Santorum "appalled" at JFK church/state comments

FEBRUARY 10: Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC), on February 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. The CPAC annual gathering is a project of the American Conservative Union. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC), on February 10, 2011 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who appears likely to enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, said in Massachusetts Tuesday that he is "frankly appalled'' that John F. Kennedy supported the separation of church and state when he was a presidential candidate in 1960.

Kennedy, who had been facing questions because of his Catholic faith, said at the time, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.''

Santorum, a fellow Catholic, cast that statement as "radical," the Boston Globe reports, adding that it did "great damage."

"We're seeing how Catholic politicians, following the first Catholic president, have followed his lead, and have divorced faith not just from the public square, but from their own decision-making process,'' said Santorum.

Santorum was speaking to a Catholic group when he made the comments, which were reportedly met with "nods and applause."

The former Pennsylvania senator, a longtime social conservative, is hoping to catch fire with like-minded GOP primary voters in the same way that Mike Huckabee did in the 2008 campaign cycle, when Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses.

In his appearance in Massachusetts he also criticized likely primary opponent Mitt Romney, the former governor of the state, for Romney's health care reforms in Massachusetts.

"I feel we need someone who is a strong, principled conservative who believes not in government mandates, not in government control of the health care system, but in a patient-centered approach to health care,'' Santorum said, according to the Globe.

He added, speaking both of Romney's Massachusetts plan and the nationwide health care overhaul passed under President Obama: "Ultimately, it's a failure."

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