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July 13, 2005
Santorum Shoots His Mouth Off ... Again

I like Rick Santorum. I really do. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Senator has a habit of talking without thinking about the consequences of his rhetoric. Earlier this year, he broke Godwin's Law and used Hitler for an analogy in reference to the Democrats and the judicial-nomination filibusters -- an analogy that actually made logical sense but was politically foolish. In his latest faux pas, he doesn't even have logic on his side:

What drew the concentrated ire of the Bay State's congressional delegation was Santorum's decision this week to repeat his three-year-old comment that liberalism was at the root of the scandal over child sex abuse in the church.

"Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture," Santorum wrote in a July 12, 2002 article for the Web site Catholic Online. "When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm."

Since Santorum wrote those words, the scandal has spread from Boston to almost every diocese in the country, has forced three bishops to declare bankruptcy and has cost the church close to $1 billion. In a study for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice reported last year that 4,392 priests had been accused since 1950 of abusing more than 10,600 children.

Asked by the Boston Globe this week whether he stood by his remark, Santorum said he did. "I was just saying that there's an attitude that is very open to sexual freedom that is more predominant" in Boston, the Globe quoted him as saying Tuesday.

As a Catholic and a conservative, nothing would please me more than if we could blame the sexual-abuse scandals of the Church on a permissive society. Unfortunately, it simply isn't true. Pedophilia has nothing to do with liberal sexual mores. The sexual abuse of children involves illnesses without cures, and the scandals have to do with a church hierarchy that refused to recognize that and keep sick priests away from vulnerable boys and girls.

Normally I would rather eat raw squid with mushrooms and beets than agree with Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. Neither of these men conducted themselves with much honor during their political careers. Both owe so many apologies to so many people that hearing them call for someone else to apologize almost makes me spit out my beverage over my laptop screen.

In this case, however, they're right.

As the Post notes, Boston's diocese did not have the worst track record in the US, although it probably got the most press. Plenty of sexual abuse occurred in other areas of the country, even those more conservative than in wild and wooly Boston. The problem for Beantown wasn't a liberal attitude towards sex; it was the leadership of the diocese that apparently turned a blind eye towards the problem. It also wasn't a strictly Catholic problem either, as people discovered other clergy had abused children in the past and present.

It is unfair in the extreme of Santorum to blame the scandals on the community of Boston, a community that indeed was victimized by the pedophiliacs and those who hid their crimes. Santorum's remarks attempt to turn the blame away from the criminals and onto the victims. Those remarks were wrong three years ago, and he should have known better than to repeat them now. His spokesman, Robert Traynham, should also have known better than to keep digging the hole by blaming Harvard University for the sins of the Catholic priests and other clergy.

Bottom line: Conservatives don't blame society for the actions of individuals. Crimes are the responsibility of the criminals themselves.

Senator Santorum owes Boston and Massachusetts an apology.

UPDATE: ScottM asks a couple of good questions in the comments:

But you can't possibly believe that people's choices are not influenced by what society tells them about right and wrong. Morality is largely learned.

Is the rise in other crimes, unwed pregnancy, divorce, STDs, and all the other lovely panoply of modern life also in no way traceable to the breakdown of societal morality? Does society get a special pass on child abuse alone?

The rise in crimes as a societal issue came from a number of public policy decisions, including lenient sentencing, ignorance of recidivism (i.e., when we started locking up repeaters, crime went down), and a lack of resources for enforcement that still exists today. Look at what happened in New York when Rudy Giuliani decided to start enforcing all the laws, even the so-called nuisance laws. Crime dropped across the board. Does that mean crime needs a societal approach? Yes, but it doesn't mean New York encouraged people to commit crimes, which is what Santorum implied in his arguments about sexual abuse in Boston.

Also, no one knows how far back this abuse goes. Some of the victims have come out from as far back as thirty years ago. We know about more cases now, but that doesn't mean, unfortunately, that this indicates an increase from ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years ago.

As far as unwed motherhood, STDs, and divorce, none of these are crimes and involve personal choices made by the people involved. Do they indicate a lowering of moral values in society? Sure. But that doesn't make me responsible for someone getting a divorce, unless it's the First Mate. Moral choices are individual choices. Blaming these on Boston or Massachusetts (or San Francisco, or New York) makes no sense whatsoever. Where public policy impacts these choices, we need to work to make sure that it supports the most constructive and morally strong position possible, but in the end, the criminal remains responsible for his/her crimes, and not the community they victimize.

UPDATE: Here's the relevant passage from Senator Santorum's column, the part that he reconfirmed in his remarks to the Globe recently:

It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.

Two points in this paragraph make him ripe for criticism. The first, that Santorum find it "startling" that the media and academia criticize the sexual abuse of children, is simply ludicrous. I have my share of skepticism for both institutions, but when did either of these groups enthusiastically support such behavior? Never. Perhaps a few fringe types in both might support NAMBLA and other perverse pedophilia interest groups, but abusing children still remains one of the most widely accepted taboos in our culture across the entire political spectrum. And only those extremists would consider such abuse as an "alternate lifestyle". The second, of course, is singling out Boston and political liberalism as the reasons for the abuse.

Power Line, Hard Starboard, and several readers in the comments think I'm being too harsh on Santorum, while Michelle Malkin, PoliPundit, John Cole, and other commenters agree with me. I will say this: had Santorum exercised some discretion and removed that paragraph from his column, I would have had no problem with the rest of his essay, which I think makes many good points. Let's just make sure we stop making excuses for pedophiliacs and the people who harbor them.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 13, 2005 11:12 PM

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