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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. Will

    he should change his name to Sanitorium. It seems to suit him well.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Nick

      Totally agree. May be, people who agree should call him hereafter as "Sanatorium"

      February 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • Duck Dodgers

      Isnt that a Metallica tune ?
      Insanitarium.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  2. lovetheusa1234

    Let's hope that the good people o Arizona and Michigan give Mitt Romney a decisive win next Tuesday! Hopefully Santorum will see his surge vaporize and Mitt wins another round of Whack a Mole. 😉

    February 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  3. kflanigan

    Satan is one of Gods creations if you believe the bible. You should love Satan he is one of Gods children.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  4. Elpheba

    No Catholic can tell you when "the moment of conception" is.
    Is it :
    1. when the spern cell approaces the egg cell ?
    2. when the sperm cell meets the egg cell wall ?
    3, when the sperm cell is 1/2 of the way into the egg cell ?
    4. when the sperm cell is entirely engulfed by the egg cell ?
    5. when the first DNA replication begins ?
    6. when the first DNA replication is 1/2 way done ?
    7. when the first DNA replication is 99.999 % completed ?
    8. when the zygote begins to replicate ?
    9. when the zygote is traveling toward the edometrium ?
    10. when the zygote approaches the endometrial wall ?
    11. when the zygote touches the endometrial wall ?
    12. when the zygote attaches to the endometrial wall ?

    Pooph, the soul is infused.
    So many questions.
    So many ignorant bishops and politicians.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Willie

      When the sperm hits the petri dish....

      February 21, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Fire And Brimstone

      Stars with a woody.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  5. Andrew

    The Devil's in the religion.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  6. Willie

    If this guy believes there is a satan, or devil by any other name, he has no business running America. That is just childish thinking and has no real basis in fact. It just gives him an invisible boogieman to deflect blame.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Marissa

      How dare this hypocrtie evoke Satan into it . Voted 8 times to increase the debt ceiling. Speaks about cutting aid to handicapped kids while his child gets free health care the best money can buy as he has government paid insurance. I am taking a closer look why he lost by 18 percent last election. Church and State to be separate Ricky.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Catholic

      Most of our presidents have believed in a religion where they believe in God and Satan. Just because you think it is ridiculous doesn't make it so...in fact, you are in the minority.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Nick

      To Catholic, how do you know that we are in the minority? Did "Fox News" tell you so?

      February 21, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • Willie

      I would expect no less a response from a catholic; it is your religion that made up the whole satan story in the first place. Let me remind you there are many other religions in this world that don't believe in satan, and of course atheists and agnostics as well.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • Catholic

      Nick – Most people in this country associate with a religion...be it that they are Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, etc. If you don't believe in a higher power, then yes, you are in the minority.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Willie

      Let me be the one who opens your ignorant eyes catholic. JEWS DON'T BELIEVE IN SATAN!!!

      February 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Catholic

      So are you saying that you believe in God but not Satan? If so, then fine...but I have a feeling that you think both of those beings are "made up." Hence, you are part of the 1.6% of Americans who consider themselves an atheist. 2.4% are agnostic. 78.4% are Christians – and believe in God and Satan.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Willie

      Only catholics xtians, muslims and scared little school children believe in satan. What I believe in is none of your daaamned business.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  7. Tex71

    Santorum should be more cautious in invoking Satan. Some very unpleasant things have a way of coming when called with sufficient frequency and fervor.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Fire And Brimstone

      Why did we ever stop feeding you people to the lions ?

      Catholic

      Most of our presidents have believed in a religion where they believe in God and Satan. Just because you think it is ridiculous doesn't make it so...in fact, you are in the minority.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  8. Ball

    Obama is out. Laugh it up while you can worthless liberals.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Marissa

      Keep dreaming if Santorum gets the nod. Obama will win by a landslide. Us Independents are not voting for someone who wants to shove his religion down our throat. We are voting for him in the primary so OBama has a better chance of winning

      February 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Tex71

      We'll see who is laughing come November. Why would you be laughing, anyway? There are very few Americans who would benefit in any way from a GOP win – probably right around 1%.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Serious Sam

      Even though I'm not an Obama supporter, I can honestly say that if this nutjob gets the Republican nomination then Obama gets re-elected. There is no way that most of the country is going to take a trip back to the medieval ages having someone who puts religious views before everything else. It will be Kerry vs. Bush all over again.

