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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. Sebastine

    Who are you Mr santorum to play God, judging and condemning people based on your self-righteousness? You are full of anger and hate, repent and stop acting like a pharessee, pointing fingers and accusing every body but yourself. We are only saved by the grace of God! No by the power of Rick santorum.

    February 21, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Andres Conde

      Well said Sebastine! how much arrogance of Mr. Santorum to think that his truth is the one an only truth. This guy is not qualified to be the president or even the candidate in my humble opinion.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  2. bobcat

    How similar this is:• And now Staatspräsident Bolz says that Christianity and the Catholic faith are threatened by us. And to that charge I can answer: In the first place it is Christians and not international atheists who now stand at the head of Germany. I do not merely talk of Christianity, no, I also profess that I will never ally myself with the parties which destroy Christianity. If many wish today to take threatened Christianity under their protection, where, I would ask, was Christianity for them in these fourteen years when they went arm in arm with atheism? No, never and at no time was greater internal damage done to Christianity than in these fourteen years when a party, theoretically Christian, sat with those who denied God in one and the same Government.
    Adolph Hitler-Speech delivered at Stuttgart 15 February 1933

    February 21, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      How dare you bring real facts to the discussion. That's not fair and is obviously marxist theology.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  3. False Dichotomy

    The scary thing isn't that this man believes in a supernatural man with horns and a pointy tail, the scary thing is that a significant number of people in our country think he is presidential material.

    February 21, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  4. SSampson

    And we are JUST scared of the Muslim extremists??? – Geez – this type of rhetoric is extremely concerning..... Religious freedoms give you the right to choose your own spiritual path and ideology – they do NOT permit you to inflict (or infect) others with that ideology....Santorum wants a Theocracy, not a Democracy – be afraid – be VERY afraid

    February 21, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  5. Lenny Pincus

    What's even more ridiculous about Fundamentalists is their braying about the truth of the Bible while their politicians make mincemeat out of history. Have you heard Santorum's description of the beginning of WW2? He sounds like a 2nd grade making stuff up during a test he didn't study for.

    February 21, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  6. Brett

    If you are truly a Christian, then you should commit suicide and go meet your Christ in Heaven. Afterall, suicide is never ondemned in the Bible, and that way everyone gets what they want. So please, Bible-thumbers, go find you a rope and a nice tall tree.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • none

      Be aware of the line you are crossing wishing harm upon anyone within any group.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Brett

      Joining your Savior in Heaven is not harm, if that is what you believe in. My guess is, not one Christian has the conviction to do it, and are therefore complete hypocrits.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  7. Filet

    "Ridiculous", saya the aide? ExAtheist nailed it. If Obama responds that sin is something doesn't align with his values, he speaks from not a Biblical view but rather a demonstration of "how man makes the Bible fit his world". Ridiculous? Satan is enjoying the biblically-ignorant Americans in which this world is Satan's playground. Santorum can't bring morality back but it's refreshing to see that a candidate who stands on a firm foundation. Our "anything is politically correct" reasoning is the beginning of the end. You know, Rome?

    February 21, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • bobcat

      Sin is a lie created by the Niceans to protect their positions of power in order to disparrage the Nazerentian message.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Uhhh, "ridiculous" was uttered by a Santorum aide trying to downplay "mainline Protestantism in this country... is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity." Feel free to comment on the Roman Catholic tradition that the Bible is not entirely the word of God.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • mendacitysux

      Man wrote the Bible to suit his world the same as he created God in his own image.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • Paulmp

      The statement "biblically-ignorant Americans" is funny, because history has shown us that believing blindly in the Bible (as in, word for word) is what makes Americans ignorant.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Rome did not fall to the barbarians until AFTER Christianity was preeminent. Looks like it was Christianity that destroyed Rome, not the libertine polytheists.
      How about parsing that little fact.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Doobie Wah

      **** "What is sin?" Falsani asked Obama.

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

      Filet, why did you just change Obamas answer ?

