What the world calls “weird”…

“He’s not a little weird, it’s that he’s really weird. And some of his positions he’s taken are just so weird, um, that I think that some Republicans are gonna be off-put. Um, not everybody is going to, going to be down, for example, with the story of how he and his wife handled the, the, the stillborn ah, ah, child, ah, um, whose body they took home to, to kind of sleep with it, introduce to the rest of the family. It’s a very weird story.” [source]

And for the full version of that story, see here.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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20 Responses to What the world calls “weird”…

  1. Peregrinus says:

    Well, in fairness, it’s not “the world”; it’s a Washington Post columnist called Eugene Robinson, who I’ve never heard of, and a political commentator called Alan Colmes, who I’ve likewise never heard of, but apparently he hosts a radio show on Fox News. And, to give Colmes his due, he has since phoned Santorum to apologise.

    Santorum’s actions in response to the death of his son were entirely healthy and appropriate – an authentically human response. I don’t think you need a Catholic belief or ideology or worldview to see that, and I note that the article you link to quotes a Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. I’ve never heard of Wehner, or the Center, and I’m not sure why the CNA report mentions him in particular as defending Santorum; a quick Google search shows reaction from all sides of the political and cultural spectrum condemning the comments by Robinson and Colme, often from people starting “I’m not normally a Santorum fan, but . . .”.

    Wehner’s response concentrates on the factual wrongness of the comment – Santorum’s actions were entirely in accordance with what was recommended to parents in his situation by counsellors, psychotherapists, hospice practitioners, etc. But it seems to me that a separate concern is the indecency of picking on an issue of this kind to score political points against someone in an election campaign. This has to represent a new low, surely?

    • Schütz says:

      When I wrote “world”, Perry, I meant it in a spiritual rather than a quantitative (as in “the whole world”) sense.

      Also, I have myself officiated at a home burial of a pre-term child (20 weeks – but registered as 19 so the parents could take it home). I remember the young boys in the family being shown the child before we buried it in its tiny coffin, and I was struck to see the family resemblence even in such an early term baby. It was one of the most heart wrenching moments of my entire ministry – not the least because Cathy was at the same stage of her prenancy with Mia at that time. It wasn’t weird. It was – even in such depth of grief – beautiful.

      • Peregrinus says:

        David, I’m completely with you on the soundness, the healthiness, the authentic humanity of the way in which Santorum and his wife dealt with the death of their child. I guess my point is that you don’t need an explicitly religious understanding to see this; plenty of secular voices have been raised in defence of Santorum and his wife, not just on the basis that this topic should be off-limits for political criticism, but on the more substantial basis that what he did was healthy, appropriate, etc. The “world”, therefore, in the Pauline sense, is quite capable of taking a Santorumesque view of the death of a child.

        What surprises me, to be honest, is that anybody would think that Santorum’s behaviour was not appropriate. What should you do when your newborn dies? Leave him at the hospital and ask them to arrange a hygienic but discrete disposal of his remains? I can see how somebody who is in (clinical) shock or in denial might have this immediate reaction, but I cannot see how anyone else could think for a moment that this was healthy or appropriate. Perhaps there is a strain within modern culture which is in a sort of permanent institutional shock or denial about the reality of death.

        • Clara Geoghegan says:

          Pere, This attack on Santorum has little to do with the denial of death and more to do with an ideological commitment to abortion. To admit a pre-term child is human is to cut the ground out from supporters of abortion. The problem for his critics is Santorum’s stand on partial-birth abortion. How dare Santorum live out in his private life the same prinicples he espouses in public debate.

          • Peregrinus says:

            “This attack on Santorum has little to do with the denial of death and more to do with and ideological commitment to abortion.”

            I think ideological positions on abortion certainly come into it. But perhaps the denial of death and the embrace of abortion are two sides of the same coin.

  2. Hannah says:

    David, you probably know that stories like these make me seethe. Today it is understood that when an infant dies, is stillborn or is expected to die during or after birth, there is encouragement that time and love is spent with the infant so the grieving process is engaged. It doesnt make the grieving easier but in the long run it is thought better and healthier to be with the baby or for the family, because it leaves memories which otherwise would never have been been. Here words from book about abortion grief “Redeeming Grief” one of the stories written by the mother of the baby (briefly) “Our baby died during the trauma of birth. This was heart wrenchingly sad, but we were overjoyed to experience and bear witness to God’s love. With our families and brothers and sisters present, our son was born directly into eternal life. A priest who guided us through the entire pregnancy said to me “how does it feel to be the mother of a saint?” Every member of our family was proud to hold our baby . Many photos and mementoes were taken. It was very difficult to let go of him but we were blessed enough to spend two days with him in the hospital. More than one hundred people participated at his funeral to bless God for His wonderful deeds. For our baby’s life. We celebrated his life and death in a beautiful service. My husband carried our son’s tiny coffin into the church and at the end sang for him a beautiful hymn.
    When we are born we know that one day we will die and hopefully go to heaven. Our son was lucky enough to go straight there. Our job as parents to him was now complete.” (I have removed the name)
    I, know this story to be wholly true these are my friends and I attended that funeral and the Dad carried the coffin and mum walked next dad and children behind and still today I weep when I remember. This is how we honour “Life” not by aborting it because it has cleft palate or something else, or Down Syndrome, we honour life the way it should be honoured. The above mentioned infant had anacephaly and was advised to be aborted earlier, but parents refused.
    Using the death of the Senator’s infant for point scoring is lowest sewer that a human can sink to, and we shouldnt be surprised because we have allowed children to be killed for as little as a cleft palate or because its an inconvenience or career stifler and if this is American politics heaven help all of us.

