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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. mmi16

    The more he opens his mouth the deeper he digs his way to Satan.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:18 am |
  2. Mo-Rons

    Vote Ron Paul 2012! Problem solved...

    February 22, 2012 at 6:16 am |
    • Piranha Soup

      Ron Paul 1812.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  3. Sophist022751

    Thank you AMber. If I wasn't such an IDIOT I'd write something intelligent here. Or maybe not.

    I got pretty distracted by the tater tots my own darn self.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:12 am |
  4. maniacmudd

    such a waste of space....

    February 22, 2012 at 5:45 am |
  5. Guess What

    He is right on with his speech and Kennedy said they would spring up amongst us and look who we have, is it obama or the christian hating anti-christ, maybe both in the same.

    February 22, 2012 at 5:33 am |
    • jim

      I'd still take Santorum over the white man hating Obama. It was proven during the 2008 election that Obama attended a so-called church and supported a White hating preacher. Where are those articles. I'd rather have a sock puppet in the WH than this Catholic hating President. BTW Why is the Catholic Church the only religion that does not get a pass on the Obama health care plan?? I know everyone here will be against my post because thats what Dems do when they don't like what they read or hear they try to destroy it. BTW, I am a registered Democrat, but an American first. When I see something wrong I say something...Thats why this DEM WILL NOT SUPPORT OBAMA AGAIN in 2012

      February 22, 2012 at 5:55 am |
    • maniacmudd

      wow jim, yer also a waste of space...

      February 22, 2012 at 5:58 am |
    • Name*Chedar

      Delusional Christian hating black.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:04 am |
    • 40acres

      Jim, I thought Santorum is the white man hating Obama.....I'm guessing you are too. I believe you about being a Democrat (oh wait.....no I don't).

      February 22, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • Gonzo

      *** BTW Why is the Catholic Church the only religion that does not get a pass on the Obama health care plan??

      My IQ dropped reading that.
      Why do Repubs make this stuff up ?

      February 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  6. THETERP

    This is now leading the GOP, that's scary! What's Evil varies person to person as we all have differences. If we were to go by what this nut case says then there are very few in this world that aren't Evil. So many like nutcase things abortion is devilish, well I and many think taking benefits away or making them unaffordable to/elderly or retired is devilish. Not assisting with funding lunches for poor children is devilish. There are many other ways that one can interpret what is evil or devilish. Based on what tricky Rich says, we’re all going to hell. But of course he’s Catholic, so he’ll pray for forgiveness and everything will be forgiven…..Leading the GOP, SCARY!

    February 22, 2012 at 5:22 am |
  7. ushonor

    Rick Santorum was named among the most corrupt politicians in 2005-2006 by a Washington watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Watch the Gang of Four Starring Rick Santorum

    February 22, 2012 at 5:18 am |
  8. akmac64

    Santorum is an evil man posing as righteous. His twisting of Christianity for his own personal gain reveals the truth about him. The phrase, "by their fruits shall you know them", certainly applies. He is using God and Jesus to justify his own judgemental inhumanity towards others whom he wishes to control, especially women. He appeals to the basest prejudices in his followers to gain their support. Santorum is as far removed from Christ as it is possible to get and still be human.

    February 22, 2012 at 5:14 am |
  9. SHOCKED

    The more Santorum speaks the more he sounds like an American Taliban. Incite the Republican crowd of non-thinking slack-jawed followers.

    February 22, 2012 at 5:06 am |
    • Duck Dodgers

      Wait till he pulls a Linda Blair.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  10. ushonor

    His vote for the 2005 highway bill – a $284 billion measure that was loaded with earmarks, including the infamous Alaska "Bridge to Nowhere"

    February 22, 2012 at 4:42 am |
  11. adrifter

    I admire that Santorum says what he believes. Still, it freaks me out that he is even this close to the presidency. It also tells me a lot about Republicans. Can they really be seriously considering choosing this guy as their nominee? That can't be possible. Seriously, he would lose to Stephen Colbert.

    February 22, 2012 at 4:39 am |
  12. tuck

    i like tater tots!

    February 22, 2012 at 4:29 am |
    • Joxer the Mighty

      Me too!!!!!!

      February 22, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • Tater Lovin' Fool

      And me! Give me them Tater Tots!!

      February 22, 2012 at 5:44 am |
    • Duck Dodgers

      I miss twinkees.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  13. BritsAreFreer

    On any given day, in 2012, I witness free speech more by citizens of the UK than here in the US. Most have no compunction about speaking up. Here, most Americans filter everything they say now so that it is actually boring to try and hold a discussion with anyone – or they discipline you when you formulate an opinion on just about every topic.

    How judgmental and tyrannical that is.

