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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. Whatistruth

    This article is full of grammatical errors and typos. Don't they proofread these things anymore? I couldn't even get through it all the way, because I was getting a headache having to re-read sentences that didn't make sense.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • youloze

      The truth is that he doesn't talk about how he would get the economy back on course, poverty in America, bringing jobs back to our shores.. All he talks about is abortion prevention, birth control and neonatal screening prevention..There is a lot more to this country than just those issues. He has no substinence..He is one dimenional...He would set this country back hundres of years with his neandorthal type thnking.

      If you don't want birth control don't take it but it should be an option if needed and covered under insurance just as is viagara..

      February 22, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  2. coy4one

    That's all we need in the White House, a holy-roller hypocrite. I’m not sure if what Santorum said was more of an invitation for the devil to come to America.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:21 am |
  3. MITT ROMNEY

    Hey Rick...its all about the economy stupid!

    February 22, 2012 at 7:20 am |
  4. RightCoastVA

    Dear Republican primary voters,

    Please think long and hard about this guy. We already went through 8 years of a president that thought in terms of black and white and that didn't end so well. Hell, it was an unmitigated disaster. Yeah, Obama hasn't been great, but he's better than 4 more years of a Bush style presidency. Please don't try and hoist another one on us. It will not end well for you.

    Sincerely,

    Independent voters

    February 22, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  5. Beenthinking

    So as I have been reading this article and it's responses it seems that the Devil himself can be president and most of you would not even see it. You all say how this is all fake and that a God does not exist. Yet anyone on the planet that has died and come back (and these statements can be verified by looking it up) all see and say the same thing before they come back. A feeling of everlasting love and the appearance of long dead family members to greet them. I believe that most of you refuse to believe that another life awaits us. Whether it is a God or just the on going existance of yourself out of body cannot be argued as Science itself is proving that we all have another life to head into after we die. Sadly most of these posted messages on this article show the lack of belief in another life and to be a Good person in life will guarantee a place with your long lost Loved ones. Ask ANYONE WHO HAS DIED AND RETURNED TO LIFE AFTER A MAJOR SURGERY they will all say the same exact thing, whether you are Black, Latin, Arab or Indian I am not here to bash anyone I am here to just fill in the blanks with all the information I have been able to gather. All I know is that in the end given a choice I would choose to rather believe in God whether real or imagined than any human alive today.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • ES

      Did they see Jesus Christ , though? Santorum only recognizes one god – Jesus Christ (of the catholic interpretation), all other relegions for him are not religions and are on the side of Satan.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • RAWoD

      You've bought into this nonsense hook, line, and sinker. Nobody has died and come back. The heart stopping can (and often is) restarted. Coma has lasted then released people "thought to be dead". The big lie of life after death can be traced back to the first "great awakening" in the US. Go read about how the traveling "ministers" got together to coordinate the big lie.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Toledo Windowbox

      *** So as I have been reading this article and it's responses it seems that the Devil himself can be president ..

      We are trying to keep the devil out of the white house.
      You dont get it.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  6. d-dagger

    Another day, another batch of spew from Santorum's mouth. God, this is entertaining! I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

    February 22, 2012 at 7:08 am |
  7. J.R.

    Freedom. Democracy. Live & Let Live - all would be gone if Santorum was president. Toss him out, America.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:06 am |
  8. PaulNYC

    It's amazing that Rick Santorum and other Catholics of the Opus Dei variety concentrate so much on "sin" and far less on getting their hands dirty helping people. I'm sure they think Jesus would approve but they are wrong.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:04 am |
  9. Linda

    He's Sarah Palin with a penis.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Toledo Windowbox

      I think Sarah Palin has a penis.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  10. Jiff3

    And this guy wants to be president of our country? LOL..... what a joke!!

