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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. newz4i

    If it takes Satan to take down a Republican, I'll proudly be letting my red tail hang out at my next visit to the voting booth. Free at last!! Free at last!!

    February 22, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • REPUBLICANS FOR VOLDEMORT

      Don't mock us even though we are stupid sheeple.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  2. SCHMITTHEAD13

    FUNNY... you know satan so well.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • REPUBLICANS FOR VOLDEMORT

      Follow Rick Santorum the anallyfrothy Dark Lord.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  3. Big T

    Mr. Santorum "sees the world in black and white, good vs. evil." I guess that leaves me and most of humanity in some kind of limbo becaus I don't know anyone who is purely good or evil.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  4. Robert Brown

    Don't be so hard on Santorum he is telling the truth. We are engaged in spiritual warfare. If you are an unbeliever you shouldn't be concerned. The worst thing that could happen to you in this life as a result of spiritual warfare is that you may be mentioned in prayer. You may feel convicted of sin, have a hard time sleeping at night, see your need for the Savior, ask Jesus to save you and forgive you, live a blessed life here on earth, and go home to heaven someday.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • todd in DC

      Wrong. The worst thing that could happen to the non believer is having a beliver dictate the non believer's life – who to love, who to marry, what he/she is allowed to do with his/her body, who he/she could adopt, where she is allowed to work, what contraception he is allowed to use. Seriously, think for a minute.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • REPUBLICANS FOR VOLDEMORT

      Follow Rick Santorum. He is the anally frothy high priest of the Dark Lord.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  5. myweightinwords

    When a person puts as much faith in the concept of Satan as they do their God, and ascribe to Satan the kind of power that Santorum seems to in this speech, it becomes easier to demonize entire groups of people, making them less than human and thus easy to separate, ridicule, marginalize and ultimately deny.

    Trust that even if you agree with the first groups targeted this way, eventually, he will come around to you, unless you are exactly like him...and even then, you might not be safe.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  6. Ajora999

    Be very afraid America, there are people in our midst even now HAVING FUN!
    OH NOES!

    February 22, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  7. rosie2003

    Ironically, Santorum is pretty close to a Muslim when it comes to his views on women. Women are 2nd class citizens and he'll decide what we can and cannot have.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  8. Ronald Reganzo

    Wake up to reality, Rick Santorum is not only a contender, but currently the front runner. The potential is there for Rick Santorum to become the next President of these United States

    February 22, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  9. michelle murphey

    No, no, no....politics and government have fallen to POLITICIANS, not Satan.....hm
    ? What's that you say? Satan and Politicians are one in the same? Ah, well then, point well-taken......

    February 22, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  10. Ronald Reganzo

    Wake up to reality, Rick Santorum is not only a contender, but currently the front runner. The potential is there for Rick Santorum to become the next President of these United States.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • joebofett

      If he does get the nomination, it will be because there is a disturbingly high number of religious nutjobs like you out there who are voting for him. He'll still lose in a landslide to Obama even if he does get the nomination thanks to the fact that he's obviously out of his mind.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Political realist here,nutjobs come in all extremes, left, right or middle. Nutjobs do not win elections, Rick Santorum is a proven winner and has the very real potential to go all the way. Look at facts. Dion't like it? Get out and do something about it. From where I sit I see the Santorum bus leaving a Barak Obama grease spot in its wake.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Mike in Dallas

      Hmmm... When you say Rick Sanatorium is a "proven winner" are you referring to his 18 point loss in his most recent Senate race? Looks to me that the good voters of Penn. saw enough and took out the trash!

      February 22, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      No I refer to his previous two wins for senate and his current record on the nomination trail.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • *facepalm*

      "No I refer to his previous two wins for senate"

      Typical xtian cherry-picking of facts. Those wins were before he was placed on the list of most corrupt senators. Once voters saw through his BS he got trounced. You could easily say he's a proven loser – and you'd be more accurate, considering the timeline. Appealing to the extreme, which is one way to have success in the primary, doesn't work so well in a general election.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • TR6

      Well, I'm changing parties so I can vote for Santorum in the primarys because he would be the easyest for Obama to defeat

      February 22, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  11. David

    I can't believe we as humans would even consider allowing someone with beliefs like this to govern us. A mind (the human brain) is a terrible thing to waste.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  12. Original Sin

    Abortion was not promoted originally by the father of lies. It was promoted by Moses as part of Moses law: Numbers 5. Abortion was believed necessary in case a woman had children by someone other than her husband. Abortion was truly considered a natural and normal part of family planning in Moses time.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  13. michael ague

    The Bible often alludes to statements by Jesuswhich undeniably allude to the fact that popular opinion and the road to eternal damnation are often one in the same. He clearly says that most will hear his words and not follow them. He was mocked by the majority, reffered to by many as a"nut job" and eventualy brutally murdered by the majority who prescribed to popular opinion of the day. Most of the derogatory remarks posted above about Santorum have the same ring to them. I don't profess to judge anyone making their opinion known above, but if you profess Christianity you had better use your "ears to listen" to what is being espoused by the popular culture and make your own judgement as to which side Christ would have us/stand on in debates such as this

    February 22, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • joebofett

      Thanks for the advice, crazy religious guy. Now, move along. The adults who aren't members of your outdated, ridiculous cult are having a discussion. Thanks, bye!