      So go back to the drawing board and come up with an intelligent comment...

      February 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Laughing Now And In The Future

      Oh, yeah, we're laughing. And we'll be laughing on November 7th as well. Specifically, I'll be laughing at you as you copiously weep.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Jim

      I'll save this intellectual "comment" and return it fir your reflection after the election .

      February 21, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Nick

      We will see who is laughing but your candidate Mr.Sanitarium may not even get the nomination because he is too scary.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Liz the First

      JESUS WAS A LIBERAL!!!!!!!!!!!! if HE came back today, you and your ilk would crucify Him all over again!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Fire And Brimstone

      This is so funny, i had to repost.
      Enjoy the laugh.

      Ball

      Obama is out. Laugh it up while you can worthless liberals.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  9. ONE TIME

    Santorum huh the government has fallen to satan he was there for 12 years right so he must know he.must have.been one of the devils minions......

    February 21, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  10. ron

    He might not be the devil, but he sure as hell is stupid! He's already blown his time in the limelight as the front runner. What kind of idiot would run for president and say he wanted to outlaw contraceptives or have women stay home and take care of the kids?! Is this the best the tea-pubs have to offer?? This election will be a welcome cleansing of the GOP of all the far right crazies. Just when you thought no one could do more damge to the GOP than W, along comes this clown (and this crop of republican candidates for the nomination).

    February 21, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Jim

      Very nicely put. We've been exposed this crop of morons for so long, I'd actually forgotten about "W." Maybe his people rounded them up to upgrade his image in history.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Nick

      Yes, let us not forget the "W" and the damage he caused.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  11. Bill in Pleasanton, CA

    Anyone, in addition to me, offended and complete tired of Santorum's religious mumbo-jumbo?

    February 21, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • ONE TIME

      Yes he is a idiot

      February 21, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Willie

      Yes, but unfortunately a good portion of America believes in this silliness.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Marissa

      Us Independents who decide elections dont buy into it. This man has turned out to be a rignt wing nut job. While many of the right wing nut jobs will buy into this , luckily they are not in the majoriity. I would have considered Romney. Will not vote for Santorum.... Obama 2012 I guess it is by default

      February 21, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Nick

      I am offended and is getting scared that he might win the GOP nomination. But, the way I see it, the republicans can be broadly categorized into:
      - Wall-street republicans who are progressive and will be repulsed by some one such as Santorum.
      - The religious – This will be divided 50/50 into Mitt and Santorum. Older generation will go for Santorum while the younger one may go for Mitt or not vote at all.
      - People who hate Obama and democrats – They may lean towards Santorum.
      If Romney had not flip-flopped so much that people don't know what he stands for, he would have been better off. He need to change his campaign manager.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  12. paul

    all of the letters in "satan" are in santorum

    February 21, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Santa too!

      February 21, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Willie

      Learn to spell Paul....

      February 21, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  13. Kelly Eddy

    And "Spiritual Warfare" has no place in government or politics. Flunk.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  14. paul

    god told me that santorum was a moron

    February 21, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  15. Jojo

    And he is outa here!

    February 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  16. anne

    He reminds me of Kyle's mom in South Park, a real religious, war-mongering, my way is the only way that's right basket case

    February 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  17. thomas mc

    Santorum is the Antichrist, and Graham is the False Prophet.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  18. paul

    This Santorum really is a freak

    February 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  19. Mdbill

    Well I guess if you're Protestant, like basketball, or the movies, you're just s(rewed

    February 21, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  20. spiffy53

    Santorum and Satan? i thought Santorum was Satan. at least that's what god told me.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:22 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.