Catholic leaders urge Gingrich and Santorum to leave racist talk behind

Catholic leaders issued a letter Friday to GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, themselves Catholics, urging them “to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail.”

The letter, signed by 45 Catholic leaders says:

Mr. Gingrich has frequently attacked President Obama as a “food stamp president” and claimed that African Americans are content to collect welfare benefits rather than pursue employment. Campaigning in Iowa, Mr. Santorum remarked: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”

“At a time when nearly 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty, charities and the free market alone can’t address the urgent needs of our most vulnerable neighbors. And while jobseekers outnumber job openings 4-to-1, suggesting that the unemployed would rather collect benefits than work is misleading and insulting,” the letter adds.

“This statement is urging prominent Catholics in the race to go back and look at church teaching,” John Gehring, the Catholic outreach coordinator at Faith in Public Life, told The Florida Independent, adding “that the letter is also about poverty.”

“The Catholic bishops have been incredibly important in raising a prophetic voice that really challenges those who think that the free market alone can sort of solve our economic problems,” Gehring said. “You have Catholic conservative leaders, like John Boener, Paul Ryan, Rick Santourm, Newt Gingrich and they’ve all been looking to dismantle vital social safety nets.”

Faith in Public Life “works to promote a common good message in the media and helps progressive and moderate faith leaders to get their message out,” Gehring exlained. “We’ve done a lot of work around common ground issues on abortion, we try to talk with pro-choice leaders. We provide an alternative voice, making sure that the values debate is not one-sided. For many decades the Christian right has dominated political conversations over faith and values.”

Gehring highlighted the idea of “intrinsic evil,” adding that “a lot of people look at Catholic teaching and think about abortion as being a preeminent political issue, and that is true, but the bishops are also very clear that racism and torture — where Santorum is very bad on, Santurom has been an apologist for enhanced interrogation — are an intrinsic evil.”

He also said that Gingrich and Santorum’s “rhetoric around class and racial issues is in many ways out of line with Catholic social teaching. That is something Catholic voters will be concerned about, particularly given that both Santourm and Gingrich have not been shy about talking about the importance of their faith from a personal perspetcive and also how it shapes their political views as well.”

Color Lines, which reports on racial justice issues, reported Thursday that ”Gingrich argues that the reason so many people are on food stamps is not that the economy has thrown millions into poverty, but rather that lazy black families are getting on the dole and don’t want to work. Earlier this month, Gingrich told an audience in New Hampshire, ‘If the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.’”

Color Lines adds: “Gingrich’s attack on the food stamp program is not surprising; it’s the kind of politics that he’s been helping to perfect for over 30 years.”

On Saturday, Gingrich won the GOP primary in South Carolina by a wide margin over presumed frontrunner Mitt Romney.

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