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Rick Santorum's possible bid to be the first Catholic president

Posted by Jesse Singal  December 6, 2010 12:45 PM

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santorum2.jpgI'm not seeing any coverage of it online yet, but former senator and potential Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was supposed to have given a speech in Boston on Saturday rebutting John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign speech in Houston about his religious beliefs.

There's an interesting divide here. Kennedy's speech, delivered to a group of Protestant ministers, was designed to assuage fears that, as a Catholic, he would act as a pawn of the Vatican or make decisions tied closely to his faith:

He minced no words in declaring otherwise:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute- — where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote — where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference — and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

[...]

[But let me stress again that these are my views — for contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me.

Santorum, on the other hand, is doing the opposite. Starting in September, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy speech, he has been arguing that "Kennedy chose not just to dispel fear, he chose to expel faith," and that, despite Kennedy's claims otherwise, "[t]he idea of strict or absolute separation of church and state is not and never was the American model."

Kennedy's appeal for unity was structured to appeal to a wide swath of America. Santorum's appeal for revision seems destined to do almost the opposite. Sean J. Miller, who has been reporting on Santorum for The Hill, writes that his "remarks may help endear [him] to religious conservatives, a strong Republican voting bloc." But not all religious conservatives are the same — a fact to which Mitt Romney can attest.

So shouldn't Santorum, assuming he does have presidential aspirations, ask himself exactly how many evangelical Baptists, Methodists, or Pentecostals are going to react enthusiastically to the idea of the first true "Catholic president"?

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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