    February 22, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Toledo Windowbox

      Pope Santorum.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  11. AndyF

    Satan has good tools in people like Rick Santorum. He has him and other conservatives fooled into thinking that whole part about how it would be easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, is total non-sense. That, and like Dubya, Santorum's behavior easily qualifies him as yet another dillusional, ego maniacal demigod who really should be treated as a mentally ill, sociopathic individual who has no business in politics.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:56 am |
  12. Frank Schipani

    What's the issue here? Can only athiests run for president? Why is Mr. Santorum's faith such an issue? Romney's faith teaches some odd things and don't forget Obama's looney Rev. Wright. That Santorum holds beliefs that are consistent with 2000 years of Christian teaching and many (if not a majority) of Americans shouldn't disqualify him for the presidency.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • 40acres

      Santorum's religion is an issue because Santorum makes it an issue. He knows how to play on the people's most cherished beliefs.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • Stu

      Do Satan worshipers not have the right to inhabit this country? This is a secular country, if you don't like it, then you can leave. Remember, there are about 75 million non-Christians in this country, do you think they are just going to roll over and watch Christians take away their freedom of religious expression?

      February 22, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • youloze

      He's not bible toating nut job...I believe in my faith but i won't force individulas to believe as i do..Freedom of religion and freedom of thought..Not force of religion or force of thought..

      February 22, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • youloze

      He's a bible totating terriorist..He's a radical christian views.

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

      Perhaps you have not talked religion with a fundamentalist before. Many of them -firmly- believe there IS no other religion, everyone else is either 'lost needing saving' or are some kind of evil. Although Santorum is catholic, he is pushing for all the christian votes, and, his talk revolves far more about religion than social/economic politics. His stated, public beliefs are of the deepest catholic views with no room to compromise. People with level heads make comments about his religious agenda because it is plain as day, and those who are not overly religious seem to turn a blind eye.

      No one is saying the president, or any politician, needs to be an atheist, just that they need to keep and open and secular mind... that means accepting other religions as valid... which is something that devout religious people tend to be unable to do. It is admirable to speak their mind and hold their faith, but, it also means decisions they make must be tempered and watched by others. Not a quality highly beneficial to a top leadership position.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • LivinginVA

      It's not his beliefs, it's the fact that he wants to pass laws that follow them that is the problem.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • jaded

      "can only atheists run for president"? What world are you living in?

      February 22, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  13. don in albuquerque

    Ricky has turned into a total embarrasment to the country. No wonder organized religion is failing in so many areas. And now they want to run the government? Get ready for the Inquisition (sp) American style. Together the church and Sanintmonious will make the Salem witchtrials look like doo doo.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:53 am |
  14. Stuck in the Middle

    Santorum is just another Bachmann but with smaller testes.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:52 am |
  15. john

    Rick Satan doesn't carry a pitchfork and live underground....he lives in the hearts of inflexible, judging people such as yourself...and spews venomous slander about good and decent people to suit his ego and needs....

    February 22, 2012 at 6:50 am |
  16. Wes

    The man is clearly insane and has lost all sense of reality. This person would imperil our nation and our liberty. He should be dismissed with considerable prejudice.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:49 am |
  17. Jim

    Just keep repeating "Idiocracy was just a bad movie"; " Idiocracy was just a bad movie"; "Idiocracy was just a bad movie" nope, doesn't work..... Idioracy is real..........

    February 22, 2012 at 6:46 am |
  18. Mike

    Delicious! The new Golden Boy of the Right is a 3rd grader!

    February 22, 2012 at 6:33 am |
  19. sagar

    Christianity has no spirituality. It is most un philosophical and sallow thinking riligion. More stupid are Judaism and Islam. Riligion should be more tolerant and help create peace and harmoney in the society. These three riligions do exactly opposite. Rick santorum should become a pastor and confine his worthless "theology" within his church walls.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • Mike

      religion not riligion. harmony not harmoney. yet somehow you aced 'spirituality.'

      February 22, 2012 at 6:35 am |
    • FightEvil

      The GOP/T have politicized religion and made GOD into a republican. The Evangelicals have decreed that theirs is the only way to believe and all others be damned. Yes Satan is very busy and it is through the republican party that he's chosen to bring it all down. When was the last time the republicans did anything positive and constructive that helped out all Americans? ...Yeah right...

      February 22, 2012 at 6:52 am |
  20. awasis

    "What he's saying, it's certainly not any heresy," said Father Tom Reese, a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center."

    You're correct, it's not heresy, it's lunacy.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:21 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.