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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. me60

    In the bible it says there will be an anti-CHRIST!! I think he's been found. People read your Bibles and you will find the truth

    February 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • me60

      I was talking about Santorum not Pres. Obama

      February 21, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      And who, according to you, is this mythical anti-christ?

      February 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Eric G

      Truth?

      February 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Then i withdraw my question didn't see you already answered it.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • bert hastings

      In the Bible they talk about the anti christ in sheeps clothing, to me that sounds like Rick SAntorum

      February 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  2. bookgirl

    When I look at him, all I see is the definition of his last name. Fits him to a "t".

    February 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • BG

      So much this. lol

      February 22, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  3. Cathy3B

    Hey, this is/or was the USA. President Obama's religion is his own business; just as mine is and yours is!

    February 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  4. Sir Ivanhoe

    Santorum is not too far off the mark -– read the international best selling novel - king of Bat'ha -- and the sequel - due out by May -- Tales from the East: Return of Ivanhoe.. These two novels will reveal what is going on in the world today.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • John

      I love when you insane people confuse FICTION with reality.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • bert hastings

      it is supriseing how peple mix up fiction with fact.

      February 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  5. Spagetti Monster

    The most amusing part of this is where he calls out the Protestant Church as being corrupted by Satan... Aren't all the Southern Baptists Protestants? Don't the Baptists call Catholicism a cult (like Mormonism)? So much for Christianity all being one big happy God loving family, wonder how he is going to explain his way out of this (or if he will even try)?

    February 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • JPS

      AMEN!!! Praise be to the Spagetti Monster!!!

      February 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Jonathan

      His opinion of different sects of Christianity has no actual impact on anything, so long as he doesnt try to violate anyone's First Amendment right. As far as I am concerned, this guy is a great alternative to Obama.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  6. JPS

    I agree with guys – this guy is WACKO – holy moley!!! If this guy gets the nomination I would rather vote for Obama!!!
    SATAN Come on!!! HAHAHAHAAA

    Seperation of chuch and state – And unless I am mistaken – it was Satanorum or Romney that said they want to change the legal system – ALL LAWS – to meet those of GODS laws – Sheesh!!!

    February 21, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • fables are not healthy for children and other living things

      Guess we'll have to change the name of the country to Iraniqstanica. And I'll have to cultivate a Canadian accent, eh?

      February 21, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • BADGUY

      A word to the wise: Anyone thinking about "jumping ship" and swimming across Lake Superior to sneak into Canada...Forget about it! If you're caught you'll be put on the first ship home. Canada doesn't allow refugees from a third world countries!

      February 26, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  7. asdzxc

    This article has way too many paragraphs.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  8. Americka

    Santorum is the leader of the Christian Taliban.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • fables are not healthy for children and other living things

      Prezactly.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  9. Robert Brown

    For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • JPS

      Then God said, "Let us make man in OUR image, and after OUR likeness" and so THEY did. So no surprise there except it took MILLIONS and MILLIONS of years. THAT is a SCIENTIFIC FACT.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • floda

      I agree

      February 22, 2012 at 4:57 am |
    • BADGUY

      Well said! Which Opus Dei "cult cell" do YOU belong?

      February 26, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  10. Lawrence Renyer

    Hmmm? Could it be....SATAN!!! Or just another right wing nut case who wants to make the rules for the rest of us?

    February 21, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • foxfire

      This guy is a little nutty...also Franklin Graham is a false like a lot of these so call do gooders.....I work for his faith for many years in a good job with low compensation.....most of the people were taken advantage.....I resigned...why should I work for the Baptist or many other group that cares less at the poor middle class. Just fill the pew and bring in their hard earned money.
      Your rewards will be later.......

      February 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Carter

      How do you think the rules should be made? It seems there needs to be some standard.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  11. Iconoclast

    So lacking a real enemy, we'll just use a mythological one. Hooray for delusional candidates, look it's the boogie man, Santorum to the rescue! Please nominate him, that much easier for Obama to win. hahahahahahaha

    February 21, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  12. BPD

    Rick Santorum is 100% right!

    February 21, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Lawrence Renyer

      Yeah, 100% right wing nut

      February 21, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Christfollower

      He Sure is! We need more men and woman like him!

      February 21, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • T-Max73

      Santorum is 100% delusional.

      "Gods are fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense." – Chapman Cohen.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • JPS

      MAYBE he is your christ – maybe he is here to RAPTURE you in his spaceship!!! Quick everyone cut off your nuts!!!

      February 21, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • texino

      ..and you are 100% wrong! You might not believe me now, but come November, mark my word, you will.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • sabrina

      He IS right BPD. Time for followers of Christ to stand up and take back this country. You cant serve two masters. God Bless America.....again.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Ben

      Sabrina and BPD – Yeaaaahhhh! We need more people like you! Just enough to get him the nomination....would be an easy victory for the Dem's for sure! Thanks for having your head stuck in the sand!

