[Updated] On Piers Morgan, Rick Santorum Gets it 98% Right – But That 2% Matters

Rick Santorum did a great job last night in his interview with Piers Morgan on CNN. He had to deal with some stupid questions (“How are you going to make yourself sexy on the national stage?”) and rude, gotcha questions: (“How would you feel if one of your sons turned around one day and said, ‘Dad, I’m gay’?”) but Rick handled even these jabs articulately and with grace.

On two crucial points, however, Rick Santorum just got it wrong. And this is distressing because he’s running as the Catholic candidate in this race.

First point:

MORGAN: So, you must have a view about whether homosexuality is a sin. I think if American people want to vote for you either way as president, they are entitled to know an honest answer to a straightforward question. You did invite me to ask you any question I liked.

SANTORUM: Yes, I did. And, of course, the Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is a sin. I’m Catholic and subscribe to the Catholic Church’s teaching…

But the Church does not teach that homosexuality as an orientation is a sin. It teaches that homosexual acts are sins. This is a crucial distinction — one that Santorum should understand by now, having debated it so much in the public square. The Church teaches that someone who experiences same-sex attraction is not “evil” because of that attraction alone; someone who commits homosexual acts, however, is gravely endangering their soul. All people are loved by God, and precisely because they are loved by God they are called to do what is worthy of themselves and pleasing to Him, including observe His commandments, because only they lead to happiness and human flourishing.

Second point:

MORGAN: …You don’t believe, like many Republicans, there should be any occasions in which abortion is permissible and yet you have been as a family in two situations where I would imagine it has been suggested to you that it was on option on both occasions.

SANTORUM: It was suggested on both occasions. I do make one exception for the life of the mother. But other than the life of a mother where you have two lives and the government shouldn’t involve itself in the choice between two lives. But other than that, I do believe that life begins at conception…

Wrong again. There is simply no exception to the precept that one may never intentionally take an innocent life. Period. Catholic moral theology which, yes, has thought this precise question through exhaustively does hold that one can tolerate the death of an innocent unborn child if it is an unintended consequence of saving the life of the mother and if the death of the child is not the direct means by which the mother is saved.

Again, I expect almost no one to understand these points completely, unless of course you are a proudly Catholic public figure, campaigning on your Catholic identity and moral values, having argued ethical postions for years in the highest chambers of our country. Rick Santorum is such a person. He’s done more to protect innocent human life in this country and to defend the good of marriage than most anyone I can name … all of which holds him to the highest standard when it comes to getting such basic points not mostly right, not sorta right, completely right.

If what the Church teaches is going to be presented in the fullness of its truth to the American public, individuals who fully embrace that teaching must practice, practice, practice until they can articulate those truths without confusing or compromising them.

I continue to wish Rick Santorum all the best in his run for President, which includes for me pointing out the rare occasion when he fails to present his Catholic faith as well as he could and should, especially on the foundational issues of human sexuality and dignity.

UPDATE: Josh and some readers think I’m being too hard on Santorum and splitting hairs. That’s entirely possible because I’ll freely admit it’s more frustrating for me to see someone get 98% right and goof up the last 2% than to see someone clearly have no idea how to answer the question in the first place. So here are two simple points of advice to avoid running into this common problem, especially when someone finds themselves in a sound bite situation like this one:

  • Whenever asked if the Church says that homosexuality is evil, respond that “the Church teaches that all people are loved by God, but that some acts, like homosexual acts, are sinful.” Don’t follow a leading line of questioning, in other words, which attempts to paint your views in an exclusively negative light right from the start. Always claim the good for your side - compassion, love, dignity, calling people to be their best selves. These things are ours. Own them!
  • Whenever asked if the Church forbids exceptions to abortion in all cases, respond that “the Church upholds the dignity and right to life of all persons, without exception.” Force them to explain why such a position is wrong. Force them to argue that some people don’t deserve dignity and the right to life. This is the ground we should be playing on, and no other. If they ask about hard cases, they’re already talking on our terms, not their misleading ones. Reframing the question is the most important part of how you answer it.

Again, I think this is Debating Tough Catholics Topics 101. And everything I suggest here can easily be articulated in a sound bite. It starts with what is totally true and from there, more nuance can be added. But don’t short-cut the complete truth to make the immediate practical point. That’s counter-productive.

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33 thoughts on “[Updated] On Piers Morgan, Rick Santorum Gets it 98% Right – But That 2% Matters

  1. [...] able to articulately defend Catholic teaching on this important issue.  Rick Santorum — as Thomas Peters so aptly points out — walks right into a rhetorical trap in the interview posted above.  He [...]

  2. [...] 101: President of the Vatican Bank Condemns Raising Taxes (and Explains Why) in L'OR80 Comments[Updated] On Piers Morgan, Rick Santorum Gets it 98% Right – But That 2% Matters31 CommentsLessons Learned From the Wisconsin Union Battle 19 CommentsHey Hey! Ho Ho! Union Bullying [...]

  3. Catherine says:

    Rick Santorum is the best candidate and I appreciate his willingness to take a stand on moral issues. He is the only one. I will not visit this blog again. I am sorry I stopped in.

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