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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. JWR

    Santorum doesn't know the difference between Protestant and Catholic. He's a fake! Does anyone believe he and his wife are not using some form of birth control? Why has't he spoken out against the child molestations some priests of the Catholic church have committed? Isn't that evil? He doesn't even understand Satan is using him to lie and deceive the American people about Christianity. God has given humans a free will to choose. It's not up to the Santorums of this world to force anyone to do anything. He is trying to usurp the authority of God. Santorum's rhetoric is evil and sinful. When God created man, He did not create religious robots! Get your big government ideas, your suppressive and oppressive ideals out of our bedrooms and out of our private lives and rule your own household!

    February 22, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • stevorino1

      All believers in God's love must watch out for these GOP nutjobs...they are everywhere spitting anti Chtristian hateful words and phrases that will always bring out the worst among those among their ilk. Thay are armed and dangerous.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • CN Red

      Hear, hear!

      February 22, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  2. PC

    Rick Santorum is a religious nut job who shouldn't get anywhere near the White House.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • AGuest9

      Absolutely.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  3. tedt

    This guy I'm coming to think is one brick shy of a full load. Sanatorium I mean.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  4. babs

    Rick Tornscrotum – do republicants really want to nominate this ideologue religious right-wing nut job? Bring it! Obama wins 65% to 35%!

    February 22, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  5. Big Jilm

    Funny, not a word about how Satan has infiltrated the Catholic Church with pedophilia and those who cover it up.
    Like God and the Debbil are political and play favorites with nations. Pretty funny stuff (deities being nationalistic).

    February 22, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • tedt

      Remember the old joke,half nelson,full nelson,father nelson, how true of the catholic church priests

      February 22, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  6. Ronald Reganzo

    Rick Santorum can go all the way with this thing, President Rick Santorum

    February 22, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • stevorino1

      The lies and racist filled hate-speech from the GOP is reaching levels again where someone may again be shot and murdered. Can't you repubs win anything honestly and without using Nazi hatred to stir up the nuts you attract?
      Edit Reply

      February 22, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      President Obama has not delivered, his base is deserting him in droves, Rick Santorum can win and win big.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • SilverHair

      He's the fourth nut in the basket.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • WatchDawg

      I guess you missed the spot, EVEN reported by Faux News that President Obama's rating is above 50%...yuppers...sounds like droves to me...lol...(sarcasm)...just in case you missed it

      February 22, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      You wish Obama' rating was above 50% wait until November, that is the only poll that counts. Rick Santorum can win this thing.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Toledo Windowbox

      I should feel sad for little Reganzo.
      He is going to be so upset when Obama is reelected,
      he may just hoo himself.
      ------------------------

      Ronald Reganzo

      Rick Santorum can go all the way with this thing, President Rick Santorum

      February 22, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  7. scat398

    I'm not religous but my parents to me church as a child and I had great and still do have great respect for those of faith. Santorums speeches are similar to the speeches given at many churches across this country every week, of course they also have an uplifting message to tie everything together, and we're not getting that part of the speeches here on CNN.

    I have no problem with the metaphore's that Santorum uses even if I don't agree with them all the time I think the bigger concern here is how little understanding there is by the media and the progressive socialist party in general. It's one thing to not be religious and it's another thing to not understand where a religious person comes from. I worry for the progressive socialist party that it has truly lots it's way.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • stevorino1

      True believers in God's love must be on guard for these GOP nutjobs...they are everywhere spitting anti Chtristian hate-speach that will always bring out the worst among those among their ilk. Thay are armed and dangerous.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • stevorino1

      True believers in God's love must be on guard for these GOP racist actors. They are led by a so-called "religous" right that intimidates and spews forth anti Chtristian hate filled rhetoric of war that brings out their gun-toting ilk. Thay are armed and dangerous.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • think for yourself

      What is the "uplifting message" that you were receiving in church? "All of us are going to eternal paradise while the rest of the world is going to burn forever"? Not very uplifting.
      Was it "do not kill, cheat, or steal"? That does not require a church to teach.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  8. John

    go Rickie go – get rid of the evil EPA, those nutty public schools and that witchcraft called science and give you the reigns – come on dark ages! hey man even if you lose i'm sure you'll be able to make more than the $4 million you made last year lobbying for all your crazy rich friends, i'm sure you hadn't thought of this so i wanted to keep your 'spirits' up.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  9. Eric

    Meanwhile, kids are playing Led Zeppelin records backwords, Santorum should eat some moldy rye bread and hallucinate like the writers of the bible maybe he might "see" Satan too. Darn hippie religion

    February 22, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  10. orangeboy

    It is amazing that someone with such a bronze-age view of the world can get so close to the GOP nomination. He would undoubtably be an even stupidier president than George junior. Just what the world and the US need.

    Hey! Maybe that proves that Santorum is Satan! Who else has the potential to damage the US so much?

