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February 21st, 2012
05:00 PM ET

Santorum and Satan - the devil is in the details

Editor's note: Tune in Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET for the last presidential debate before Super Tuesday, the CNN/Arizona Republican Party Debate hosted by John King. Follow it on Twitter at #CNNDebate and on Facebook at CNN Politics. For real-time coverage of the Arizona and Michigan primaries, go to CNNPolitics.com or to CNN apps or the CNN mobile site.

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) - A 2008 speech by Rick Santorum at Ave Maria University is making waves this week, in large part because Santorum said Satan had his sights set on America and the country was facing spiritual warfare.

The speech came at the beginning of the academic year at the Catholic university in Florida.  At that point, the 2008 presidential campaign was in full swing.  Then-candidate Barack Obama had recently made a statement about abortion and the issue of deciding when life began, which he said was above his pay grade.

Santorum was using the devil-tinged language after explaining Obama's position on abortion.  He quoted Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, North Dakota, who said at the time, “Catholics who support so-called ‘abortion rights’ support a false right, promote a culture of death and are guarded by the father of lies."

"This is not a political war at all, this is not a culture war at all, this is a spiritual war," Santorum said, according to a recording of the speech on the university's website. "And the father of lies has his sights on what you think the father of lies, Satan, would have his sights on.  A good, decent, powerful, influential country, the United States of America."

The speech gained a new life this week when it surfaced on the website Right Wing Watch and was then picked up by the Drudge Report and a host of media outlets.

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"If you were Satan, who would you attack?" the former U.S. senator asked the students.  "There's no one else to go after other than the United States, and that's been the case, for now, almost 200 years."

Santorum went on to explain how he thought the devil had attacked the United States in several areas: its foundations, academia, the Protestant Church and government.

Asked about the speech on Tuesday, Santorum offered no apologies. "I’m a person of faith. I believe in good and evil," Santorum told CNN in Arizona.

"If somehow or another because you’re a person of faith and you believe in good and evil is a disqualifier for president, we’re going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president," he said.

"If they want to go ahead and dig up old speeches to a religious group they can go right ahead and do so," Santorum went on. "I'm going to stay on message. I'm going to talk about the things Americans want to talk about."

In his 2008 speech, the Catholic Santorum said that Satan had relatively little success attacking the founders and the foundation of the country. But time, like an acid, wore away America's great institutions, "using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition," he said.

Santorum said Satan was first, and most successfully, attacked academia.  Once academia fell to pride and its own truths, he said, the Protestant Church fell next in the United States.

"We look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country, and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it," he said.

From there, he turned to U.S. culture, lambasting the National Basketball Association, rock concerts and movie sets. "They are peacocks on display, and they have taken their poor behavior and made it fashionable," which he said was further evidence of spiritual warfare.

Also fallen to Satan: politics and government, he said.  Specifically, Santorum highlighted a 2004 interview with then-state Sen. Obama did with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Shortly after Obama won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, he sat down with Cathleen Falsani in one of the few extended interviews he has done about his faith.

"What is sin?" Falsani asked Obama.

"Being out of alignment with my values," Obama responded.

In his Ave Maria speech, Santorum seized on this point. "So now we have the first truly post-modern presidential candidate. Clearly, explicitly defining his own reality," he said.

But the reporter who conducted that interview with Obama said Santorum is mistaken.

"Mr. Santorum is conveniently ignoring the fact that was not the opening question I asked him, nor was it the only question I asked. I asked what did he believe, and he articulated his faith and prayer life," Falsani said.

"We had talked about his born-again experience. [Obama's] values are based on his historical Christian faith.  He wasn't talking about, 'whatever I feel like is right in my reality,' " she said.

Falsani said the Santorum-implied dig - that Obama has his own definition of sin outside of traditional Christianity - was wrong. "The answer came in the specific context of having just articulated his Christian faith," she said.

In response, Falsani posted the full transcript of her interview with the president on the Sojourners website, where she now works as Web editor and director of new media.

But what stirred the media and the Internet the most was the notion of all-out spiritual warfare. It made easy fodder for late-night comics.

"If Rick Santorum is the commander in chief, he will do what no other president has had the courage to do: declare war on hell,"  satirist Stephen Colbert said on "The Colbert Report" on Monday night.  "It's simple: All we have to do is take our nuclear missiles out of their silos and put them back in upside-down."

At the time of the speech, Santorum was two years' removed from political office and not running for anything.

Sources who have known Santorum for some time told CNN that this is who Santorum is. He sees the world in black and white, good versus evil, they said.

A big difference between this speech and what he had talked about publicly before, according to some who know him, is that during this time frame, he was out of office and didn't have people with political antennae around him to pull him back from such stark rhetoric.

