Why a Pennsylvania-born grandson of Italian immigrants who attends Mass in Latin or a recent convert Speaker Gingrich is emerging as the favorite of conservative Protestants.

The answers help explain not only the political dynamics of the current race, but point to a generational shift from the 1960 campaign, when John F. Kennedy had to reassure evangelicals like Billy Graham that he wasn’t too Catholic to be president.

"Now here we are, 50 years later, and evangelicals are not only willing to vote for Roman Catholic candidates but frankly they are flocking to Roman Catholic candidates" like Santorum and Newt Gingrich, said Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a top evangelical political activist. "This is a big moment in American religious and political history."

On Friday, Gingrich secured a major evangelical endorsement when Tim LaHaye, a minister and author of the Left Behind series of novels, threw in his support.

Both Reed and Hudson note that Santorum’s appeal to conservative Protestants isn’t really — or even mainly — a case of mistaken religious identity. Plenty of evangelicals know Santorum is a practicing Catholic; it’s just that it doesn’t matter the way it once did.

What’s really important is that Santorum espouses their values, because in a multifront culture war, an "ecumenism of the trenches" prevails over Reformation-era disputes about doctrine. So when Santorum makes full-throated opposition to gay marriage and abortion his signature issues, he is in effect singing from the evangelical hymnal.

"Rick Santorum may technically not call himself an evangelical, but he is definitely one when it comes to social issues, so don’t get too caught up in the title of ‘Roman Catholic,’" David Brody, chief political correspondent for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, wrote after the Iowa vote. "Santorum is an evangelical at heart."


Newt Gingrich continuously defends Christian Stands, and the main leader speaking  the core Social values and  about Christianity injustice.


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 Indeed, if Santorum’s or Gingrich’s opposition to gay marriage and abortion are in sync with the Catholic bishops, those positions resonate far more with conservative Protestants than they do with the average Catholic.

Moreover, Santorum openly splits with the hierarchy — espousing positions traditionally associated with evangelicals — in his opposition to immigration reform and universal health care and his support for aggressive military action abroad and steep spending cuts at home.

Santorum’s religious rhetoric is just as important in cultivating his evangelical appeal, and that is something new for Catholic politicians.

He has "an evangelical style," Hudson notes, which can be seen in his references to home-schooling his children, his support for teaching creationism in public schools and his regular testimony about his personal relationship with Jesus. (Santorum adds that the U.S. needs to have "a Jesus candidate.")

Santorum is also a youthful 53, and a squeaky-clean family man. He has a large family, and relates affecting stories about a son that died at birth and about his youngest daughter, who suffers from a terminal illness.

That kind of confessional, public piety has generally been foreign to Catholics, and remains so for many of the older generation. During the 2004 campaign, Democratic nominee John Kerry struggled to make "God talk" while George W. Bush spoke comfortably about his faith.

Yet Santorum is not an outlier. Rather, he represents a new kind of religious hybrid, the result of a kind of cross-pollination between evangelicals and Catholics that has taken place in recent decades.

That interaction began in earnest in the 1980s as conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics began collaborating in the battle against abortion. The visibility and popularity of the late Pope John Paul II gave it a boost.

A host of prominent conservative Christians — including Hudson, who used to be a Southern Baptist — have converted to Catholicism in recent years. Gingrich is one, and Santorum himself helped former GOP senator and current Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback become a Catholic. Jeb Bush is also a convert, and that has all contributed to a sense of cultural familiarity among conservative believers.

Evangelicals who did not actually become Catholic nonetheless began borrowing some Catholic concepts — about social justice and natural law, for example — from Catholicism, and deployed terms like John Paul’s "culture of life."

Ironically, the downside for Santorum and the new generation of "hybrid" Catholics is that in winning votes from the religious right, they may also be losing the support of fellow Catholics who don’t recognize themselves or their faith in the stump speeches of these staunch conservatives.

While there may be a way for him to secure the Republican nomination without his fellow Catholics, winning the general election without them could be near impossible.







By Fr Dwight Longenecke, Catholic Online, I grew up as an Evangelical Protestant. We were prejudiced against Catholics. In our mind, Catholics were Democrats–and that was not good. We knew many of the blue collar folks were Catholics, but Catholics were also fat cats. In our Puritanical Protestantism we didn’t smoke or drink or play cards or gamble or go to the movies. The Catholics did all that bad stuff. I know now that my prejudices were just that. Among the worldly and sinful Catholics were many good and holy Christians. Likewise, among us Puritanical Protestants it turned out that there were many fallen and hypocritical Christians. That is really not the issue here. What my Protestant prejudices reveal is what Protestants in America have long thought about Catholics. Protestant Evangelicals combined their theological disagreements with Catholicism with the bad example of Catholics in public life. Every time a Kennedy misbehaved the Protestants sneered and had their suspicions confirmed. 


Whenever Catholic politicians like Pelosi and Biden and Kerry stood against their own church in public, the Protestants pointed fingers. When the Catholic bishops did nothing to discipline the wayward politicians Protestants raised a knowing eyebrow saying, "That figures." Furthermore, the Kennedy Catholics in Washington were put there by the Kennedy Catholics in their own neighborhood. When they met local Catholics, more often than not they met lukewarm, badly catechized, non church going people who were only Catholic because they were Irish or Italian.



Now along comes Rick Santorum. A father of eight, he not only supports a pro-life message–he lives it. This Catholic politician doesn’t come from a wealthy family who can buy elections for him. He doesn’t rely on the mobsters or the political machine to fix elections. His grandfather was a coal miner, and he’s made it on his own. Here’s a Catholic politician who doesn’t speak down to the working classes, but speaks up for the working classes.  His pro life credentials are complete. He is not just against abortion, but genuinely pro life–in favor of assistance for the poor, helping the fight against AIDS, and looking to build community in order to help the needy on a local level. Furthermore, he is open and obvious about his faith in a way that no other Catholic politician before him has dared to be.

Since Kennedy’s famous promise that he would not let his Catholicism influence his political decision, the Catholic politicians have followed in his footsteps with disastrous effect. The majority of high profile Catholic politicians have not allowed their faith to influence their decisions–and that has been the problem.  Santorum is unapologetic about his faith and affirms that it is faith and family and freedom that will actually solve the country’s problems at the root level. This profound insight is grounded in a Catholic faith that is fully informed, actively engaged and vitally involved. It is popular, positive, optimistic and upbeat, and the American people have never seen anything like it.