01/03/2012 01:58 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2012

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum First Clashed Over Catholic Church Child Abuse Scandal

The political theatrics between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have, so far, been kept to a minimum, owing primarily to the latter's recent climb to frontrunner status in Iowa. But after the GOP primary moves beyond the Iowa caucuses, the two are expected to engage with one another more sharply.

The two candidates are, in many respects, a study in contrasts. Santorum's social conservative bonafides are complemented by a campaign style heavy on retail politics. Romney's business background blends smoothly with a campaign that's been built on well-moneyed machinery and equally well-funded attack ads. That Santorum endorsed Romney's candidacy in 2008 complicates matters for him, though it seems unlikely that any voter would consider that a disqualifier during this election cycle.

Hoping to get a sense of how the two might wage the next week or so of campaigning, The Huffington Post searched through newspaper archives for times when they may have butted heads. Only one such conflict came up.

When the Catholic Church child abuse scandal began garnering major national attention in the early 2000s, Santorum insinuated that liberalism was to blame, speciously pointing to the fact that many instances of abuse were being reported in Massachusetts.

"While it is 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," the senator wrote in July 2002.

Romney, who would become governor of Massachusetts months later, was, naturally, not pleased.

"Senator Santorum is a fine person, and we're all entitled to make a mistake once in a while," Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's spokesman then and now, told local press at the time.

Julie Teer, another spokesperson for Romney, swiped a bit further. "What happened with the church sex abuse scandal was a tragedy, but it had nothing to do with geography or the culture of Boston. What we know now is that the sex abuse was occurring around the country and around the world. Boston was just the first to find out about it."

Teer was correct in that similar cases of abuse were occurring in many places, not just the epicenters of "liberalism." But several years after insisting that Boston was to blame, Santorum refused to back down. Below is a transcript of a particularly rough appearance he had on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" in July 2005.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's move on to another controversy you stirred up, the question of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church. You made a statement in July 2002 which has drawn a lot of fire.

You said, in a publication called Catholic On-Line, 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.

You've reaffirmed that just a couple of weeks ago. Ted Kennedy, John Kerry say you have to apologize. Mitt

Romney, Republican governor, says basically you don't know what you're talking about.
Do you still stand by that statement?

SANTORUM: Look, the statement I made was that the culture influences people's behavior. I don't think anyone…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Isn't that what conservatives used to say about liberals, when they used to say they were trying to excuse criminals?

SANTORUM: I think what I'm saying is that the culture of liberal sexual freedom and the sexual revolution of the 1960s and '70s had a profound impact on everybody and their sexual mores. It had a profound impact on the church.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you singled out Boston in…

SANTORUM: I singled out Boston in 2002. In July of 2002, that was the epicenter. We did not know…

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is simply not true. 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.

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.

SANTORUM: Well, at the time, we did not know it was in every city of the country.