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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. Tbone1

    When will the Republicans get it ? The more they pander to the religious right the farther away they go from the country as a whole. WE THE PEOPLE want to form a more perfect union, not a narrow view of the world and our place in it.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  2. Elliot

    Rick Santorum, you are the straw that broke the camels back. I will no longer be a republican becuase of you, thankyou for opening up my eyes to how many morons are in this country. I cannot associate myself with people that would vote for your phoney little ego.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  3. ,justic4all

    The only pathological liar is the bigest liarer, Most craziest, insane talking son of Satan Santorum.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  4. Mike in Tennessee

    Santorum claims that academia was the first to fall to Satan. What is it that Republicans have against intelligent, well-read people?

    February 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Real America

      Anyone resistant to this bullshit about Satan must be a tool of Satan.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      Same reason one of the first books the Catholic Church banned from being read was the bible. Reading leads to contemplation and that leads to questions. There is no place for quetions in organized religion. Everthing must be settled up front, otherwise logic follows that if one aspect is wrong the whole thing could be wrong.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  5. Ken

    Evil is promising a transparent Admin. only to have the most corrupt Administration in history. Evil is saying one thing and doing the opposite. Evil is spending our kis and grand kids future. Evil is his preacher of 20+ years Jerimiah Wirght. Evil is making America into Greece! Evil is in the Whitehouse. Wait till his goons start digging up or making stuff on Santorum

    February 21, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • KenInCalif

      Why would anyone need to make stuff up about Santorum? All the good Senator need do is open his mouth and, voila, stuff to write about.

      I suppose, then, that evil is dragging Detroit back from the brink. And killing Bin Laden. And bringing down Kaddafi without loss of a single American. And avoiding a complete meltdown of the economy. And taking the first steps in 30 years to try to fix healthcare. Is everything perfect? No. Have mistakes been made? Yes. But labeling the President as "evil" shows such incredible disrespect for the office of the president that one wonders why you bother staying here.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      Ken,
      Evil is repeating lies because reality makes you feel like a failure.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  6. judith

    Truly frightening insight into the workings of Santorum's mind. This guy it far too extreme to be President. He no doubt would like to set the End Times in motion.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  7. The Father Of Lies

    I don't know who the "hell" this guy is, but he has no idea what he's talking about...

    February 21, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  8. Cherry

    the best candidate peoplw is Pres Obama,,yes he got no experience,not traditional politicians....but look with the economy...i wonder what would happen to america if rick,mitt, newt will become the president...we will be the new third world country..
    be a wise voter,,,dont waste your vote...obama 2012....republicans are hypocrite and all social climber..and racist...

    February 21, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  9. paul.cos

    Yes,this is americas version of the taliban,no different,the same old religious bile spewed from the mouths of the self righteous.Santorum is a dangerous religious hack.We must remember that fascism will come to this country wrapped in a flag, carring a cross.Its going to be great to live back in dickens time ,if rick gets the presidency

    February 21, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Cherry

      trueone..

      February 21, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  10. albert

    Santorum has obviously never read Daniel 2:44. Plus he himself is a slanderer and a Liar. By his own definition, he worships Satan.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  11. Ken

    It isn't the theology of Mormons or Catholics to fear. It is the theology of Santorum to fear.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Real America

      Santorum clearly wants us to fear. Fear something that maybe only he can see clearly and deliver us from. Does that work for anyone?

      February 21, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  12. Patricksday

    Santorum acts like an agent of Satan, who else would promote such Hatred being part of the Republican party that only serves the Wealthiest the most simple minded that are not rich and have only Hate that they can agree on.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  13. Well Hung Jesus

    "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."
    ------–
    Is this guy living in reality???????????????

    February 21, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  14. Ken

    It is better than the pathological liar in chief we have now. Remember Jerimiah Wright?
    .

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

      WAHHHHH WAHHHHH THE PRESIDENT DOES THINGS I DONT LIKE SO HE'S A BIG POOPY LIAR MAN!!!! WAHHHHH!!!!!

      That's what people like you remind me of Ken. Show some respect at least for the office he holds and call him President or even perhaps his name. Secondly, show some respect to intelligent discourse and at least attempt to put examples into your post.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Erik

      No, it's not, and it's scary that you believe that.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Nugglenutz

      Let me guess, you're white, right?

      February 21, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      You mean the preacher that President Obama publicly stated he disagreed with an cut all ties with? You are either uninformed or a liar. Which is it Ken?

      February 21, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  15. clarke

    Rick is a dangerous man, who can not be leader of our country. His beliefs are his, and he can't make people believe the way he does. Religion is a personal thing. It is not for Rick to determine.

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

      That will not stop him from trying.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  16. justic4all

    Santorm looks, smells, and sounds like the son of Satan. He talks like he is insane in the membrane. Jesus said thou shall not judge lest ye be judged. Santorm is judging and we the people see and hear his evil. Evil that is making women and all people wake up and say no way to Santorm. No way Satan. No way.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  17. Real America

    Suppose America, pure, wholesome and good, really is the special prey of the ultimate evil, Satan. In what way is Rick Santorum uniquely qualified to do battle with Satan? Has he ever seen Satan? Does he know where to find Satan? Can he get SEAL Team Six onto Satan, or maybe a drone strike? Will we need boots on the ground somewhere to find him? Iran, maybe?

    February 21, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  18. E N

    The last thing America needs is a zealot for president. Keep church and state seperate.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  19. A

    This guy is the best we've got? We've all officially lost our minds.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  20. Mctaket

    Santorum doesn't want to be Commander-In-Chief, he wants to be Pope-in-Chief! The only real Christian in his book is the Orthodox Catholic! He may be the most dangerous threat to American democracy to ever run for office.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:45 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.