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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. Peacemaker

    This is nothing new, the GOP has been demonizing the Democrats for over 50 years. Remember U.S. history? The GOP once upon a time would have ousted the Catholic Santorum! They hated "Cat-licks" as the GOP once called us. Now they love the extremist Santorum, because he is preaching their "gospel" of hate..... fear....... lies and division!

    Pres. Obama is far more of a Christian than any Conservative. And yes...... I am judging, judging the hate rhetoric of the GOP! HATE IS NOT A CHRISTIAN VALUE!

    February 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  2. Voter

    I can see I will be voting for Obama come November. I may vote for Ron Paul if he runs third party, although his wacky commitment to do away with the Federal Reserve and return us to the Gold Standard makes him appear ignorant and insane. It's too bad, I like everything else he says.

    Huntsman? Who was he, a regular Fiscal Conservative who didn't want to invade my life with neo-con lunacy? Oh well, he has no chance.

    I guess it *is* Obama after all. Good on you Barry, I like your ears man.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  3. JOe

    Santorum is from the fundamentalist, Taliban tribe of Catholicism. Good lucjk American.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      Yes, he is. Scary guy Santorum.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  4. dick

    I think Santorum should run for office – in Afganistan. He would make a perfect Taliban representative.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  5. Muneef

    "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."

    Wow Satan has been in the US for 200 years now...just wonder who does he mean by that ? Could he be meaning the Zionests ? There must be a certain party whom he calls to be Satan or Father of Lies that had existed now almost 200 years in the US...!?

    February 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  6. chathamtalbott

    I agree the man needs hospitalization for "rest".... and medications to treat paranoia and delusional thinking. Of course, he would need good health insurance.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  7. norma jean.

    RICK SANTORUM IS FORGETTING ONE VERY IMPORTANT FACT. " WOMEN ALSO VOTE"!!!!!!!

    February 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  8. DavidE7

    I am a Protestant, but to an extent, I agree with Santorum. Human nature has not changed for a long time. It consists of two parts, the animal nature and the spiritual nature. There must be a balance between these two natures for society to be stable. Santorum's point is that the animal, or secular, nature has become increasingly dominant in 21st C. America. As a result, the rich are getting richer without adequate concern for others. This has led to the breakdown of society many times in the past, and unless corrections are made, we are heading for a downfall again. So I believe Santorum is fundamentally correct. But I would not vote for him for President, because the Chief Executive needs intellect, experience, and judgment that he seems to lack.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • well

      David, according to the far Left atheist contingent, we are no such things. We are biological machines, programed by our DNA and upbringing. Your mind or spirit are to them, nothing but an illusion created by the squishy wet computer in your skull.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @well

      Yes because all atheists are left wing. Grow up, do some research, and stop being an idiot.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Cherry

      maybe animal manure or human manure...sucks santorum..

      February 21, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • well

      Hawaii, why are you so aggressive? There is a whole atheistic Leftist political movement. It's called Communism. But of course there are right wing atheists as well. The whole Neitze mindset would be such.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Muneef

      DavidE7.
      Yes to that you said we do need to balance our natures and that was the cause of religions is to balance our natures and not to worsen it...

      February 21, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • DavidE7

      Thanks for the responses. Even atheists should admit that humans have a unique nature that other species don't have. We have symbolic thought, we can conceive of our own death, we do science and art, we can assist each other in ways that other species never dream of. I have always supposed that atheists are people who were badly disappointed in childhood and therefore can't see beyond their own limited perceptions. I feel sorry for them.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  9. dick

    Mr. anl lube is satan himself.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  10. Tom Johnston

    The wise man hears the truth and discerns..the fool hears the truth and turns his ear.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  11. SNAPPA

    Simply delusional, no question about it. This should exclude him from holding any office whatsoever except maybe a rubber room. The idea that someone so educatec could believe in such nonsense is amazing to me. Obviously he isn't as educated as I thought he was. It is clear to me the Santorum has some mental issues he needs to work out and I don't think having his finger on the button is a good thing for America.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  12. Tony A

    Rick Santorum is a throwback to the stone age; he's catholicism's answer to the mindset of the Taliban.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  13. Joe citizen abroad

    Rick Santorum speaks of the founding fathers as though they were deities and early America was Eden. Clearly, he has no sense of American history beyond what he read in his fifth-grade text book. Early America was rife with problems, sin, back-stabbing politics of convenience, and worst of all, slavery, which eventually erupted into a Civil War that nearly destroyed the country. When the Continental Congress initially declared independence, it wasn't even a unanimous vote. It was a negotiated compromise among representatives, not altogether different from what goes on daily in Washington DC right now. What kind of childish fantasy land does this very dangerous person live in?

    February 21, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      The Republican party likes to portray themselves as being in line with the founding fathers. So if they think they can score some points with that kind of rhetoric they will, and historical accuracy does not matter.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  14. packerfans

    Wow state and Church seperation. Rick should run for Pope and not President United States. Rick should withdraw race for President!! He suppose not talk Church in Policy!! The Delegates Vote should remove Rick out the Race !! Or Petetion sign move him out as soon!!

    February 21, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • well

      Is English a second language for you?

      February 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  15. Caligula

    Throw him to the lions.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  16. Rosnbug

    I'm sure God talks directly to him too. Or Santorum thinks God is talking to him. I've seen better heads on a root beer.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Cherry

      so you mean he is psychotic if he thinks god is talking to him..maybe he hears voices too...people think about it....

      February 21, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  17. Loathstheright

    Santorum is the worst type of person....completely out of the 12th Century. This crazy loon should not be anywhere near public office of any kind.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • BADGUY

      Hey...it's just "Opus Dei" talking. The guy's like a walking, talking "play book" for his right wing, (some say "Fascist") cult!

      February 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  18. cnnsucks

    When the truth hurts then you know you are getting somewhere and libs don't like the truth...

    February 21, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Go troll somewhere else tool.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • sabrina

      LOL liberals cant HANDLE the truth..it convicts them, then they resort to name calling and hate..the very thing they SAY they are trying to stamp out with all the "political correctness" psst..excuse me, but your ignorance is showing...LOL

      February 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      To believe that the right has a lock on truth is the height of ignorance. I see a troll and I call it. The name and post speaks for itself. Sabrina you truly have no idea who I am. To assume I am a liberal for calling out a troll is idiotic. You seem to be under a delusion, and I sincerely hope that you can find help for that.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • sabrina

      UM hawaii...i believe the word you used was "tool" and I DO know who you are.And "I called you on it" and it hurt..(truth hurts). But no pain, no gain..so theres hope for you yet.This blog is for ALL ideas. You clearly only want a one sided conversation.One day, when you mature, maybe you will understand. Until then this is STILL America, and my opinion still counts. God Bless America and the ones who still believe in him and LOVE him. May God bless you and change your heart.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @sabrina

      Obviously as long as I do not think as you do I will be immature. This conversation is useless and I am finished with it. To continue to assert you know who I am shows how truly close minded you are. Goodbye and hopefully I don't see you again.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • sabrina

      HA HA my point EXACTLY..you didn't want to "converse" in the first place. Just be "flip" and call names. Christians have a right to our beliefs also...We TRIED Obama..This country needs direction. a clear cut direction. and more power to him for having the COURAGE to be HONEST about his beliefs. He has my vote...and thanks for letting me have the last word.:)

      February 21, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Duck Dodgers

      When the truth hurts then you know you are getting somewhere and repubs don't like the truth...

      Looks better this way.

      February 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  19. Robbi

    So Rick is Satan because he is not the anointed one by the press.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  20. The Rite

    Santorum would force me to vote for Obama.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:09 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.