While his speaking about the devil in a political context may be considered a candidate no-no, Stephen Schneck, a political scientist from Catholic University, says consider the crowd.

"Ave Maria is a unique place," Schneck said. "They are very orthodox in their Catholicism and conservative in their politics."

Donning the language of spiritual warfare can score points with the crowd.  "In some very conservative Catholic circles, that language resonates," he said.

"What he's saying, it's certainly not any heresy," said Father Tom Reese, a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center.

"It's the language some preachers would use that conservative Catholics would be very comfortable with. Is it the kind of language theology professors at Catholic universities would use? Probably not. They would likely see it more metaphorically," he said.

"He's well within the tradition," Reese said of Santorum's talk of spiritual warfare.  Though he added,  "When he starts applying those definitions to specific politicians, those are his own judgments, not the judgment of the church."

As for the candidate today, an aide issued a one-word statement on the flap: "ridiculous."

CNN's Dana Bash and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Politics • Rick Santorum

soundoff (1,820 Responses)
  1. sonnie2

    God helps us all if Santorum become president..I am still waiting to hear him talk about how he would create jobs and improved
    the economy!

    February 21, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      By ramping up chast*ty belt manufacturing. No keys mind you, just belts.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • 21k

      he'd have god do it, of course. remember the 3 rules of xtianity (and of science class in texas)::
      1. god made it;
      2. god did it;
      3. god works in strange ways.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  2. hmm

    so Satan has been at it with USA only 200 years? That means slavery was not Satanic it was a fruitage of good old Christianity and he right!

    February 21, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • SpotOn

      Of course Satin had nothing to do with the murders and brutality of the Crusades, nor the burning deaths of "witches" in Salem, torture and burning "heretics" at the stake in the Middle Ages, and most certainly not the millions of Jews killed by a good Catholic by the name of Hitler. No those were good ol' Christians doing their god's work.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  3. Atheist

    Since when did the Catholic church assume ownership of the Republican party? Way back when JFK was the only Catholic candidate, all Republicans could complain about was that Kennedy would be taking orders from the Pope. Now, all they can complain about is that Obama won't take orders from the Pope. HYPOCRITES! Remember children, Jesus hated hypocrites most of all.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Reasongal.

      Yeah, about that, Santorum said he felt nauseous when he listens to that part of Kennedy's speech – Santorum is bats** crazy.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  4. Z-stick

    Santorum is the very worst possible candidate to lead America unless we want to be on the warpath against ourselves and everybody else in the world. The guy is absolutely insane. He probably believes his own rhetoric, and that makes him truly dangerous.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  5. Ronald Reganzo

    Don't bet against Rick, Rick Santorum can win this thing and win big.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Atheist

      Santorum is insane. The only thing he'll win is a one way trip to Palookaville.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Andy

      Ronny,
      Ricky is going to circle the drain when Americans start reading more about him and this speech. He will win "Wing Nut of the Year" award, but that's about it.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Duck Dodgers

      Shoot the parrot.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Harrys Putter

      Poor Ronald.

      Santorum has alienated:
      All Democrats
      All moderate Republicans
      All Woman
      All Gays
      All Blacks
      All Latinos.

      Who is left to vote for him ?
      You !

      February 22, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  6. Kevin

    I've been saying it since this dangerous moron was in Pennsylvania. Rick Santorum is a dangerously deluded individual with the narrowest mind and worldview I've ever heard of. He really truly thinks that people in the United States are free to practice any religion they want, as long as it's his version. If that's not enough to scare the bejeesus out of everyone, then you do not even belong in the discussion.
    Fortunately, If Ricky gets the GOP nod, it will be a trouncing the likes of which we've never seen in the USA.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Hey, that's why the Pilgrim Fathers and Puritans came to America, for the freedom of everyone to practice their Religion as long as it was their way.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • 21k

      joe, now i have joe leib's droning voice stuck in my head. thanks a lot.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  7. BADGUY

    Do you think Santorum could be a grown up "Damien"?

    February 21, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Kevin

      Yes, yes I do.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  8. Gfoos

    This is the Republican front-runner? Seriously? Really? What's the grand plan? So If Obama's defeated, and has to settle for a nice, comfortable life, and a place in history, then what? Where's the beef???

    February 21, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  9. stevie68a

    I see why Freud called religion "a mental illness", and that it was "infantile". Rick and his ilk will raise hell-on-earth with his brand of folklore. The good news here, is that religion will shed it's sheep's clothing to reveal the evil wolf that it really is. It will be the
    end of christianity as we know it. Welcome to the New Age.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  10. Atheist

    If there was actually a Satan, which there isn't, Rick Santorum would be his spokesman and poster boy. The man is a stark, raving lunatic.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  11. Muneef

    To: Ron in California & craig..

