement. Those of you who know the word probably learned about it from profiles of Mel Gibson, the world's most famous sedevacantist.
That impressive-sounding Latin term means "vacant seat." Sedevacantists think that the seat of St. Peter has been vacant since Vatican II, and possibly since the election of John XXIII. (The splitters differ on just when the rot set in.) What about those popes we've seen in recent decades? They're really anti-popes. False leaders. Freemasonic conspirators. Maybe even outright Devil worshipers.
I'm not kidding. That's what sedevacantists like Mel Gibson believe.
(Does Gibson still think this way? I heard that he has been going through some weird shit lately. Something about a Russian woman. I haven't been keeping up.)
Bill O'Reilly made me giggle when he interviewed Gibson around the time The Passion of the Christ
came out. O'Reilly kept going on and on about how much the Pope (supposedly) loved the movie, while Gibson kept squirming and trying to change the topic. The director didn't want to harm boxoffice receipts by saying anything about the Pope being a freemasonic diabolist. For those in the know, O'Reilly's display of cluelessness was freakin' hilarious
Here's the really funny part: Sedevacantists like Gibson broke from the Church because they disagreed with the Vatican II ruling that non-Catholics can go to heaven. The schismatics have many other complaints, especially concerning the Latin Mass. But what the ultra-conservatives really demand is a "No Prots allowed"
sign over the gates to paradise.
(Also "No Jews Allowed
." But that goes without saying.)
The protestant fundamentalists who made Gibson wealthy still don't understand that Mel Gibson thinks they're going to hell. He broke with Rome because Rome declared that protestants are not
going to hell, at least not necessarily. Sedevacantists will not tolerate tolerance.
High Weirdness abounds in the realm of the schismatics. Like protestant fundamentalists, they love miracle stories and conspiracy theories. For example, the schismatics think that Vatican conspirators killed Fatima visionary Lucia dos Santos in 1959 and replaced her with an imposter
. Spain has a rather impressive schismatic movement known as the Palmarian Catholic Church, run by Pope Gregory XVIII, who speaks with Jesus and the Virgin Mary
on a regular basis. The Palmarians don't call themselves sedevacantists, since they believe that the seat has been re-occupied.
You may now be wondering: What does all of this have to do with Santorum? Is he
No. But here's the thing: The schismatic movement, though numerically small, wields great power as a lingering threat. Conservative Catholics never come right out and say to the pontiff: "Any more of this liberalization crap and we will schism so fast your little white beanie will spin." But the possibility is always there.
That's why the Vatican puts up with behavior which once would have been considered beyond the pale. Rome does not
want to see further schisms. The threat of a widening breakaway movement is the primary reason why we cannot expect to see any changes regarding, say, the ordination of women. Not within our lifetime.
The traditionalist parish of St. Catherine of Siena, in Great Falls, insists on a Latin Mass, as do the schismatics and the Lefebvrists. Opus Dei members are not necessarily traditionalists -- that is, many of them will attend Mass in the vernacular. Nevertheless, there is enormous overlap between Opus Dei and the traditionalist movement.
Opus Dei members are not schismatic -- indeed, they would claim to be the Pope's most fervent defenders. Moreover, sedevacantists are as paranoid about Opus Dei
as they are about everything else.
Nevertheless, all of these strains -- Opus Dei, the Lefebvrists, the traditionalists, the sedevacantists, the Palmarians -- arose out of the mondo bizarro weltanschauung of Catholic ultraconservatism. Although these groups and subgroups bicker among themselves, they resemble each other more than their adherents may care to admit.
An unnerving strain of anti-Semitism occasionally surfaces within the traditionalist community. For example, traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson was excommunicated after he declared that the Holocaust never happened
. In 2009, Williamson was reinstated -- a show of leniency which, I suspect, owes much to the threat of schism.
Williamson belongs to the Lefebvrist faction, known as SSPX (Society of St. Pius X). This is the best-known traditionalist group. There is some debate as to whether Archbishop Lefebvre effected a proper schism, but he did state that Rome had "lost the faith." Pope Benedict has tried to bring SSPX back within the fold:
The answer, of course, is that Benedict and his associates simply misjudged the degree of extremism and manic conspiracy theory circulating in the SSPX. The sect's eccentricity went further than simply holding quirky or reactionary views. Lefebvre and his immediate circle reacted radically and fundamentally to the Vatican's 1960s reformism. Theirs was not simply suspicion of modern decadence, but rather a fundamental belief in the evil forces subverting the modern world -- which included the Jews.
Pope Benedict erred in seeing the Lefebvrists as simple traditionalists or reactionaries whose views slotted into the right wing of the acceptable European political spectrum. Some, at least, were far more extreme, and the Vatican's attempted embrace of them will probably cause lasting damage both inside the church, and in relations with other faiths.
Some Lefebvrists consider Opus Dei too squishy-secular and modernistic -- a view which will surprise those observers who consider members of Opus Dei (yes, the same folks you read about in The Da Vinci Code
) to be downright medieval in their thinking.
When Rick Santorum decried the separation of church and state, he spoke at a function honoring Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei. (I refuse to call him a saint, although the Church has canonized him, mostly as a sop to the far right.) Many writers have alleged that Escrivá favored the fascist dictators Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet, although some Escrivá apologists now claim that Franco mounted fierce attacks on the Opus Dei movement. (Both statements may be true.) From Wikipedia:
During Escrivá's beatification process, Monsignor Vladimir Felzmann, who had been Escrivá's personal assistant before Felzmann left Opus Dei and became a priest in the Archdiocese of Westminster and an aide to Basil Cardinal Hume, sent several letters to Fr. Flavio Capucci, the postulator (i.e., chief promoter) of Escrivá's cause. In his letters, Msgr. Felzmann claimed to have personally witnessed Escrivá make controversial statements in defense of Adolf Hitler. The alleged statements by Escrivá include: "Vlad, Hitler couldn't have been such a bad person. He couldn't have killed six million. It couldn't have been more than four million", and "Hitler against the Jews, Hitler against the Slavs, this means Hitler against communism"... Msgr. Felzmann claimed that Escrivá made those remarks to him in 1967 or 1968, in Rome, during the intermission to a World War II-themed movie. Felzmann has also said that these remarks should be put in the context of Catholic anti-communism in Spain, and said that all of the male members of Opus Dei (who then numbered about fifty) volunteered in 1941 to join the "Blue Division", a group of Spanish and Portuguese volunteers who joined the German forces in their fight against the Soviet Army, along the eastern front.
Although Opus Dei denies that Escrivá ever said these words, I can't think of any reason for Felzmann to have lied.
Is there really that
much difference between Rick Santorum and Bishop Williamson?