WHILE THE Roman Catholic Church has long been regarded as a conservative institution, Catholics have been a progressive force in America. Yet a once-marginal version of extremely conservative Catholicism has lately come into its own by linking up with far right-wing evangelical Protestantism, creating a powerful new political movement. Right-wing Catholics are in the thick of the culture war — and the Republican presidential campaign.
Recently, Rick Santorum received the backing of CatholicVote.org, a conservative Catholic lobbying group. This was not surprising, for Santorum has emphasized his staunchly conservative Catholicism. More noteworthy was when, last week, Mitt Romney drew the endorsement of five prominent Catholic conservatives - all former US ambassadors to the Vatican - who shunned fellow Catholics Santorum and Newt Gingrich. With that, Romney’s credentials were reinforced as a reliable defender of, as the ambassadors put it, “the importance of family and traditional values in American life.’’ That a Catholic endorsement could possibly help the candidate overcome anti-Mormon prejudice of Christian fundamentalists suggests how the landscape of bigotry has changed.