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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. C frrom Michigan

    The country is so angry at Obama. All the republicans have to do is put one viable candidate on the trail and he'll win. What did they give there loyal voters? Two religious Zealots and a rich Libertarian. I actually like Ron Paul. But the electibility of these three is slim to nil.

    As a registered democrat I shouldn't have to tell you that you're screwed. Might as well aim for 2016.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Obama's approval rating is over 50% and rising. But good luck with your critical analysis.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • C frrom Michigan

      you do realize his approval ratings grew during the republicans cluster^%&* of a campaign right?

      February 21, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      Obama is doing fine.
      You dont read much, do you ?

      February 22, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  2. jimbojoker

    The gop has gone so far right and in such a tight circle that they kick themselves in the ,,, when they goose step

    February 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  3. Sanity

    Santorum = Christian Taliban

    February 21, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Bill

      Yep, pretty much.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • devin

      Sanity= idiotic statements

      February 21, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  4. horseyone62

    He lost me at playing and sleeping with dead babies. What a freak!

    February 21, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • Frank

      President Andrew Johnson did the same thing, and there was nothing crazy about him. Oh, wait, I forgot. Johnson WAS crazy... just like Santorum.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  5. fsmgroupie

    santorum and palin 2012!!!!!!!!!

    February 21, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • C frrom Michigan

      I just puked a little

      February 21, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Frank

      On behalf of the Democratic Party, I wholeheartedly support that pair for the Republican nomination!

      February 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • badlobbyist

      Lets get those godless commies that I can see from my house!

      February 22, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  6. Lenny Pincus

    The Bible says specifically if you hurt a pregnant woman and she miscarries, you can be fined. That's it.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  7. E. Goodman

    Anybody remember that in this country we're supposed to have separation of church and state?

    February 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • horseyone62

      Surely they are woking on a bill to undo that little bit of confusion as well.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      If he makes it to the White House,
      Santorum will fix that little problem.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  8. steve-o

    Anything to get the dummies and those full of hate to vote for you. You can't blieve in Jesus and vote reppublican-read HIs words not the bible or don't call yourself Christian

    February 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  9. Philadelphia

    Santorum is an idiot there is no doubt about this. I think this speech is actually not bad compared to some of his other ways of being a politician. To give him credit, at least during this talk he wasn't a politician so you can't blame him for mixing state and religion. If he were holding office at the time this would be a different story, but he was merely a guest speaker who wasn't running for office or currently holding one that would reflect or should have reflected his image. Instead he was basically a normal American giving his ideas on religious belief, although he mixed politics into his speech such as with Obama, many people do this who are not currently holding office, preachers especially. In my opinion, this was actually one of the best speeches he has made because every other one he has given during his run for presidency has been filled with trash and things that would make this country a laughing stock of the nation. I think Santorum should go back to being just a person and not a politician, maybe even a preacher because his skills are more in this category. After all, what preacher from a specific religion doesn't bash other religions and political ways of life? To me, his gift in life is helping to save Catholicism, which is having many problems retaining members throughout the world, especially in Europe, maybe he should become a religious leader and leave politics to people who actually understand the focus of the nation and the world aside from Lucifer.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  10. maeve

    It is time for the GOP to rein Santorum in. They need to name their real candidates.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      Moe, Larry & Curly.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  11. Woody

    Is there anyone out there still not convinced that this man is a total loon? Some people just never learn. We had 8 years of the last bible beating nitwit, George W., who got us involved in a trillion dollar war based on a lie and his goofy belief that Gog and Magog, a couple of make believe biblical bad guys, were loose in the Middle East and had to be stopped (Google Bush, Gog and Magog). The United States of America was founded with a SECULAR Consti-tution. It's worked very well for over 200 years. In the 21st Century, there is mislead segment of the American population that are trying to turn this country into a theocracy. Religion controlled government is, and always will be, a downward spiral to disaster. Wake up!

    February 21, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  12. jaded

    It's extremely important to keep him out of office – if he somehow got elected, he'd find every way he could to give federal funds and favors to his fellow Catholic extremists – and the last thing we need is for that lobby to get more powerful. Having just left the employ of a company that seemed to promote only Catholics (one affiliated with Santorum no less), I have no great love for so long for seeing these people get any more money or power. As far as Satan goes, I don't believe in his existence, but I can't help but think if he were real he wouldn't come out and say "hi, I'm Satan" – he'd probably pretend to be a man of God or moral authority and denounce others to keep eyes off of him and his greed, avarice and corruption. But hey, that's just my thoughts on matters theological.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  13. Patricksday

    You cant do the things to Humanity that the Republicans do and call your self "Christian" its a LIE! Santorum wants to mandate his Catholic Taliban belief system on Free People of America. He needs to relocate his whole family to Vatican City and live his Catholic life fully without American Freedoms interfering with his mental health issues.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  14. Bill

    Um, there's no such thing as Satan, Rick. And the world isn't flat also. Seriously.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Patricksday

      Why do you think the Republicans are so Wicked? They dont believe in God but they have served Evil with great success.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Bill

      Ah, they're not all so bad. They just look and act so silly swarming around Fox News. Murdoch capitalizes on the human condition, so it's hard to place too much blame. But, it is pretty embarrassing.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  15. andy

