GREAT FALLS, Va. — Rick Santorum was, in his own words, a “nominal Catholic” when he met Karen Garver, a neonatal nurse and law student, in 1988. As they made plans to marry and he decided to enter politics, she sent him to her father for advice.Keep reading.
Dr. Kenneth L. Garver was a Pittsburgh pediatrician who specialized in medical genetics. The patriarch of a large Roman Catholic family, he had treated patients considering abortion but was strongly opposed to it.
“We sat across the table and the whole evening we talked about this issue,” Mr. Santorum told an anti-abortion group last October. He left, he said, convinced “that there was only one place to be, from the standpoint of science as well as from the standpoint of faith.”
For Mr. Santorum, a Republican candidate for president, that conversation was an early step on a path into a deeply conservative Catholic culture that has profoundly influenced his life as a husband, father and politician. Over the past two decades, he has undergone a religious transformation that is now spurring a national conversation about faith in the public sphere.
On the campaign trail, he has attacked President Obama for “phony theology,” warned of the “dangers of contraceptives” and rejected John F. Kennedy’s call for strict separation of church and state. His bold expressions of faith could affect his support in this week’s Super Tuesday nominating contests, possibly helping with conservative Christians, especially in the South, but scaring off voters uncomfortable mixing so much religion in politics.
Central to Mr. Santorum’s spiritual life is his wife, whom he calls “the rock which I stand upon.” Before marrying, the couple decided to recommit themselves to their Catholic faith — a turnabout for Karen Santorum, who had been romantically involved with a well-known abortion provider in Pittsburgh and had openly supported abortion rights, according to several people who knew her then.
The Santorums went on to have eight children, including a son who died two hours after birth in 1996 and a daughter, now 3, who has a life-threatening genetic disorder. Unlike Catholics who believe that church doctrine should adapt to changing times and needs, the Santorums believe in a highly traditional Catholicism that adheres fully to what scholars call “the teaching authority” of the pope and his bishops.
“He has a strong sense of that,” said George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, where Mr. Santorum had a fellowship after losing his bid for re-election to the Senate in 2006. “He’s the first national figure of some significance who’s on that side of the Catholic conversation.”
It's a bit condescending. Progressives think devout Catholics are freaks, and it comes across here. And the Times spends a whole section on Mrs. Santorum's relationship with Dr. Tom Allen, an abortionist who was three times older than she was. Rick Santorum repudiated attacks on his wife earlier in the campaign, and frankly I think Mrs. Santorum's previous relationship is irrelevant. When she first got together with Rick she had something of an epiphany of faith. They both immersed themselves in their Catholicism. That's an inspiring story. Focus on that. That said, there are some pretty inspirational passages at the piece, for example:
The loss of the Santorums’ son Gabriel, in 1996 — just as the senator was leading the fight in Congress to ban the procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion — was devastating for the couple. Mrs. Santorum was nearly 20 weeks pregnant; doctors discovered a fetal anomaly. After a risky operation, she developed an infection and took antibiotics, which the couple knew would result in the birth of a baby who would not survive.Awesome.
Critics likened it to an abortion, but in a 1997 interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Mr. Santorum said that was not the case. Mr. Schoeneman, the couple’s friend, said the death convinced them that “God had a purpose in Gabriel’s life, and they were going to live out that purpose in their lives.” Both Santorums began speaking out more strongly against abortion; Mrs. Santorum became prominent in her own right after publishing a 1998 book, “Letters to Gabriel.”
In the Senate, Mr. Santorum started a prayer group and would go on to help convert a fellow senator, Sam Brownback, now the governor of Kansas, to Catholicism.
After Mr. Santorum’s re-election in 2000, the family traveled to Rome, where they had a private audience with Pope John Paul II.
“He said to the pope, ‘Father, you’re a great man,’ ” Mr. Schoeneman said, recounting the session as Mr. Santorum told it to him. “And the pope turned to him, because Rick at this point had all six children sitting there, and he said, ‘No, you’re a great man.’
“And it was like a message from God,” Mr. Schoeneman said, “that he was living his life in the right way, that his path was correct.”