      February 22, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Mike in Dallas

      We are electing a President, a secular position, last time I checked... And I don't think Jesus is running, although maybe Rick Sanatorium thinks he is Jesus!

      February 22, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  14. Leila

    "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."

    This is exactly the kind of self-righteous rhetoric spewed by the Puritans in the 17th century. If you recall, such dangerous and paranoid dogma led to the belief in witches and a witch hunt ensued.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Sir Bedevere

      A good witch hunt is exactly what this country needs. However, we should come up with a standard duck weight for weighing witches against. We wouldn't want to accidentally burn someone at the stake who was dressed up to look like a witch.

      I'd suggest we start with Michelle Bachmann – she's obviously a witch.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • myweightinwords

      @Sir Bedevere

      As a witch, I take exception to that! Most modern witches are well educated, tolerant of others and do not resemble Michelle Bachmann in any way, shape or form!

      February 22, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Sir Bedevere

      @myweightinwords,

      I have it on good authority that you turned one of my friends into a Newt. He's apparently recovered, thank heavens, but we can have no more of that. Plus, witch burning tends to be really good for morale.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • myweightinwords

      @Sir Bedevere,

      Oh, was that your friend? Sorry about that. I had a new wand and it just wasn't working right at the time. I'll send along a care package of potions and cookies to apologize.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Sir Bedevere

      Well, cookies are my weakness. Just make sure that the package doesn't show up in a giant wooden rabbit. Or badger.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  15. truth123

    Santorum is the real satan

    February 22, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  16. Patricia

    everyone: please read THE HARBINGERS, an Ancient mistery that holds the future of America ... and you will clearly understand what Santorium is talking about... and what trully is going on since (and behind) 9/11.......... Americans need urgently turn back to God with humility and repentace otherwise a worse calamities will comefor America and the whole world...just read that book!

    February 22, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Bob

      Great, read another bunch of fiction. Honestly, don't you people have any better ideas?

      February 22, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • *facepalm*

      Wait, does that even matter? 'Cause I just got done reading about the Mayans and clearly we don't have any worries after December of this year.

      Also, it would appear your tin foil hat may be getting a little too snug. I might suggest finding something that fits better. Here's a good place to start: http://zapatopi.net/afdb/ (this is, apparently, legit)

      February 22, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • joebofett

      LOL, you religious wackjobs crack me up. Oh, there's a book called The Harbingers that explains all of Rick santorum's crazy beliefs? That makes it ok, then. We should vote for him! You lunatics are so out of touch with reality, it's scary.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  17. MI Poo

    My grandmother (rest her soul) didn't like Catholics because they worshipped Mary and saints. She said it was a false religion. I'm willing to bet that quite a few evangelicals are going to be less than thrilled with Santorum's calling protestants "evil". As we get closer to the convention and more of this type of stuff comes to light, Santorum will be sent back to his lobbyist job.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  18. DC

    If you're a white, straight, rich, ultra-conservative Catholic male with no daughters or sisters, then Santorum may be the candidate for you.

    If you don't meet EVERY SINGLE ONE of these criteria, I'd strongly suggest you look for anohter candidate.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • waterman

      And if you are just white and super rich with no beliefs, Romney is your candidate.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  19. DC

    "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," (Santorum) said.

    Why is this quote not getting more press? I bet his evangelical base of support would LOVE this one. All of the Christians whining about "freedom of religion" despite being an overwhelming majority might actually have something to worry about! Never mind that Santorum doesn't think Romney is Christian- he doesn't think Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, and other protestants are Christian either!!

    The Frothy One is a scary dude, my friends...

    February 22, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • *facepalm*

      Oh, that shouldn't be too hard to spin. Whatever protestant group he happens to be talking to at a particular point he'll be sure to mention 'oh, I wasn't talking about you guys I was talking about those other protestants. They're the ones who have it all wrong.

      Christians love to feel like they're better than other Christians. This is an easy spin.

      February 22, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  20. Jeff Morris

    Being out of alignment with his values!!!!!

    Who is this guy? Last time I looked at the Ten Commandments I was told: " Thou Shall not have any Gods before Me".
    So there is Rick between myself and the Lord, and if I don't pass Rick's muster, then I am denied God's grace. Rick seems to have strayed over the theological line when it comes to the concept of free will as well. Since he can't seperate Obama's theology from his philosophy (and he home schools his children, obviously without a dictionary), what gives this idiot the right to dictate to people on how they will conduct their lives.

    The GOP really needs a Martin Luther, a hammer, a nail, and a convenient Catholic Church to set about the business of its own reform. God Save Us from demagogues like Santorum who belong in the age of witch burning and not the 21st century.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:09 am |
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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.