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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. Dan

    No bible beaters for president please.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  2. Yuri Pelham

    Don't you people see the truth? Satan is invading our society to take control of our way of life, to lure us away from Godly values to the path of evil. He comes cleverly disguised so as not to be recognized. He is known by many names, Lucifer for one. But I am on a first name basis with this devil I call him Rick.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Andy

      I had a nice lunch with the Devil last week, but he stiffed me with the check.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  3. jo an

    Franklin Green takes home more than ONE MILLION DOLLARS each year from his 'charities'....check it out...He is definitely a ONE PER CENTER..1%....HE is in the category with RUSH...CROOKS...

    February 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  4. Dana

    Santorum, your phony religion is not better than any other phony religion.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  5. Russ

    Religion is just the sheild that people who feel inadequite hide behind to explain their inadequitcies. If I can't handle something or something goes wrong I'll just say it's god's will. Yeah that's the ticket. God did it, so it's not my fault. I didn't succeed so it's not my fault, it was god's will. Yep, I cheated on my wife but it's not my fault it was god's will. You right wing zealots make me sick!

    February 21, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      And often worse, it is a sword they use to enforce their beliefs on others. Case in point – Rick Snatorum.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Yuri Pelham

      If you are sick, it's God's will. Oh my ?? Republicans are God's will? Let's leave God out of it. Sanctorum should be careful re commandment: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain. He's using God for his own purposes. Watch out Rick. And the 9th commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness. I think Sanctorum will meet Satan some day... if he's not already working for him.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  6. anagram_kid

    If Sen. Santorum becomes POTUS I am moving all my investments to chast*ty belt manufacturing and salt peter futures.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  7. scott

    So we have gone from Reagan, to Bush 1, then Bush 2, and now Santorum. Is anyone else seeing a trend here?

    February 21, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  8. tim Thorp

    Ah yes, satan has felled Protestantism? Great, ricky boy, write off those votes. Newt, do you agree with Ricky? O K, write off them votes too. Romney, write off nonMormons, hmm that'll take care of your nomination. Ron Paul, write off catholics, mormons, nonTexans.
    Ok, we are done. There goes the GOP field.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Hawk

      I wonder why he dosen't talk about the altar boy molesting priests. To me a back slid methodist the catholic church is more of a cult than anything. they throw wild drinking partys then they fast and confess to the priest not god or jesus christ. the worship the virgin mary not jesus the son of god. and he says nothing about the hundreds of little boys that have been molested. if he wants to talk about satan he needs to look under his own rug.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  9. Felix

    "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes." And Rick Santorum is stoned out of his head with it.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  10. Nick San Diego

    This clown might just get the nomination, but then he;s toast in the General election..
    Most people are fair and religious, but not fanatical.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  11. Big Ron

    Any presidential candidate that tries to apply his religious convictions towards everyone else in the country is not a good choice.Republican or Democrat.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  12. Russ

    When did the office of President become a religious position? Am I missing something here? When do these idiots quit belittling the President of the United States with their comparisons of religious beliefs and start talking about what they can do for the country. Do they really believe as Palin and Perry did that the magic man in the sky sent them to run the country? Somehow if that was the case this country would be in great shape right? God wouldn't let us down. I'm guessing when you assess the world there is no god or he would have stepped in by now. So get off your holier than thou high horse and quit talking about your theology and get back to reality.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      When the economy started to improve and they had nothing else to run on.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Ace

      Dow when Obama took office – 6500..Dow today – 13,000...enough said!

      February 21, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Ronniec

      Ace i believe the dow was about 8300 the morning obama took office. Your point is taken, though.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:01 am |
  13. jo an

    Since the REPUBLICANS started TWO WARS...bankrupted this country...appointed extremist to the Supreme Court...destroyed the economy....NOW THEY ARE TRYING TO FINISH US OFF. IF any one of them becomes president...we are toast.....we may be anyway..they are poisoning the well, as I speak...Start looking for another country...just like your forefathers did.....

    February 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  14. Cherry

    continuation....
    these republicans have all their flowery words but once they are elected they will deny all what they say,they would not care about the people...o yeah of course they will take care of themselves and their rich supporters and lobbyist...dont forget that these republicans candidates hinders all what is good for america,they oppose anything for america if they think they wont gain...do you still want to vote for these candidate who are all big mouths but no brains..listen to their speeches,,it all nonsense..

    February 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  15. stephen

    Obama says that he thinks of sin as "being out of alignment with HIS values". Not God's values and not his religions values but HIS values. According to the bible of Obama he cannot sin as long as he stays within the values that he has set for himself. He knows no higher being than himself. He is the father, the son and the holy ghost and he will set his values at whatever level he thinks they should be because after all there is no higher being in the universe than himself. Everyone who believes this join me out in the yard to puke.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • KenInCalif

      Stephen:

      Did you read the article? Here, let me repeat what it says:

      "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.

      It appears that one can lead a horse to water (or an Obama-hater to the truth) but one cannot make it drink (or read).

      February 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Ace

      What part of "America is a secular capitalistic republic" don't you understand? Religion or lack thereof has NOTHING to do with the President or government...WE ARE A SECULAR COUNTRY!!!

      February 21, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Independent from NH

      You are an idiot. Re-read the article, specifically the point where it is mentioned that this was grossly taken out of context. Reading comprehension...man, this article is not Shakespearean.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Hawk

      And you are a nut. typical of the right wing party take every thing out of contect and twist it around to suit your selves.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      Just like with the Bible, I am sure Stephen just read some parts of the article.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  16. Seth Hill of Topanga, California

    Mr. Santorum can attack the President, Protestants, Rock Concerts, Academia, and Basketball all he wants, but hands off Movie Sets! If Movie Sets had to get rid of the devil, I'd be out of a job!

    February 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Andrew

      ... There really is something special about Topanga, I miss it so badly, but Vancouver, BC, isn't that bad either.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  17. 4sanity

    "There's no one else to go after other than the United States, and that's been the case, for now, almost 200 years."

    Oh brother, spare us from these morons ! An Ayatollah Santorum is the last thing we need.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  18. Ronald Reganzo

    President Rick Santorum

    February 21, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    February 21, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Sean

      Ya, it turns people into sheep.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • andy

      People telling other people what to think is not healthy for children and other living things

      February 21, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      Having imaginary friends is not healthy for adults.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Andy

      Prayer does nothing except make you feel better. Try praying for something like an end to child hunger or childhood cancer. Pray for wounded vets to get their traumatic amputated extremities back. Nothing will happen...nothing! God does not work in mysterious ways, he doesn't work at all. Grow up.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  20. Ryder

    John Huntsman must be watching all of this and shaking his head in disbelief at the stupidity of his own party.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Cherry

      i bet yessssss...the stupidity you mean...

      February 21, 2012 at 6:43 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.