Monday, August 1, 2005

Sen. Rick Santorum yesterday challenged “radical” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to a serious debate on who is responsible for raising children —the family, the government or the children.

The Pennsylvania Republican and author of “It Takes a Family” — a conservative answer to the New York Democrat’s book “It Takes a Village” — says he has had limited conversations with the former first lady regarding both works.

“She made a comment to me about that it takes a village, and I responded, ‘No, it really does take a family,’ ” Mr. Santorum said.

During an appearance yesterday on ABC’s “This Week,” the third-highest ranking Republican senator challenged Mrs. Clinton to defend her philosophy.

“I’d love to have a serious debate,” Mr. Santorum said.

“I believe her view is one that says ‘government’ and ‘top-down.’ I believe my view is the view that’s held by most Americans, which means we need strong families and strong communities, and we don’t need government really disassembling those institutions, which I think her view of the world does.”

Asked by host George Stephanopolous whether “you believe [Mrs. Clinton is] a radical feminist,” Mr. Santorum responded, “Yes, I do.”

“Read her work and what she’s done on children’s rights: I mean, that’s radical … that children have rights equal to adults. I mean, that is not a nurturing atmosphere of mothers and fathers taking responsibility for shaping the moral vision of their children. She doesn’t agree with that, at least if you look at her earlier writings,” Mr. Santorum said.

Mr. Stephanopolous, who was White House communications director in the Clinton administration, responded: “You may have drawn her out now, calling her a radical feminist.”

Mrs. Clinton’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Santorum’s challenge comes as liberal Democrats question Mrs. Clinton’s agreement to become chairwoman of the American Dream Initiative, a special project of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). The yearlong program will redesign the party’s agenda and focus on family issues. The DLC has been criticized by liberals, including the Campaign for America’s Future, which says the DLC is “stuck in the past.”

Mr. Santorum, a Catholic, was also questioned about statements he made in 2002 regarding sexual-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, and Boston in particular.

“When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While there’s no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm,” Mr. Santorum told CatholicOnline.

Democratic Massachusetts Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry — both Catholics — have called on Mr. Santorum to apologize. However, Mr. Santorum stood by his statement.

“I wrote the article in 2002. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry wrote no articles in 2002 criticizing this church,” Mr. Santorum said.

“I went out and talked to bishops. I went out and talked to cardinals. I was very concerned. I was offended and hurt by a church that betrayed me by not doing what they should have done, and I was angered by that, and I spoke out about it, and I spoke loudly about it,” Mr. Santorum said.

“The senators from Massachusetts did nothing. They spoke nothing,” he said yesterday. “They sat by and let this happen. And I’m standing my ground because I tried to fight to change the church.”

Mr. Santorum said he singled out Boston as the epicenter of the problem because it was not known in 2002 how widespread the problem of sexual abuse of boys in the church was in the U.S. He was challenged by Mr. Stephanopoulos, who called the statement “untrue” and cited several press reports of similar problems elsewhere.

“I went back and looked at all of these clips. We had stories in 1994, going back all the way to 1984 in Louisiana, in just about every archdiocese in the country,” Mr. Stephanopoulos said. “I just don’t understand why you stick by this, because we now know it was widespread. It was in every city in the country.”

“I understand that it was in other places. All I’m talking about, at the time, what everyone was focused on at the time was Boston,” Mr. Santorum said.

David Wade, spokesman for Mr. Kerry, said last week that Mr. Santorum “owes an apology to the families of abuse victims and an apology to the faithful who fill the pews of Massachusetts churches every Sunday.”

Mr. Kennedy demanded an apology last week. Mr. Kerry called for an apology yesterday.

“Senator Santorum’s partisan, hate-filled comments do a disservice to the victims of abuse,” said April Boyd, Mr. Kerry’s spokeswoman. “He’s never failed to inject politics into these deeply personal and trying issues for Catholics everywhere.”

Phil Singer of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee dismissed Mr. Santorum’s remarks yesterday as well as his new book.

“Every time Rick Santorum opens his mouth, he shows that he would have been one of the 13th century’s greatest senators. Over the last few weeks, he has — among other things — blamed an entire city for the crimes of pedophiles, published a book that is offensive to women everywhere and panned the goals of diversity. This is not a person whose words should be taken very seriously,” Mr. Singer said.

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