  3. Tony Bartel says:

    If you want to see how low it can go (warning: this is highly offensive):


    • Peregrinus says:

      Oh, dear God.

      Look, I’ve read from time to time comments – laments, really – about the poisoned, toxic nature of political discourse in the US these days, but this really brings it home.

      It’s worth noting that this is not a simple, partisan issue. No doubt bitter opposition between parties or ideologies has contributed to the decline in standards of civil discussion, but what we have at the moment is a debate within one party, between figures who largely share an ideology, about which of them should be the party’s candidate in the presidential election next November. It’s in that context that Santorum’s response to his child’s death is being raked up and ridiculed in the foulest way. It’s Fox News – hardly a bastion of leftism, liberalism or the Democratic party – which has unleashed the latest round of vileness.

      “There but for the grace of God . . .” always sounds a bit smug but, well, there but for the grace of God goes Australia. We haven’t reached this pass yet, but it’s not that long ago since the leader of one of our major parties addressed a rally at which were prominently displayed posters and placards referring to the leader of the other major party as a “bitch”. He took care to distance himself from those placards but, honestly, I can’t wonder whether the long-term interests of democracy might have been better served if he had declined to address the rally unless placards of that kind were removed.

      I don’t want to make a partisan point; the example that springs to my mind happens to involve Tony Abbot, but I think everyone – and certainly every political leader – has to accept responsibility for the terms and tone of public discourse, and I’ve no doubt that a similar example could be found from the other side of politics without too much difficulty. What the present depressing story about Santorum shows is that this isn’t about the political or ideological divide.

      • Tony says:

        Fair points, Pere, and the real race hasn’t even started yet!

        I can’t see us going down that path though, even though there is the odd breakout of US style politics (in the not-good sense). The bell curve of political extremists (on both sides, but particularly what we’d call the right in Australia) seems to be fatter in the US. As an observer from afar and, for a short time, within, it is fascinating. In general, US citizens seem to have a whole lot more respect for their national leader than we do except when there’s elections in the air, then they make us look very mild-mannered!

        • Peregrinus says:

          Tony: “I can’t see us going down that path though, even though there is the odd breakout of US style politics (in the not-good sense). The bell curve of political extremists (on both sides, but particularly what we’d call the right in Australia) seems to be fatter in the US.”

          I get that, Tony, but I don’t think this has anything to do with the “bell curve of political extremists”, or the size of the gulf between left and right. As I pointed out, these comments are being made in the context of a competition between Santorum and several other Republicans, most of whom are fairly closely aligned with him, ideologically. Of the two commentators who criticised him, one comes from a stable – the Washington Post generally seen as left-of-centre (in US terms) while the other comes from Fox News, usually seen as well to the right. And the voices which have been raised in his defence are similarly diverse.

          I think what’s at stake here is a shared understanding – shared across right and left – of how public discourse ought to be conducted. I think what we need is a shared understanding that the question of how somebody deals with the death of their newborn child – even if it seems odd to someone else – is not a fit topic on which to score political points. I think it’s true that the centre of gravity of Australian politics is somewhere to the left of the centre of gravity of US politics, but I don’t think that gives us any reason for complacency that our standards of public discourse will necessarily be better than in the US.

          As I think about it, part of the problem in the US may precisely be the fact that Santorum and his antagonists are not really ideologically opposed. I disagree with you that the “bell curve of political extremism . . . seems to be fatter in the US”. US politics strikes me as involving comparatively little in the way of competing ideologies; there’s a huge ideological overlap between the Republican and Democratic parties, and probably more than half of the congressmen from each party, ideologically speaking, could find themselves at home in the other. American elections don’t really involve offering competing ideological views of society, which is why they tend to focus on personalities – character and competence. And, if it’s all about the bloke, perhaps that creates a context within which a slide down to this kind of vileness is all too easy.

          Australian politics are different to this – but not so different as they used to be. Increasingly Australian parties compete not on ideological grounds but by appeals to technocratic competence – people “trust” the ALP more than the Liberals on, say, the economy (or vice versa). And Australian politics are increasingly personal also; this was brought home to me when Gillard replaced Rudd as ALP leader without a general election intervening. There seemed to be a widespread view – shared even by her – that she somehow “lacked a mandate”; she called a general election in order to seek a mandate, and in a symbolic gesture declined to move into her official residence until after that election. That’s a very odd attitude in a parliamentary democracy; we don’t elect our Prime Ministers. In most other parliamentary democracies a change of Prime Minister between elections is a pretty routine matter – Thatcher-to-Major did not involve a general election; nor did Blair-to-Brown, and in neither case was any question raised about their “mandate”.