    February 22, 2012 at 4:22 am |
    • shazaam

      Somebody call the waahmbulance.

      February 22, 2012 at 5:00 am |
  14. Jeff

    holy crap!
    What a nutcase. I hope that his followers are smart enough to do a little fact checking now and then.
    Blind faith is one thing, but this guy isn't God.

    February 22, 2012 at 4:09 am |
    • Amber

      As if the masses didn't put blind faith in Obama???? Most blacks voted for him because he was black. You can't get more blind than that! And now we have a prez who has done more damage to this country than any prez in modern times. He's leading us down the socialistic, communistic, Marxist rose garden path and the idiots of this country are sooo willing to follow. The idiots of this country don't possess enough common sense to understand that DEM policies (Robin Hood) are not sustainable. The idiots of this country can't comprehend what will happen when we run out of money. The idiots of this country would rather not think about such a scene and would rather continue drinking their beer and eating their popcorn with the remote. It's hard to believe that so many people get sucked into the failed DEM ideology. They never want to pony up their own money, alwyas taking from those left producing. Liberalism is definitely a mental disorder and there's no cure. We must take the children of this country and show them a better way. Indoctrination in our schools must stop.

      February 22, 2012 at 5:44 am |
    • Archie

      bye bye

      February 22, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • 40acres

      Wow Amber! That's some heavy responsibility you have knowing what "most blacks" think. If you want "indoctrination in our schools" to stop how will you indoctrinate them with your hate for liberals? Home schooling? By the way, I tried to drink beer and eat popcorn with my remote....it turns out it wasn't designed for either.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • Duck Dodgers

      **** WARNING – DANGER ****

      She not only drank the poison koolaid
      she took the bad acid.
      We lost another one to that disease called "Republicanism".
      ----------------------------------

      Amber

      As if the masses didn't put blind faith in Obama???? Most blacks voted for him because he was black. You can't get more blind than that! And now we have a prez who has done more damage to this country than any prez in modern times. He's leading us down the socialistic, communistic, Marxist rose garden path and the idiots of this country are sooo willing to follow. The idiots of this country don't possess enough common sense to understand that DEM policies (Robin Hood) are not sustainable. The idiots of this country can't comprehend what will happen when we run out of money. The idiots of this country would rather not think about such a scene and would rather continue drinking their beer and eating their popcorn with the remote. It's hard to believe that so many people get sucked into the failed DEM ideology. They never want to pony up their own money, alwyas taking from those left producing. Liberalism is definitely a mental disorder and there's no cure. We must take the children of this country and show them a better way. Indoctrination in our schools must stop.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  15. M-Theory

    Sanitorium belongs in a sanitarium. Sing it James Hetfield!!
    Saaaanitorium..... leave me be.
    Rick Saaaaanitorium.... just leave me alone.

    rick, go back to watching teletubbies on Fox with your warn milk and... leave us alone

    February 22, 2012 at 3:47 am |
  16. Annette LaVallee

    He belongs in a pulpit ... not the oval office.

    February 22, 2012 at 3:39 am |
    • xlntcat

      Oh, I think that Santorum has had a working relationship with Satan for a very long time. Just take a look at his record in Congress and as we are seeing Santorum has his sights on America.

      February 22, 2012 at 4:00 am |
    • Toledo Windowbox

      For all his talk about gay people,
      he would probably be happy in a male brothel.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  17. Santorum, you da fruit !!

    Rick be all crazy and he be all wack. What will he say when he hit dat crak(pipe)! He gonna pump his buddy in da rear, he plows them jig-a-boooos and has no fear. Now when he done he just gotta say, now u all know dat I be flamin gay! I luv dat salty, sticky goo, just spray me wit yo man-luv spoooo! Let's finish this up and polish yo knob, I pound Billy, Stevie, Mikey and Bob!! Ohhhh yeah. Fruits and fairies for eveh!!

    February 22, 2012 at 3:37 am |
  18. Tim

    Wow, and I was scared when Bush Junior had access to thousands of nuclear weapons.

    February 22, 2012 at 3:33 am |
  19. Santorum be da bomb!

    Yo Santy. Slob my knob and finish dat job!! You silly fairy!!

    February 22, 2012 at 3:30 am |
  20. Spangler

    The word 'abomination' is used 65 times in the OT and 2 times in the NT. The only named abomination in the NT is Luke 16:5 where Jesus calls the love of money an abomination. Will the GOP seek to turn all of these into civil law? Or just the one slamming gays.

    February 22, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • akmac64

      Obviously, only the inflammatory ones that get him votes by pandering to the fears and prejudices of the less thoughtful and more insecure followers.

      February 22, 2012 at 5:19 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.