      February 21, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • youloze

      @ Chrisflower. We do, people like you that believe his radical terriostic christain views..He lacks substinence on any other subjects..He has a view of if you don't think as i do then you're wrong..

      February 22, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • Robert Brown

      Now let's not get carried away. Santorum is not a nut or a terrorist. He is telling the truth about spiritual warfare. But, don't worry if you are a nonbeliever, at worst, you may hear your name mentioned in prayer.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • BADGUY

      Yeah...Nazi Germany "had more men like him". See where it got THEM!

      February 26, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  13. grahamer rhodes

    Never forget the Nazis were right wing too. All you need is someone to take the blame. Santorum is just using Obama the same way the Joseph Gobbles used the Jews in 1930. Point is that anybody will do as long as he or she is not catholic. Way to go dimwit can you really imagine the vast populace of the USA is going to swallow this tripe. You've lost before you even start.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • joe blowsky

      nazis didn't kill jews because jews were theologically wrong or 'demonic.' they killed jews because of ethnicity.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • sabrina

      If you REALLY believed that..then you wouldnt feel the need to bash him on here.He's getting to you...could it be you have a ..dare i say it...a CONSCIENCE?!

      February 21, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • larry dillon

      Your right.Santorum is Hilter.I said it rick and I mean it.And unlike you I stand by remarkNo back peddling.Your a sick peice of trash

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

      I believe the Nazis were more left-wing. That is why Churchill was afraid of them along with the USSR.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • BADGUY

      As the founder of Rick Santorum's right wing "cult" said: "Hitler against the Jews. Hitler against the Slavs. That means Hitler against Communism". Rick is just "parroting" the "teachings" of Josemaria Escriva.

      February 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  14. CoJo

    are the republicans at the point of calling Obama anti-Christian? And some (a fair amount?) of the conservatives are actually labeling him as "the anti-christ"? WOW, how low can a group of people go? Do the republicans REALLY believe that? I have yet to hear one of the candidates actually say it, but they seem to have come to the wall with it. After hearing Santorum, Gingrich, Romney call Obama anti-Catholic, my wife has point blank now said she would NOT vote republican (and she WAS thinking of Romney). But the narrow mindless of the republicans have convinced her otherwise. Even I (democrat) was entertaining Romney. Nevermore.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Jonathan

      If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck. Its a duck right? Maybe. Or it could really be a vulture with a very good disguise.

      Going to church, ti-thing and calling yourself a Christian does not a Christian make. I am watching your actions and decisions, Mr Obama, and from what I have seen... leaves a lot to question. "You shall know them by their fruits" and you sir, taste a bit bitter.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • larry dillon

      Obama's fruit may taste bitter.but Santorum's fruit is poison.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  15. MrHighMighty

    Santorum disgustingly thinks God needs his help, so he drags God into the foul and filthy realm of man's politics, commiting blasphemy all along the way. Santorum is Satan's favorite kind of worker; Santorum doesn't know who he's really working for.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Frankie

      Is it okay if I use your post as my status?

      February 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  16. CoJo

    what Santorum and the other republican candidates (except Ron Paul) are pushing is religious bigotry

    February 21, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • shazaam

      And Ron Paul is pushing a dumbed down version of reality where all problems just kinda sort themselves out.

      Nice base you've cultivated, GOP.

      February 22, 2012 at 5:09 am |
    • PC

      "And Ron Paul is pushing a dumbed down version of reality where all problems just kinda sort themselves out.

      Nice base you've cultivated, GOP."

      Well the government certainly hasn't solved any of these problems, just made them even worse.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:05 am |
  17. Seer Clearly

    If Santorum is going to base his public policy on Satan, he should start by proving that Satan exists.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • asdzxc

      good one!

      February 21, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  18. yuighkg

    wow this guy is more nuts then i originally thought. If this guy gets the nomination i might just have to vote for obama. I swore i wouldn't compromise, and vote for the lessor of 2 evils. But this guy is frikkin nuts.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • joe blowsky

      i'm a dem and i desperately want santorum to win the nomination. but (and i generally shy away from prognostication), i would still bet on romney if i were a betting man. he's up a bit on intrade, for what it's worth.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  19. Chitown Jason

    And all this time we thought Bachmann and Palin were the craziest Republicans!

    February 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  20. Fish Flakes

    I for one am getting very sick of the continued harping from the right that anyone in public office needs to be a Christian. If ever there was a need for strong church and state separation it is now. Get your religion out of my back pocket!

    February 21, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • fables are not healthy for children and other living things

      The last time we had a right-wing religious nut job as POTUS.......well, suffice it to say that Santorum in that job would make JWB look like the best President we've ever had.
      I'd rather have an atheist in that position, simply because an atheist wouldn't be tempted to push The Big Red Button based on a belief that he's doing it because god told him to. Insanity.

      February 21, 2012 at 11:18 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.