Former Senator Rick Santorum (R) campaigns for Republican Senator Thom Tillis in Raleigh, N.C. on Nov. 4, 2014.
John Taggert/EPA

Rick Santorum is baffled by the Pope

Updated

Former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania thinks it’s difficult to listen to Pope Francis. Earlier this week, the leader of the Catholic Church suggested that faithful believers don’t need to breed “like rabbits.”

During his return flight from a five-day visit to Asia on Monday, reporters asked the pope what he would say to families who had more children than they could afford because of the church’s stance on contraception. Francis reiterated the church’s opposition to government control programs as a form of ideological colonization of the family. But he emphasized that “does not mean a Christian must make children one after another” and it’s a misconception to “think — excuse my expression here — that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Parenthood is about being responsible. This is clear.”

Two days later, the pope sought to clarify his remark, saying economic injustice — not large families — is the root cause of poverty.

But Santorum, a practicing Catholic, remained perplexed about the pope’s initial comment.

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“It’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope and some of the things he says off the cuff, and this is one of them,” Santorum, who began a campaign for the 2012 presidential election, said in a radio interview. “When he speaks as the leader of the Catholic Church, I’ll certainly pay attention. But when he speaks in interviews, he’s giving his own opinions, which I certainly will listen to. But from my perspective, that doesn’t reflect the idea that people shouldn’t be fruitful and multiply, and that people should be open to life as something that is a core value of the faith and of the Catholic Church.”

The pope made headlines earlier this month for suggesting there are limits to freedom of expression, in the wake of multiple terror attacks in Paris. In response to the shooting at the offices of French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, where 12 people were killed, Francis said that “one cannot make fun of faith.” Anyone who throws insults, he added, can expect a “punch.”

Francis, who turned 78 last month, is the first Jesuit to assume the role of pontiff. When he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013, he promised to change the ways the Vatican conducts business. He is expected to begin a four-day trip to the United States on Sept. 20, with stops in Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C. The visit will be his first to the country since he took control of the papacy.

Pope, Pope Francis, Religion and Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum is baffled by the Pope

Updated