      February 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  8. txdeist1

    The fact that this lunatic is rising in the polls makes me realize what an ivastly stupid country we have become. We really need to invest in our educational system in a big time way. Lord help us all if this crazy SOB is elected.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Remember, it's only REPUBLICAN polls. The smart 2/3 of America will never tolerate him.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  9. Lilyrosalie

    Really??? What Catholic Bishop can make a moral statement on anything?? We know why they want no contraceptives, that way there will be lots and lots of little kids around. Lambs for the pickins.........

    February 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • dondon898

      You got that right.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  10. Joe

    Can this guy get any crazier of more scary? It's like watching The Exorcist with a cast of amateurs.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Westerner

      @Joe- what a profound statement.. You must find looking in the mirror and realizing what he says may be true about you to be the scary part! MB

      February 21, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • txdeist1

      Joe, as a fellow westerner, I would like to take this time to apoligize to you for westerner's comments. You see, the educational system in the south and west is really lacking, and many of my fellow citizens are well, to put it bluntly stupid.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • bob

      Religion is not for everybody, especially if you are an ignorant fundamentalist like Sanitorium!

      February 21, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  11. Lenny Pincus

    This article is just blowing smoke for Santorum. He says, "mainline Protestantism in this country,... is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity," and all these Catholic theologians can say is "consider the audience." OK. Santorum spoke in front of a bunch of religious fanatics and fed them red meat for their weird beliefs. Try that for analysis.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  12. Satan

    Sorry for the typo folks, Need to trim my nails again.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  13. bubboaz

    This guy is the American Ahmadinejad.............

    February 21, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • Harry Sinclair

      yes, except the Iranian whack job is trying to destroy a country outside his own, while Santorum is trying to destroy our country. This idiot needs to be re-marketed as Rick "Sanitorium".

      February 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Pete/Ark

      Th Grand Ayatolah Santorsharia

      February 21, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  14. Satan

    You've made ,e very very proud, Rick, my son.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • bob

      thank you my father. Soon their necks will be turning 360 degrees!

      February 21, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  15. Rolph

    If Santorum is selected to represent the republican party they will go down to the biggest defeat in recorded history.
    Thank goodness there are still enough sane people in this country

    February 21, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • livin-in-reality

      no one could lose bigger than Mondale.......people need to actually listen to Santorum rather than read or listen to the media commentary.....same with Obama, those that are opposed to him have closed ears. the real sad fact is no one can think for themselves in this country.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Doobie Wah

      *** .......people need to actually listen to Santorum ..........

      I have "listened" to him, he is batfish crazy.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  16. dohdoh2012

    Does Santorum approve of Catholic priest child rapists? I have not heard him condemn them, so he must approve of them.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Satan

      Technically, yes.

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

      Certainly he does.... he wants there to be lots and lots of children available for them too, that is why they don't believe in contraception. It all fits, doesn't it????

      February 21, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  17. bubboaz

    I think Rick Santorum IS Michelle Bachman. Or at least both of them are bat sh-t crazy.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  18. truindep

    I am sure as well, he is climbing in the polls – now Obama – well – CNN cant say anything that isnt supportive for their canidate

    February 21, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Hard to poll Republicans. They have the emotions of teenager and fall for a new face every two weeks or so. Am waiting for CNN to send Republicans to the corner for a time out.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • bobcat

      Truth is generally the best vindication against slander-Abraham Lincon

      February 21, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  19. Joseph

    Yikes!....this guy is Bat S H * T crazy.............seriously this guy is a certfied nutjob. This is frightening that he is getting this much attention.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Death to Satan! Recognize the enemy and destroy all his works.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  20. SurRy

    "Santorum said Satan had his sights set on America..." I have a feeling there are a lot of Santorum quotes we are going to be hearing about now. What a freak.

    February 21, 2012 at 10:32 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.