Catholic Leaders Call on Gingrich, Santorum to Stop “Ugly Racial” Talk

More than 40 theologians, educators and church leaders add to the growing criticism of racially tinged rhetoric from the two Republican presidential candidates.

Posted: 01/24/2012 12:43 PM EST
Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich

A broad collection of more than 40 Catholic academic leaders and theologians have written a letter to two Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, urging them to “stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail.”

 

Gingrich and Santorum, who are both Catholic, have been harshly criticized by a number of African-American and Democratic leaders for using language in their campaigns that they say have stoked racial divisions.

 

“As Catholic leaders who recognize that the moral scandals of racism and poverty remain a blemish on the American soul,” the letter said, “we challenge our fellow Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail.”

 

The letter pointed out that Gingrich often attacked President Barack Obama as the “food stamp president.” It also criticized the former House Speaker for statements implying that “African-Americans are content to collect welfare benefits rather than pursue employment.”

 

The Catholic leaders further cited Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, for making the comment during the Iowa Republican caucus that many considered racially insensitive. “I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” Santorum said.

 

“Labeling our nation’s first African-American president with a title that evokes the past myth of ‘welfare queens’ and inflaming other racist caricatures is irresponsible, immoral and unworthy of political leaders,” the letter said.

 

More recently, Santorum was harshly criticized by civil rights leaders and Democratic officials for failing to correct a questioner at an event in Florida who said that that President Obama “is an avowed Muslim” who “has no legal right to be calling himself president.”

 

Upon hearing the questions, a smiling Santorum responded by saying: “I'm doing my best to get him out of the government right now,” adding, “and you're right about how he uniformly ignores the Constitution.”

 

When asked why he didn’t correct the questioner about Obama, who is a Christian and was legitimately elected in 2008, Santorum, who campaigns as a conservative Republican with strong moral values, said, “It’s not my responsibility as a candidate to correct everybody who makes a statement that I disagree with.”

 

In the letter to Gingrich and Santorum, the Catholic leaders said that the presidential candidates are now courting voters who are focused on so-called moral values and seem to have forgotten “that defending human life and dignity does not stop with protecting the unborn.”

 

It continued, “We remind Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum that Catholic bishops describe racism as an ‘intrinsic evil’ and consistently defend vital government programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits that help struggling Americans.”

 

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(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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