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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. ester anderson

    This guy is such an idiot, who in their right mind would vote for him, I'm surprised he hasn't changed his name to Saintorum, like they say, the devil is in the detail and his name is Santorum

    February 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  2. Mike

    There was one person who lived with Jesus, listened to him and followed him and in the end was the one who betrayed him. There is no difference today in what Rick Santorum and those of like mind are doing and saying. They have listened and not heard, they have seen but yet are blind. They are not true followers of Christ, they have taken his teachings and twisted them to meet their own beliefs and desires of importance and not the true Christian beliefs or values. They are of the same mind as Judas and they are more than willing to send us all down the same path as Judas did to Jesus, betrayal of those do not believe they as they do. Anyone who says" believe as I do and be saved or suffer my wrath" is not Christian not even a little. As for Franklin Graham, the fruit has fallen from the tree and rolled far away from it.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • larry dillon

      I agree.I think what he is doing is blasphemy before God.I pray for Santorums soul.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  3. Mainline Protestant

    I'm offended more by his slandering of non-RC Christendom than by the rest of his speech. By "shambles," I presume he means, "Free to interpret the Bible themselves rather than depending on the dictates of a professional clergy." It may produce heterogeneity, but that is preferable to blind, monolithic parroting of an imposed dogma.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • ol cranky

      don't bother being offended considering Santorum thinks the Catholic Church is the bees knees and holds such high moral ground as an organization that not only protected child molesters but actually moved them around so they'd have a clear shot at fresh, unsuspecting prey.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  4. Eric G

    I find it curious that as more positive news comes out about the economy, the republicans have now changed their main talking point to religion. I hope this goes so far off the deep end that we can finally eliminate "belief" from qualifications for the Presidency.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • One one

      I wouldn't count on it. When times get tough again people will start praying to their gods for help.

      Sort of reminds me of doing a rain dance during a drought because people don't know what else to do.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  5. Rationalintn

    The only thing Rick Santorum is missing is a towel on his head and a long beard.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  6. Paul

    I've just added Rick Santorum to the Axis of Evil.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  7. dscon

    liberal love affair.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    February 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • ruemorgue

      It gave you a lobotomy.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • bringoutyourdead

      demon attacks the idea of prayer dreading the reality of prayer

      February 21, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • guitarharry

      No. Effective, rational leaders change things. Theocracy is not desirable. Look at Iran!

      February 22, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  9. ruemorgue

    The mjore Santorum rants the scarier he is. This guy truely believes this religious nonsense gives him not the right, but the *obligation* to force others to follow, rather obey, his interpretation of his brand of religious bigotry and hate.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  10. Jennifer

    The greatest thing the devil ever did was NOT convince people that he doesn't exist. The greatest trick the devil has acompolished is infiltrating God's house and then convincing God's followers that they were doing God's work when in fact, they were doing the Devils own work for him. (Hiding Pedophiles, saying that R@pee is 'Gods Gift', denying a mother with 1 or more kids already the chance to sacrifice the one so she can continue to live and provide for the others...any of that sound familiar?)

    If the Devil exists, I'm certain he's residing in Santorums body at this very moment.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • ruemorgue

      So true. So true. The Prince of Lies is hiding where we can *all* see him, but not recognize him - Santorum.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • ol cranky

      IDK, the devil seems a heck of a lot nicer and more moral than the mouthpieces of the religious right

      February 21, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • guitarharry

      Stop it already! We need to focus on the real problems in our country and quit with all this nonsense. You can believe whatever you want, but the problems we face have nothing to do with the devil. Snap out of it!

      February 22, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  11. One one

    Oh this is just great! We could end up with a president who believes the boogie man is out to get us. What's next, exorcisms? When people actually start believing stuff like this they are sometimes sent to a hospital to get some "rest".

    February 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  12. Bob

    Well, if Satan exists, then clearly Santa Claus exists and he must be working for Satan too because there are about a million Santa apparitions in shopping malls every year encouraging our descent into materialistic he!! So, obviously we need to declare war on SANTA because so far he's the only Satanic representative we can SEE.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  13. Pat

    These Repukes need to be sterilized and put in labor camps.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  14. oman

    Santorum, is the son of Satan. GOP has become the party of satan. Any christian that listens and bellieves what he is saying are not christians. God is love. Santoium and Satan are the E Team, and the E is for evil.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Rey

      The antichrist is not the devil; the antichrist are religious zelots who are trying to turn Jesus into the God of Hate....

      February 21, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    February 21, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Imaginary Superfriends

      Prove it. Oh wait, you can't, because prayer doesn't do anything except make one person feel better about not actually doing anything.
      I'd be more willing to vote for a president with his sleeves rolled up to get some work done rather than his hands folded in prayer.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Rationalintn

      Prayer didn't save the dinosaurs, and it's not going to save you either.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  16. EatYouAlive

    Seriously, where are the real GOP candidates. This is just for chuckles, right?

    February 21, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • momoya

      right? I mean, we all know some crazy xians, but this is just beyond belief.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  17. Michael

    My advice for the GOP folk – Try to remember that only about 20% of your half of the electorate will fall for your silly – senseless – religious BS. Try a little morality. Pretty sure you do not know what is in the mind of the creator of the Universe. I will skip the middle man (you) – if you don't mind.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  18. Swan

    I just got off the phone with Satan and he said Santorum is 90% correct, but wouldn't elaborate on the other 10%.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  19. Cherry

    it is very clear these republican candidates by all their speeches,biases,by all means they want to win and become a president.they tackle everything,make incredible lies just to win...people do you want to believe their stupidity,do you want to waste your vote...these republicans

    February 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  20. Erik

    This guy is C-R-A-Z-Y. He's a tyrant – my way or no way.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:22 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.