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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. rg

    America is religiously blinded. The only reason Santorum has picked up votes is on account of his religious comments and those blinded by faith vote for him. Faith over freedom is the new America. Are we ready for a new round of witch hunts?

    February 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  2. Shecodes

    Okay let me get this straight - Satan had little success with early America? I guess Santorum thinks that slavery and it's ugly US aftermath was just 'God working in mysterious ways'.

    And since today's America is the only country that's worth Satan's time these days (according to Santorum) the mass starvations, brutalization of women in Afghanistan, the HIV deaths in Africa, the ethnic warfare in eastern Europe, the earthquakes, typhoons, and general misery in other parts of the world ain't the Devil's handiwork. But Obamacare is.

    Just another pea-brained small minded GOP clone.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Concerned2

      I couldn't agree more !!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Vivian, a practicing Catholic

      You read my mind! I suppose that Santorum would explain away the Holocaust as a little bit of bad luck...

      But the American people are smarter than this, right??? They won't be roped into the mass hysteria that Santorum seems hell bent on (pun intended) creating? Right?

      Someone tell me that Santorum doesn't have a real chance of becoming the GOP's nominee so that I may sleep at night... Please?

      February 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  3. ELH

    Sanitarium wants to haul us back to the 11th Century, to be chattel of the Holy Roman Empire, subject to the whims of a senile old man who claims he is God's personage here on Earth.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Vivian, a practicing Catholic

      Yep, pretty much... I'm thinking that he would like to be that man who thinks himself God on earth. I keep getting confused over what office Santorum is running for...Pope or President? Some days, I don't think even Santorum knows...

      February 21, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  4. Vivian, a practicing Catholic

    Wowwww..... I am a practicing Catholic who has attended Catholic school all of my life including a Catholic law school. Santorum sounds completely nuts to me! Scary and kind of dangerous, actually...

    February 21, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Catholic

      I personally agree with a lot of his views, but I dont think he presents them the right way. He is pretty headstrong, to a big fault. And he is starting to harp too much on social issues, instead of focusing on the things most important to most Americans.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Concerned2

      Definately to the FAR, FAR right !!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  5. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    Geez...I'm not crazy about Obama, but compared to the leading Republicans, I'll vote for him...Seriously, even Reagan would get called a RINO today–he granted illegal immigrants amnesty, he raised taxes, he was friends with the Nancy Pelosi of his day (Tip O'Neill), he "talked to our enemies" (Gorbachev), etc, etc., Reagan also had one thing none of these candidates today have–charm.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Concerned2

      I totally agree !!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Daniel

      Reagan also racked up massive budget deficits! And he traded arms with Iran! Plus, he bombed Libya, too!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  6. Concerned2

    I feel that it's very admirable that a candidate has strong religious beliefs. However, those same religious beliefs should not become part of their political platform and endlessly refer to them !!

    February 21, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  7. Abbot

    ooooohhhhhhhh... Is this the best that cnn can do to pick up dirt on Santorum.
    Santorum is pretty safe bet then.
    Santorum 2012

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

      Sounded scary to me.
      Religion and politics mixing is dangerous, at best. And Santorum sounds like he'd mix is A LOT.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Buck

      Hey Abbot...it's not the best CNN can do. It's ONE of the best for just today! The only thing more insane than Santorum are those that support him. Neither Jesus, Mohammud or Moses created America, nor could any lay claim to it. KoolAid anyone?

      February 21, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Fire And Brimstone

      I dont think its dirt on Santorum,
      the smell is awful
      If you think he is a safe bet,
      you just lost your house.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  8. calistudent

    From the people that brought you Sarah Palin in 2008. The GOP doesn't seem to value intellect.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Concerned2

      Dito !!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Daniel

      There is a strong theme of anti-intellectualism running through the GOP lately. The dumbing down of the Party?

      February 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Fire And Brimstone

      When you "dumb down" the party,
      sooner or later you hit rock bottom.
      I am enjoying the view.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  9. revolting peasant

    oy gevalt

    February 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  10. Prayer changes nothing

    He's like the nutjob I see riding one a bike around the park with a big sign that says "jesus is the light" or something like that. When you start wearing your religion on your sleeve like that, you this far away from going door to door with pamphlets and hollering at people on the street. Santorum has really lost touch with reality. He shouldn't be running for president. he should be in a rubber room and highly sedated for his own safety and protection.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Ryan

      Militant Atheists are as bad as bible thumpers.

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

      "Ryan–Militant Atheists are as bad as bible thumpers."

