A decade ago, the editors of Time magazine decided – during one of the many “Who the heck are these born-gain people?” moments in the recent life of the mainstream press – to do a cover story focusing on the 25 most influential evangelical Protestants in American life.

It was an interesting list. However, one name in particular raised many eyebrows – Sen. Rick Santorum. The issue? Santorum was and is a very conservative Roman Catholic.

This struck me as interesting, so I did some background research on this issue. The consensus was that the Time team realized that Santorum was not a Protestant – and thus, not an evangelical – but the larger truth was that he, well, “voted evangelical.”

Frankly, I have no idea what that means – in terms of doctrine. The point seemed to be that “evangelical” was a political term, these days. Moving on.

This brings me to an article that has been in my “GetReligion guilt file” for some time, a stunning recent Washington Post story about Rick and Karen Santorum and what they have learned about marriage, family and faith during the life of their daughter Bella, who was born with Trisomy 18, a usually lethal condition also known as Edwards syndrome, which is caused by a error in cell division.

There is much to praise in this very human and even raw story. However, it is obvious that at the heart of the piece is – to be blunt – the right-to-life beliefs that anchor this family. Thus, while dealing with faith issues in many ways, it is very strange that the piece never mentions that the Santorum are, you guessed it, Catholics.

What is the message there? That pro-abortion-rights Catholics in national political life remain Catholics, but those who actual embrace church teachings on several hot-button moral and cultural issues are, well, honorary “evangelicals” and no longer Catholic?

Folks, this is The Washington Post and Rick Santorum is a figure that millions of people love to hate. This is an unusually low-key and sympathetic mainstream news piece on this man and his family.

For me, the larger question is why the faith element of the story is framed in a completely nondenominational manner. Yes, editors may have thought that this approach might be a plus, for some readers. But there is only one name for the doctrinal and intellectual foundation underneath the actions of this particular family – Catholic.

This story comes from a February 19 getreligion.org article by Terry Mattingly.