    February 22, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • CN Red @orangeboy

      I was thinking the same thing. This guy makes Bush Jr. look like a harmless choir boy. Santorum as POTUS = war with Iran. This dude is nuts.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  11. rev_cletus

    Oy – this guy's turning into a frickin' *cartoon*, eh?

    Keep yappin', lil' Ricky – it'll be Obama by a mile...

    February 22, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      This is America anything can happen. President Obama has not delivered and if gas prices are allowed to crush the huddled masses again the election will be up for grabs. Remember those mid terms? Obama fiddled while Washington burned. He needed then and he needs now to put something tangible in the hands of the voting public. Rick Santorum can win this thing.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • AGuest9

      Yes, a chimpanzee's co-star can be elected and re-elected to generate an enormous deficit, nap through much of his second term, and complete the destruction of the country's manufacturing sector. His VP then started a war in the Gulf for the oil companies. His VP's son started a second war there as a vendetta and as a jihad against the Middle East, based on a major terror attack on our soil, thereby generating ANOTHER immense deficit. The party of fiscal responsibility??? Please!!!

      February 22, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Toledo Windowbox

      *** President Obama has not delivered and if gas prices are allowed to crush the huddled masses again the election will be up for grabs.

      Gas prices are about the same as under Bush, did you beotch then ?
      By the way the President has zero control over gas prices.
      The white house is not up for grabs, you have the three stooges poking each other in the eye.
      Its just that you hate Obama so much that you badly want him to lose.
      Too bad.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Gas began to rise under the reign of President Clinton , he opened the national reserves and prices went back down to normal, Yes I opposed the price gouging under W . There is no hate of Barak Obama but he does have the bully pulpit and he is fiddling while Washington and the country burns. President Obama needs to give something tangible, something people can actually feel in their lives or he is going to lose and lose big. Gas pump money is a necessary out of pocket expense for every single American, it is the single most dramatic change Obama can effect.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Gas began to rise under the reign of President Clinton , he opened the national reserves and prices went back down to normal, Yes I opposed the price gouging under W . There is no hate of Barak Obama but he does have the bully pulpit and he is fiddling while Washington and the country burns. President Obama needs to give something tangible, something people can actually feel in their lives or he is going to lose and lose big. Gas pump money is a necessary out of pocket expense for every single American, it is the single most dramatic change Obama can effect

      February 22, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  12. Dede

    This guy is a sicko psycho! Santorum is nothing more than a religious zealot clothed in the shape of the Catholic church and is to be condemed for his words attacking women, gays, academia, science, and the social fabric our country.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • ShutUP

      Wish I could find a way to put a condom over his head.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  13. miamimike

    Wow Rick! You don't like the NBA, rock concerts, or the movies? How about something more in keeping with your mindset, like a good midieval joust, or a hot tar and feathering?

    February 22, 2012 at 7:34 am |
  14. Beenthinking

    I cannot and will not believe in Religion as God himself says the same thing. It creates enemies that were not there until you thought about it. I do not hate anyone nor will I hate anyone for what they believe. That is our right. Who really gives 2 Sugars Honey Iced Tea what religion you are as long as you all believe the same thing. That Good shall always win against Evil.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:34 am |
  15. Brian

    Granted, the guy is religious up to his own collar, and he speaks his mind. Good for him. But, he's spending so much time discussing this, he's not taking care of the simple blocking and tackling of the campaign and that's the economy and education. I almost want to see Romney get the GOP nomination today just to make Santorum shut the hell up.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:30 am |
  16. Hadenough

    Yesterday, this guy proudly stated "I'm not a visionary and I'm not a manager". Guess what Ricky, both of these skills are needed by the President. I'm glad you pointed out your shortcomings. Now, get lost.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:28 am |
  17. TQuiroz

    If you were to put a turban and a beard on this Dark Ages nut and place him in Iran, you'd swear you he was another religious fanatic.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:28 am |
  18. Bailey

    I am glad to hear some of these comments, I haven't lived in the US in so long I thought everyone must have gone crazy. Santorum wants to fight 'evil'...? What the hell is he talking about. I can only guess that he wants to create a war between people of different religions. I'm pretty sure having someone intolerant of other religions as president is the worst thing for america right now.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    February 22, 2012 at 7:27 am |
    • Hmmm

      You are aware religion has directly killed 9 billion people throughout history right?

      February 22, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • just sayin

      For a lie of dramatic proportions read the rely post to Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      February 22, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • AGuest9

      The strength of your delusion doesn't prove your delusion.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  20. garyk51188

    I like Santorum. A presuppositionalist. There is good and evil in the world. That evil destroys individuals, lives, families - culture and nations, if embraced. God told us what we "ought" to do. We don't do a very good job at doing the "oughts."

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

      Whose god ? Your god has never told me a single thing.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • henry

      what a dumb azzed statement.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Toledo Windowbox

      You ought to put down da pipe.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:44 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.