    In the absence of having a single good policy to articulate on which he would lead our country, Santorum is saying the devil is going to GET us if we DON'T vote for HIM. Alos, in his eyes, if you're a Baptist like me, I'm already gone. Everybody and everything is ON THE TRACK TO HELL except for himself.
    I see a man who'd say such things as this, to be a looney-tooned, snake-oil salesman politician who WE ALL should see as being as full of "you know what" as a Christmas turkey. Vote for such a man for President? Please!!! Hello? I'm not willing to die in the cross-fire between Santorum's Catholic die-hards and my Baptist buddy die-hards.
    You want another civil war, this one between protestants and catholics because the president said? Who else gets to shoot and who will be shooting at my house? I can shoot too when I'm shot at, you know. In two directions at once if I must. I'll need to brush up I suppose, although I'm too busy working, buying groceries, raising kids, coaching LL baseball, fixing my house, helping with homework, and running the kids around here and there.
    If all of you don't mind, I'd rather we not elect a President who wants his catholics to KILL ME for being a Baptist – at least right now. Can't we find somebody else for goodness sake? Out of 400 MILLION, there's got to be somebody else besides a guy like Rick Santorum who sees Satan lurking behind every bush, rock, school bus, sewer pipe, power pole, Baptist Church, Methodist Church, and kindergarten.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  16. Garrick Greathouse

    We all know there is no God, there is no Satan. There is only Xenu.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  17. Willyboy

    Frothy freak. Seriously, how is it possible GOPpers are dumb enough to be supporting this animated bad of butt backwash?

    February 21, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • CommiesArntCool

      Real classy Willie,

      February 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Willyboy

      Why, thank you, Commie. Of course that should have been "Bag of butt backwash". You are aware of what santorum means, yes? You'd think the moron would have changed his name by now. Better yet, just retreated from the public and hide in some religious whackjob compound waiting for the End Days.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  18. CommiesArntCool

    I found it interesting that CNN actually had this on the front page when normally I cannot find political articles concerning Obama even buried in the site when I catch the articles on other news sources. It's just coincidental I'm sure.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • 13Directors

      Santorum is the flavor of the week, is why.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Gosh, has Obama ever said that "mainline Protestantism in this country, and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity"? You would think someone with your high level of "interest" in things would find this repudiation of religion interesting.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • CommiesArntCool

      Lenny Pincus – Oh Gosh Lenny, I only find the repudiation of religion arrogant, classless and normally done by those that think very highly of themselves. I also find they are usual hypocritical cowards that do not dare repudiate Islam, normally they pick on passive religions such as Christianity.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      So CaC, why is Santorum so mad at Protestants? You think he is arrogant, classless and thinks too highly of himself? Or did you miss that?

      February 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • horseyone62

      Hah..."passive religions like Christianity"! Ever hear of the Crusades?
      BTW- your moniker speaks volumes. If asked to accurately describe Communism and what a Communist believes, am sure you would not know a Communist from a Socialist, or for that matter a Socialite.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      Obama is not running yet.
      Its very simple.
      Or do you see conspiracy theories everywhere ?

      February 22, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  19. dreamer96

    Santorum sure is busy saying Satan is attacking America...They say that every week on the 700 club too...It brings in the cash..

    These GOP guys all remind me of Dr. Strangelove and those "precious bodily fluids", a little too Wacko, or is it another Waco Texas thing, a crazy religious leader..with brainwashed followers....

    But only the GOP is taking a pledge to one man Grover Norquist....like Hitler making all the German People in the military and rest of the country people take a pledge to him, Hitler...so who looks more like Satan ....maybe the crazy people that have taking over the GOP...

    February 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      Every time Santorum uses the word "Satan",
      replace "satan" with "santorum",
      it makes for an interesting read.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  20. Spiney

    As a lifelong Catholic this man does not speak for me. Santorum has stated that abortion is a mortal sin. Well capital punishment is also a mortal sin but he doesn't have a problem with that. Sorry Rick but conservatism doesn't allow for ala carte.

    February 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • CommiesArntCool

      I'm not sure about your honesty. Regardless of beliefs, you actually compare killing an innocent unborn child to a person found to be guilty of an crime that justifies a death sentence? In your mind it is the same thing. God help you.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • 13Directors

      He's using religion as a shield to disguise his real agenda, which is looking out for health insurance companies. It's gonna be a cake walk for Obama if he wins the nomination.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      All this blathering about killing children, while conservative politics and unbridled capitalism have locked literally hundreds of millions of people in abject poverty and hunger. Walk the walk before you talk your BS talk.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Fred

      A life is a life

      February 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • J.W

      Commies I am not sure that the Bible would agree with you on that. And there have been times when innocent people were executed for crimes.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Yeah, and an acorn is a tree.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      I believe that one of your ten commandments says,
      Thou shalt not kill.
      I dont see any exceptions to that rule.
      But i guess you christians make up the rules as you go,
      as well as cherry pick from your little book.

      ------------------------------
      CommiesArntCool

      I'm not sure about your honesty. Regardless of beliefs, you actually compare killing an innocent unborn child to a person found to be guilty of an crime that justifies a death sentence? In your mind it is the same thing. God help you.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:23 am |
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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.