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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. Moi

    crazy is as crazy does. seriously peeps...this guy has got to go. no wait a minute...keep him and let him hand obama a landslide. hmmm...i think i like it.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  2. JustMe

    I think this guy missed his calling. He should have been a Priest.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  3. j reese

    why don't he run for pope

    February 22, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  4. Prayer is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
    Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
    Prayer makes you fat.
    Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
    Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
    Prayer fucks up your knees and your neck and your back.
    Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
    Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world.
    Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
    Prayer makes you think doilies are exciting.
    Prayer makes you secretively flatulent and embarrassed about it.
    Prayer makes your kids avoid spending time with you.
    Prayer gives you knobbly knees.
    Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just google him to find out.
    Prayer dulls your senses.
    Prayer makes you post really stupid shit.
    Prayer makes you hoard cats.
    Prayer makes you smell like shitty kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
    Prayer wastes time.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Punisher2000

      You have to remember to take your meddies, you know?

      February 22, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Moi

      hahahaha

      February 22, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  5. waterman

    Santorum 1812!

    February 22, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • saopaco

      Well played, Sir. Well played.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  6. bernie

    It's good thing he's so focused on the devil. That has to be the number one issue no one else is talking about on the campaign. I hope he plans on unveiling his plan to get him. Maybe the 82nd? Seal team 6? Big Red one? This is of vital interest to me as I want all imaginery beings wiped out of mythical places.
    Enough of religion. Its false belief in imaginery beings and based on a book of fables written by ancient goat herders

    February 22, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  7. Mike in Dallas

    Rick Santorum is a fruitcake, and he is presiding over a party of radical, pin-headed, Chicken Littles who have lost their minds!!!

    February 22, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Punisher2000

      He spoke to God and God told him he needed to run to save the soul of all Americans, so that Satan would stop attacking the U. S., the only Country in the World worth attacking. Now, what happens if the phone rings at three AM? Does Rick talk to God and tell Him the US will nuke hell? Stop the World, I wanna get off...

      February 22, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  8. joseph w, ryder

    Mr. Santorum braces a church that spent 13billion plus trying to do what cats do naturally, cover up Crap. The political correct
    thing to do defend, those that sin and a candidate that doesn't know God from a whole in the ground. The moral majority is the GOP, if you listen to the reason for what they say is Moral, the world is full of good old Boys that want a job when you get it, all the reasons for getting it goes to, why did I ever want a Job like this

    February 22, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  9. Kimster

    People are actually considering this idiot a viable candidate? He is the poster child for everything that is wrong in organized religion, and it is sad that there are more like him than you can imagine.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  10. asdf

    Good luck defeating Satan, Rick! Seems a little egotistical though, seeing as even your deity couldn't do it!

    February 22, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  11. MrApplesauce

    Once he's elected, he will start pointing out the groups of Americans ("not true Americans") that have fallen under the sway of Satan and and traitors to the State.

    Should be good times.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  12. The Left Wing

    WOW!!
    Santorum:
    "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,"
    That ought to win him a lot of protestant votes!

    February 22, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  13. Hypatia

    Sanctimonius wiill parade around today with dirt on his face, congratulating himself on being so righteous. Makes one really wish there was a make-believe diety in the sky to send a piece of space junk his way.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  14. kims

    Lord, deliver us from Rick Santorum. He should drop out of the presidential race and become a travelling fire and brimstone preacher!

    February 22, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  15. ForGoodOfAll

    Santorum is clearly an insane bigot. The people of Pennsylvania ditched him years ago. Pay no attention to the fool. He will never get the Republican nomination. He is way too far to the right and his policies are extremely oppressive toward women. I even doubt that the majority of Catholics like him, though they remain quiet.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  16. DC

    The whole religion issue is just being thrown out to avoid talking about the real issues facing this country. It's what gay marriage was in 2004. The GOP wants us to get so distracted by a bunch of made-up "social issues" that we forget that it was GWB and his GOP cronies who destroyed the economy in the first place.

    Don't be stupid little sheep, people. Make the candidates talk about the issues that actually impact our lives and futures.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • TRUTH

      Um no. We "sheep" like to see where the candidates heads are at. What they believe and how they think. Thier basic structure of reasoning, and how it was shaped. These characteristics are crucial in seeing how one might respond to the pressures and decisions made by the POTUS.
      The issues are inportant no doubt, but for you to ignore the "person" to focus on the issues is like swinging at a baseball with your eyes closed. This is what most Obama supporters are doing right now. They don't want to look at his record (which is dismal), they want to cross thier fingers and hope he can figure it all out eventually.
      I don't want govewrnment in my life, I want security in my life. Both financial and physical security for my family. Mitt is the only one who can bring back the 80's.! Lol.
      ROMNEY 2012.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Mike M.

      Ain't that the TRUTH!

      February 22, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Stevo

      Agreed. Vetting a candidates grey matter is a must. Ask the germans.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Moi

      TRUTH – do you really want to go back to the 80's? Bad hair, bad music, 'trickle down' economics that didn't work? hmmm. I'd rather go back to the 90's where there was a balanced budget, compromise and common sense. just sayin

      February 22, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Harrys Putter

      This is what most Obama supporters are doing right now. They don't want to look at his record (which is dismal),

      Seems that you are the one who refuses to look at his record.
      Its actually pretty good.
      Sad, you wont admit it.

      February 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  17. happyjackrich

    The Devil is out to get us. Also Hannibal Lecter, Darth Sidious, and the Wicked Witch of the West. I'm terrified of these imaginary beings...

    February 22, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  18. jryan3045

    The only thing in this world more dangerous than a Muslim fundamentalist is a Christian fundamentalist. God save us from religious nuts.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Justin

      Wow, Bigot!

      February 22, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  19. lance corporal

    "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,"

    so if your an evangelical or other non catholic christian in santorums eyes you are not a real christian

    now that is the ultimate divider!

    February 22, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  20. DC

    All of you Santorum supporters: take one of his speeches and change the words "Christian" to Muslim", "faith" to "Islam", "God/creation" to "Allah", and "Christian principles" to "Sharia Law". Would you still support him? If not, ask yourselves, honestly in a private moment, why?

    February 22, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Robert Brown

      That is a little too easy. Would you prefer a President who says and does things that you agree with, or one who says and does things you don't agree with? So, if we changed all those things you recommended, you may feel more comfortable with him, but I would not.

      February 22, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • saopaco

      DC- you seem to assume that christians are capable of critical thinking. They might have that ability, but if they were practiced in using it, then it would not be long before they lost the faith altogether. The Christian mythology does not stand up well to critical thinking. I doubt that many of them will try your experiment.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
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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.