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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.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

"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. Arkancharlie

    Pardon me, but isn't it the Roman Catholic Church whose priests are buggering young children in their care? How much more Satanic can one get than that? Mr Santorum should check his rhetoric before casting aspersions at the Protestant churches. It would be better if he were to keep religion out of political discussion, especially when it comes to an argument between RC and Protestant about who is the most Satanic.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  2. jimbojoker

    COEXIST !!!! done and out of here.......

    February 21, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  3. lenai

    Hey ex-Athiest. Apparently, ex-athiesm makes you just plain stupid.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  4. JA Ramsey

    Well someone in this story sure seems to be floating off in his own private version of reality, but it certainly isn't Obama. I'd say when it comes to religion, one of the most insidious forms of pride is manifested when someone like Santorum decides to stand up in public and self-righteously rain down judgement & condemnation on everything that he doesn't like.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  5. jimbojoker

    What does any of this have to do with jobs???. The gop has alienated so many people from so many walks of life that the only voter represented by them will be a 50 year old white man who mistrusts minorities and women and unions and non christians and seniors and government employees and teachers and librarians and nurses and postal workers and immigrants and firefighters and I have probably left out quite a few of you who they have managed to insult this past year.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • James

      Well, I am 60 year old white man who mistrusts minorities and women and unions and non christians and seniors and government employees and teachers and librarians and nurses and postal workers and immigrants and firefighters. And, even I am voting for Obama. Santorum is insane.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  6. mendacitysux

    Maybe he'll pick Mel Gibson as his V.P.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  7. O.S. Bird

    Santorum is completely insane. Can you imagine him with his finger quivering over the missile launch button?

    February 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  8. dohdoh2012

    The US is a secular nation where people have the choice to decide their religious convictions. Not to be forced on them by people of questionable values.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Harry Sinclair

      totally agree...Santorum is the worst kind of hypocritical religious fanatic

      February 21, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  9. J. Martin

    I don't see what the big deal is. Santorum is a Catholic and Catholics believe that Satan exists. Spiritiual warfare is used throughout the Bible so again I don't see why anyone would be surprised that a Catholic would use this biblical language. The only people I can think of that would be shocked by this...would be those who've never been in a church or ever picked up a Bible. This is a non-story as far as I'm concerned. I would guess that Pres. Obama and his former pastor believe in the existence of Satan and spiritual warfare.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • Philadelphia

      As much as I dislike Santorum, I agree with your statement. Santorum wasn't even in public office at the time according to the article so he wasn't under political obligations to refrain from his religious beliefs. I think that while he said Satan is attacking America and the Catholic Church, Lucifer is hitting Europe a lot harder than America when it comes to losing members of this church. Europe now only has about a 30 or so percent Catholic population which has dramatically decreased over the years. I like it when people relate Lucifer as a spiritual being who is trying to destroy the good things in life because it can be easier to relate with. If Santorum were a Senator or running for office at the time, this story would be much more negative, but he was merely expressing his religious views which every American should be able to do without being persecuted by others.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • FritzfromPa

      Martin – you reveal your inner racism when you bring up President Obama's former pastor. You know Rev Wright has nothing to do with who Obama is. I am a born and raised Catholic, in the church for 73 years, but that doesn't make me a child rapist because the church is filled with them. So come right out and spew you racist hatred because you have no other argument to make. You are no better than this evil and filthy Sanctorum, trying to denigrate and demean our nation's President. You are a shameful American and well you should be.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      Pretty simple Martin.
      You are a christian so you will see nothing wrong with what Santorum said.
      If the same words came from a Protestant, or even a Jew, you would be screaming your head off.
      They got you right where they want you.

      I was raised "Roman Catholic" and have read the bible both as a religious book,
      and a historical book.
      Did you know the bible is actually made up of more than 37 different books ?
      Its a bunch of garbage.
      Fairy tales for children.
      GROW UP.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  10. Bill Miller

    Blessed is the peacemaker for he shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven! It is time to quit blaming God on all of the problems that are plaguing the world. We, the people, all of us, all religions, all atheists, scientists, governments, etc. We are the blame, face up to it, because of the free will God has given us.. God is good and just and does not anyone to suffer. We need to change and do it quickly before we totally destroy ourselves!

    February 21, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      *** God is good and just and does not anyone to suffer.............

      If God is real why doesnt he stop the suffering ?
      This "God" that could create heaven and earth,
      but he cant stop the suffering ?
      Maybe its because he doesnt exist.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  11. jimbojoker

    I don't practice Santorum I ain't got no crystal ball
    I had a million dollars but I'd, I'd spend it all
    I could find that Heina and that Sancho that she's found
    I'd pop a cap in Sancho and I'd slap her down

    February 21, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Believe me when I say I got something for his punk azz

      February 21, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  12. Greek

    Living under Christian theocracy would be a blessing for us and our children in future. Christianity is all about peace and love. Jesus was wonderful!

    February 21, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • J.W

      This should be true, but not every Christian follows the example of Jesus. Jesus is just the guy who is gonna get them into heaven

      February 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Have you read the Old Testament?

