By John-Henry Westen

ORALANDO, September 15, 2009 ( - In addition to his announcement that he is considering a run for President in 2012, former US Senator Rick Santorum gave his assessment of the controversy around the Ted Kennedy funeral during his speech to the Catholic Leadership Conference last week. Santorum's talk focused on rejuvenating the Catholic Church in the United States.

During his speech Santorum lamented "what the Church allowed to happen" with the Kennedy funeral, referring to it as a "deification" of Kennedy.  "The damage done" to the Church, he said, "is profound."

"We have Catholic politicians who have led this country astray, have led generations of Catholics astray," said Santorum.

He noted that there was no personal grievance between himself and Kennedy. "I knew Ted Kennedy very, very well, I got along with Teddy. Everybody got along with Teddy.  He was a nice, affable guy," he said.

In answer to those who would protest that "the Church is all about forgiveness," Santorum said: "Yes, God blessed Teddy with a year of knowing he was going to die."

"We all prayed that that year was a productive one for him and his relationship with our Savior," he added.  "I prayed for that. I sent him a note. I told him that. I prayed for him every day."

Santorum made particular note of the Vatican letter read by former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the internment. And while he said he understood the motivation for such a presentation, he nevertheless concluded that "there is no excuse" for it.  "It will harm us, it will hurt the rejuvenation of our Church," he said.

For the future rejuvenation of the Church, "getting it right with Catholic politicians is going to be huge," he warned. "We keep sending the message that it's okay to dissent, okay to do all the things that almost every Catholic politician in the United States does," he said.

He recalled that during the Senate debates on banning partial birth abortion, "almost a third of the votes against the bill were Catholics."

The key to it all, he said, is having "good shepherds" to lead the Church.