      What??? Umm...why, no. No, they aren't.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Daniel

      Ryan: militant atheists do not claim to have God on their side.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  11. Liz the First

    "Jonathan

    Sorry, I have an objection. Murder is not 'up to personal choice'. That child is a unique human being. It has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just like the rest of us. Just because it is currently growing and striving towards physical maturity (another 15+ years down the road) and totally dependant on its mother, doesnt make it any less human."

    Jonathan, this is a belief that you and a lot of folks share, but i and many more don't. a fetus is not a baby, it is a body being grown for a baby. the life force in that body belongs to the mother. it is an extension of her body and it is her right to do with it as she wishes. we get our bodies when we are born. true, i can't prove my belief, but neither can you, which is why the pro-Choice position is to err on the side of the individual about whose personhood there is no possibility of debate, the woman! and as a man, you really have no dog in this fight. when you grow some ovaries, come back and we'll talk!

    February 21, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Catholic

      Please take a look at a picture of a 10 week old fetus. It has eyes, fingers, arms, legs, and feet. They have intestines. They have a brain. They have lungs. They have a spinal cord. It cannot survive outside the mother's womb – but do you mean to tell me that isn't a human being?

      February 21, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • NEC

      Well Catholic according to the bible a fetus isn't considered a person until they are one month OUT of the womb.

      "Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them. And Moses numbered them according to the word of the LORD. - Numbers 3:15-16"

      February 21, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Catholic

      NEC – I don't think the Book of Numbers was contemplating personhood to determine whether a fetus can be vacuumed out of the womb.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Daniel

      The 14th Amendment states that we are citizens when we are naturalized (which a fetus cannot be) or when we are "born". All rights are based on one's BIRTH date, not on their conception date.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Catholic

      Daniel – since you are apparenty relying on the 14th Amendment to define when someone is a "person," is it okay to kill people who are not American citizens? Because that is what the 14th Amendment is referring to – not the definition of a "human being."

      February 21, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  12. mrsg

    Santorum must be Satan because he scares the hell out of me!

    February 21, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • EdBoy

      Lol.... absolutely

      March 15, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  13. CnnWhat

    Screw this religious blog. I won't believe in Jesus Christ until I see him drinking some Santorum.

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

      daaaaaaaaannnngggggggg!!!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  14. paganguy

    What do these people drink to get into this state of hallucination?
    The Chinese are doing it right; religious people can't run for office, can't be in the government.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  15. Ryan

    So an Atheist is un-electable, yet this guy is a front runner...What a country.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Daniel

      The blind faith of sheep can be scary.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • EdBoy

      Well put

      March 15, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  16. MikeB59

    What an idiot. So long Ricky.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Daniel

      Nah, I hope he wins. Make it easier for Obama to win re-election. Santorum will unite Democrats, alienate Independents, and prove uninspiring to most Republicans. What more can you want?

      February 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  17. MacFarren

    It may not sound fashionable or flashy, but Santorum is right. You will see.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yeah. Right out of the loony bin.

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

      Satan is no more real than god.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Concerned2

      You can't be serious !! He also wants BOTH Federal and state governments to "stay out" of the business of public education (including financial support). He feels that JUST the local governments should both control & finance Public Education. If that were the case, then ALL of the children in most of your small rural and inner city shcools would basically be WITHOUT and education of any kind. Talk about the "Haves" and the "Have-nots".

      February 21, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Daniel

      Yeah, FAR right. Too far right for most Americans.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  18. Skadams

    So Chavez can announce to the U.N. convention that Bush is satan and he still smells sulpher in the room and everybody just laughs it up, but Santorum speaks at a religious college about Satan in America and that's offense? Something is seriously wrong with the mind set of liberals.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • NEC

      Well Skadams everyone already knew Chavez was crazy so they just laughed it off. Now the more we hear from Santorum the more we're finding out he's as crazy as Chavez.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Ryan

      Somehow the President of the United Stats is held to the same standard as the dictator of Venezula?

      February 21, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Fact From Fiction

      Jesus was a liberal.
      Guess you have a problem with that.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Michel Hunt Esq.

      Since you failed to understand the obvious difference, I will point it out for you. Chavez is not running for the office of President of the US; Santorum is. There are plenty of real problems in the world for the president to worry about. We don't need some nutcase who is preoccupied over the evil deeds of his imaginary nemesis. Chavez's comments were laughable only because 1) Chavez is an i d i o t, and 2) Chavez is not vying to lead our nation.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  19. Nick

    Can he be charged with treason for this remarks?

    February 21, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  20. Prayer changes nothing

    This seals it. Santorum is certifiably insane.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Debby

      I agree this guy is out there.

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

      Amen!

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

      Yes a VERY VERY scary person!!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
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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.