          I’m not sure where this we-elect-a-Prime-Minister strain in Australian political culture comes from; possibly it’s cultural influence from imitation of the US. But, other considerations aside, it does seem to me like something which would facilitate this kind of decline in public discourse, if we aren’t careful to see that that doesn’t happen.

  4. Alex Caughey says:

    All’s fair in love, and war especially when negative campaigning obliges the perceived victim of circumstance to defend their decisions.

    Eccentric politicians are not the monopoly of the United States Republican Party despite the current presidential candidate hopefuls appearing to give credence to this thought.

    • Hannah says:

      No Alex all should not be fair in love and war. there should be things “non negotiable” about a rival, This is a job for goodness sake and nothing to do with how the Senator and his family dealt with the death of their infant.
      No Alex as a priest its a silly comment you made.
      Eccentric politicians should be booted from one end of the stratosphere to the other before they become seriously taken and thought to be worthy of consideration.

  5. Alex Caughey says:


    Fifty years ago I can recall John F. Kennedy being demonised, by the Republican campaign on behalf of Richard Nixon, for being Catholic and thus subject to orders from Rome.

    Fox News is owned by News Corp., whose CEO Rupert Murdoch has a well established reputation for demonstrating that his world view of journalism should not be restrained by moral, or legal niceties especially when demonising a Republican Party presidential candidate and then ensuring that the offending journalist apologised for having acted under orders.

    Naivety is not one of my weaknesses.

    • Hannah says:

      So Alex what are you saying? being too old to remember the Kennedy years.
      If this is the political skulduggery that is offered for American politics and politiciansd then they and we who follow them deserve all that we get and the politicians we get and the laws we get.

      • Alex Caughey says:


        There is nothing new under the sun.

        Rick Santorum and the other presidential candidates have to expect a level of scrutiny that will include being subjected to abuse by those within their own party. That’s how the political arena works, and is as true to day as it was in 1961 when Kennedy was pilloried for being Catholic.

        Rupert Murdoch is not a supporter of Santorum.

    • Gareth says:

      Slightly ironic in the year 2011 that a Catholic with good moral values in Mr Santorum finds his biggest support base with devout Protestant Christains.

      I hope this good man has somesort of impact.

      • Hannah says:

        Gareth the Laws of God are written on the human heart “Jer 31:31-33) on every heart so its not surprising, those who have a heart and a conscience that is unsullied dont have to say “Catholic” or “protestant” so its not surprising.
        As for impact I hope the same.

      • Peregrinus says:

        Well, as far as I can see he’s already having some sort of an impact. He was not expected to perform anything like as well as he did in the Iowa caucuses, and on the back of that unexpected success – he came within a hair’s breadth of winning the largest share of the vote – his star now seems to be rising fairly rapidly in the New Hampshire primary.

        Realistically, this may not be sustained. Face-to-face, Santorum is reportedly a formidably effective candidate, and he has spent a prodigious amount of time meeting people face-to-face in Iowa, where the caucus system favours candidates who are prepared to interact directly with voters. This plays to one of Santorum’s strengths. And, partly because he wasn’t expected to threaten the other candidates, he avoided – until now – some of the more negative personal attacks that other candidates have received.

        But as caucuses give way to primary elections, as campaigning times get shorter and as several states start holding their elections on the same day, face-to-face campaigning simply won’t be viable. And Santorum hasn’t – so far – demonstrated the ability to raise the kind of money needed for massive television advertising, and other more expensive forms of communication.

        Santorum’s very strong position on “family” issues is very acceptable to the Republican leadership. But, in another reflection of his Catholicism, he is also the only Republican candidate who is prepared to say that how well the poor are doing is an important reflection on how successful the US is. And that will go down like a rat sandwich with the neo-liberal Republican leadership, who fetishize tax reductions for the wealthy, and regard universal public healthcare as a Marxist-Leninist conspiracy. My inner conspiracy theorist suggest that this may be part of the reason that, now that Santorum looks like possibly having some influence, the likes of Fox News are dumping on him.

        To be honest, though, actually winning the Republican nomination may never have been Santorum’s objective. I suspect his real objective may be to influence the ultimate outcome by winning delegates for the selection convention – delegates than he can then encourage to vote for another candidate when he withdraws from the race. By doing so he would hope to secure influence, and possibly a formal deal, with that candidate.

        • Tony says:

          Some cynical types also suggest that individuals nominate for the process with no intention of winning but end up earning a few quid in the years to come on the speaker’s circuit.

          Others, like Mitt last time, look to their first go as a trial run and a way to build a brand for the next race in four years time.

          Others too, would seek to have enough ‘influence’ to get the running mate gong.

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