      February 21, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • jimbojoker

      The Mahatma was the most christian man who has lived in our lifetimes and yet Santorums brand of christianity would probably keep him out of heaven.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • lenai

      Oh, I see...that explains why there is so much bigotry, intolerence and hatred coming from this man.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Blob

      Wow and to think people are really voting for him... Lets here it for another Crusade... Next we'll have the Salem witch trials again

      February 21, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      ** Living under Christian theocracy would be a curse for us and our children in future. Christianity is all about control, war, and hate. Jesus was crucified as a political prisoner and a threat to Rome.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  13. Jogun75

    Santorum is an ass. But I'm a Democrat, so no right winged Republican believes I could somehow find the saving grace.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  14. Daniel NY

    the U.S. is a Christian nation and everybody should respect that and follow the Judeo-Christian law and tradition. Stop complaining and you should leave if you don't like it... there are hundreds of countries out there!

    February 21, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • J.W

      I don't agree. I think this country is great because of its diversity. We have many religious beliefs and cultures that all live together in harmony.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Marc

      Daniel – you are apparently ignorant of US history. Look at the Wikipedia article on the Treaty of Tripoli and you will see that Article 11 of this treaty, signed by John Adams and ratified unanimously by the Senate in 1797, states quite firmly that "United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion". Before you voice an opinion, I recommend you first make sure you have the facts to support it.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Jay

      oh, please leave the jews out of this madness. If Judeo-Christian values mean complete rejection of science and logic, as Santorum believes in, then only god can save the GOP. How can we have a president who thinks birth control is satanic or rejects the use of science to detect early fetal issues to save the life of the mother and/or potentially prevent a baby born in a vegetative state ? For gods sake, we are in the 21st century, get a life...

      February 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • bobcat

      Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. George Washington

      Maybe you need to get a new country.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • jaded

      The Founding Fathers created a secular nation intended to be the opposite of a religious nation. Many of them were fairly critical of Christianity in their writings and to the extent they were religious most considered themselves Deists.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      America is a secular nation.
      If you dont like it, YOU CAN LEAVE IT.
      Believe what you want, but keep it to yourself,
      Got that ?

      February 22, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  15. HOLY RIGHT OF EVIL AND GOOD. TRUE DUALITY

    Santorum is SATAN. SANTORUM>SATNORUM>SATORUM>SATYR(AKA PAN A HALF GOAT HALF HUMAN looking DEVIL)> SATAN

    Santorum also looks like the devil.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  16. BunnyBunny

    I got a feeling Satan and Santorum are good friends. He claims to be a good Christian. But then ignores the teachings of Christ.

    Jesus Christ warned His followers, "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt. 7:15).

    February 21, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  17. Jessica

    80% of American Christians should vote for Santorum and screw up the minority!!

    VOTE for Santorum if you are real Christian!

    February 21, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • J.W

      I guess I will have to be one of those fake Christians this election.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • As Far As Siam

      A real Christian would run away from this guy as fast as they can.
      They are not as stupid or brainwashed as you are.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  18. Ex Atheist

    Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things...

    † Atheism makes you stupid, ignorant & blind.
    † Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
    † Atheism makes you post stupid things.
    † Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
    † Atheists causes problem in our religious society.
    † Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
    † Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
    † Atheism making you agree with Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
    † No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
    † Atheists are angry, alcoholics and committ the most crime.
    † Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
    † Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
    † Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
    † Most Atheists are uneducated... No Atheists could run for presidency.
    † Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
    † Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
    † All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
    † The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
    † Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate!

    †† Our Prayers goes to Atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator ††

    February 21, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • kateslate

      spoken like a real brainwashed person. You go! Straight to hell!

      February 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Maybe he'll pick Mel Gibson to be his V.P.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • bobcat

      none of those statements has any basis in fact.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • lenai

      Oh yes indeed...and ex-athiesm makes you just pain stupid.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • GoodLaugh

      I think you should take that first comment and apply it to yourself if you truly believe the garbage you just spewed

      February 21, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • Elpheba

      "Our Prayers goes to Atheists"

      ????? you're praying to atheists ?
      What an idiot.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Doobie Wah

      † Religion makes you stupid, ignorant & blind.
      † Religion is a disease that needs to be treated.
      † Religion makes you post stupid things.
      † Christian are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
      † Christianity causes problem in our religious society.
      † Christian are mentally ill, that's why they have to have faith.
      † There is no kingdom of heaven and paradise.
      † Religion makes you agree with Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
      † We all have, traditional family lifestyles holidays, and culture, we all belong.
      † Christians are angry, alcoholics and committ the most crime.
      † Christians try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
      † Atheists do exist, they live in reality and science.
      † Atheists have had a wonderful life experience, great childhood and are loved.
      † Most Christians are uneducated... All Americans can run for president.
      † Surpression of the masses brought upon the French Revolution, one of the best events of all of history.
      † Religion cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore they made up God.
      † Most intelligent people believe in evolution, and dont need religion to have morality.
      † The Bible is wrong, Its a collection of fables.
      † Countries where religion is prevalent has the highest murder rates!

      Fixed that for you free of charge.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  19. Jeff Braun

    Allah help us if Rick Santorum gets elected.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  20. J.W

    I think Michelle Bachmann is going to endorse Rick Santorum pretty soon.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:04 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.