Ron Suber, the former Pittsburgh school-board member who last year pled guilty to raping a 7-year-old girl, was back in court recently, seeking to have his sentence reduced. Suber has claimed the "spirit of Satan" entered his body, but the old "the Devil made me do it" excuse apparently didn't make Judge Donald Machen sympathetic: Suber's original 10-to-20-year sentence was upheld.
Perhaps Suber might have had more luck taking a page from Sen. Rick Santorum -- by arguing that the liberals made him do it instead.
That's basically the approach Santorum took when he wrote about child molestation, in an op-ed piece about sexual abuse by priests. The piece originally ran on the Web site Catholic Online in 2002, but it's been making the rounds amongst liberal e-mail circles lately, and it's worth a read now. (You can view it at www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=30.) As we've seen with the recent Terri Schiavo fiasco, Santorum's first response to a moral quandry is to blame it on liberals and their allegedly depraved culture. And as we'll see, it takes time to find out how baseless his allegations can be.
In his Catholic Online piece, Santorum, a devout Catholic, urged his brethren to reform the church: "The most obvious change must occur within American seminaries, many of which demonstrate the same brand of cultural liberalism plaguing our secular universities....It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by [priests'] aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning 'private' moral matters such as alternative lifestyles." You might wonder: If people who support gay rights are still "disturbed" by child molestation...is it possible that espousing gay marriage won't lead to things like incest and "man on dog" action, as Santorum later claimed?
Well, no. "Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture," Santorum wrote. "While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism...lies at the center of the storm."
Not to mention the fact that when Santorum wrote his piece, the Red Sox hadn't won the World Series in decades! Honestly, what's a priest supposed to do? The flesh is weak!
It'd be strange for the GOP, the supposed party of personal responsibility, to suggest that society made people like Suber and these priests what they are. Especially because last month, the largest settlement in the priest-abuse scandal so far came from the red state of Kentucky. The $120 million settlement reached in the diocese of Covington dwarfed the previous largest settlement -- $100 million in Orange County, California, which was reached a few months before.
Neither of these communities are "seats of cultural liberalism." Orange County is the home of Richard Nixon's presidential library; its voters approved the Bush/Cheney ticket last fall by a 60-40 margin. Voters in Kentucky, meanwhile, voted three-to-one in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Incredibly, priests may have molested kids without the encouragement of liberals next door.
In the end, of course, the facts catch up with conservative attempts to scapegoat liberals. Priestly abuse wasn't limited to liberal enclaves; a recent autopsy of Terri Schiavo disproved almost everything Santorum and his peers said about her medical condition -- and everything they insinuated about her husband's care. ("Questions have been raised as to the quality of care Terri has received," Santorum speculated darkly in a March 25 statement. "In addition, there is disagreement between medical experts as to Terri's actual physical condition â€¦") But by the time the facts are in, pols like Santorum have already moved onto another smear. Blame the libs for encouraging sexual abuse by priests in 2002; accuse them of supporting "man-on-dog action" in 2003; charge them with wantonly seeking Schiavo's "execution" in 2005.
The irony is that such rhetoric only adds to the cultural crassness Santorum decries. Scapegoating liberals or society for crimes against children isn't just a cheap political stunt: It's a stunt that cheapens politics, and society as a whole.
And if Santorum gets another six years in which to poison our culture, well...by his own logic, I couldn't be responsible for anything I might do.