    Thank you for explaining but the question here who does he mean by the Satan or the Devil that has been in US for almost 200 years? There must be a party or a lobby that he thinks represent the devil in it's acts within the US...?

    February 21, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Muneef

      Hmmm.
      Now I know what they mean by the devil is in the details...

      February 21, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      Muneef, his devil is not a person or party. It is not a living breathing thing that we can hold up and examine. It is an idea, an insidious idea that something evil lurks behind every shadow, influences anyone who doesn't believe as he believes, infiltrates the hearts of those who are different and steals the souls of those who will not turn to his understanding of god.

      It is a dangerous game that allows him to demonize anyone he chooses and label them as being "not good enough" or "evil".

      February 21, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Muneef

      To: myweightinwords.

      So clearly and beautifully explained thank you and I agree with you no one should demonize others to serve his purpose... Thank you.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  12. GFinny

    Satan and Santorum? BBAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA

    February 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Atheist

      Al losing combination!

      February 21, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  13. pastafaria

    The Catholic Church, which is the basis for Santorum's wackjob beliefs, once condemned Copernicus for asserting that the Earth revolves around the sun in the same way that they condemn Obama for supporting birth control and abortion today. Nuff said!

    February 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Does Rick Santorum scare the rest of you as much as he does me? This guy wants to wage a holy war against anything he thinks is different from what the Archbishop of Pittsburgh teaches him. While I am all in favor of a person who believes in (place name of favorite diety here) as President, there is no way I would trust this guy. He wants to abolish public schools because they do not teach Christian Theology. He wants to abolish Labor Unions (which I am sure is causing his father and grandfather to spin in their graves). And his economic proposal makes GWB's look like a doctorial thesis from Wharton!

      February 21, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  14. thegadfly

    If all the genetic information from a human embryo were stored in a flash drive, would it be a sin to delete it?

    February 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  15. Ronald Reganzo

    Rick Santorum can win this thing.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • sabrina

      He has my vote!

      February 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Reasongal.

      You can be the Exorcism Czar! Yay!

      February 21, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Locked Doors

      Ronald, you and Sabrina should get a room.

      sabrina

      He has my vote!

      February 22, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  16. testube001

    Takes one back to the 1964 Presidential campaign with Goldwater vs. Johnson. The Republican cry to battle was "In your heart, you know he's right" that prompted the Democrat reply "In your guts, you know he's nuts".

    February 21, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  17. 21k

    god , who created the entire universe and everyone in it did not stop hitler, even with all the prayers that were said back then. it took a democratic president to end his reign, since the gop at the time were non-interventionists. go figure.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Z-stick

      The GOP were non-interventionists? NOPE! They actually supported Hitler. The Bush family make the bulk of its wealth supporting the Third Reich through Union Banking Corporation of NYC (and about 20 other companies that they owned or controlled), which had it assets seized by the US Congress for violations of the "Trading with Enemies Act", and that is a historical fact that can be verified by a search of the Congressional Record. Not much has changed in the last 70 years.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • 21k

      damn! who says you can't learn anything on these posts!

      February 21, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  18. eye salve

    Would these religious experts care to comment on Revelation 17 verses 5 to 6.
    "The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written:

    MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,
    THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
    AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS
    OF THE EARTH.

    6 I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement."

    February 21, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • thegadfly

      1. To what religious experts do you refer?

      2. It sounds like a bunch of nonsense to me, and I'm fairly well-versed in apocalyptic mythology. Is there some particular meaning YOU ascribe to it?

      3. Santorum can probably tell you what it means - he's full of nonsense.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      It likely means the author was having a rather spectacular trip on whatever bacteria had infected his food supply.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Man of Reason

      ya...so? That means absolutely nothing to us 99% of humanity that don't run our lives according to ancient fiction. Wake up! It's 2012

      February 21, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Locked Doors

      The brown acid is bad.
      Stop taking it.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  19. ProperVillain

    "There's no one else to go after other than the United States, and that's been the case, for now, almost 200 years."

    Statements like this drive me to drink. Not only do I think the entire "Satan is doing it" notion is just silly, but the entire view that the USA is the only "pillar of virtue" (or whatever you want to call it) in the world is just naive. It shows me that Rick has never traveled outside the USA and knows ZERO about other countries or cultures. He is a typical "ugly american" who buries his head in the sand and proclaims the overblown virtues of our country while failing to see that, yes, other countries do things radically different than us and they also have a phenomenal standard of living. Wake up Rick! The US is actually ranked VERY low on the scale of the standard of living compared to other nations. We are nothing more than the arrogant, snot nosed teenager of the international scene.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  20. ChuckB

    Santorum is a dangerous man. Injecting spiritualism into politics will only lead to great evil and intolerance.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.