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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. Ron in California

    Santorum is just out to lunch. I like what one person said on here about him becoming the Pope..:) I stated just that very same statement a few days ago. This is our country, all this God and Satan talk is so out there. We want someone to keep us great and turn things around, not someone whom will cry cause they didn't get enough prayer time in the a.m. hours and point fingers. They have all done it, even the president. There is a reason for the space between church and state. In God we trust has taken a whole new meaning. Romney whom is a Mormon doesn't even talk about his faith like all these others do. I say give Romney a chance to fix our problem, he even said he would leave Washington after doing so, not just a bunch of empty promises that we have gotten so far from the President. ROMNEY 2012!!!!

    February 21, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • well

      He doesn't talk about his faith BECAUSE he is Mormon. The Fundies would burn him as a witch.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  2. well

    Just so you know... The Taliban thing is every other post. Try to think of something original, like "Inquisitor in Chief"

    February 21, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  3. Pan3

    Satan did take over the Catholic church.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  4. gregory21

    I thought there was a separation of church and state. You elect this nut and you'll be saying prayers for the econemy
    to get better.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  5. JC in Western U.S.

    Rick Santorum offends me. But does anyone honestly think that, if speaking to a Mormon crowd, four years before declaring his candidacy for the presidency, that Romney wouldn't have declared HIS faith to be the true faith? How about Rick Perry? Would he not have declared HIS faith to be the true faith, when speaking to an audience comprised of members of his faith?

    I think you can honestly question whether Santorum or Romney have the ability to separate their own religious beliefs from public policy decisions. I personally think that religion should be completely separate from government and that government free of religious influence. But at the same time I think we shouldn't be too quick to say that what Santorum expressed, during what amounted to a worship service, should be interpreted as his public policy statement for his candidacy. If we stick to looking at what he says about religion when he knows we're listening to him as a candidate for President, we can find enough scary things to talk about. We don't need to go back to 2008.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  6. norma jean.

    RIck....You are forgetting the one thing that will put down everything you have been preaching........"WOMEN ALSO VOTE""!!!

    February 21, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  7. Abraham

    There are few things more dangerous than a man who believes he is doing divine right.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      I have to disagree. There is nothing more dangerous. This is the same mindset that burned witches and flew planes into buildings.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  8. well

    HawaiiGuest do you have some issues with anger? Do you need a hug? Or are you just an asssholle?

    February 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      I don't like people who bring up non-issues (such as abortion in regards to this article) to merely get a reaction.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  9. norma jean.

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

    February 21, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  10. JohnZ

    If the devil has agents on earth they are the people like Rick Santorum. They spread a gospel of hatred and exclusivity, and work to push their mutilation of Christ;s message on everyone else. This is as frightening as the Taliban.

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

      And the Tooth Fairy and Santa have agents on earth too.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  11. norma jean.

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

    February 21, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      Maybe the GOP will figure out how to 'fix' that before the election. After all the founding fathers did not think women should be allowed to vote.

      America's Choice:
      Obama 2012 or Santorum 0012

      February 21, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • denver2

      Well, once he's elected I'm sure he'll do something about that...

      February 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  12. Ron in California

    To: Muneef

    I think he meant the Devil when talking about the Father of lies.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Cherry

      republicans are all liars.... so santorum means he is one of the father of lies..he thinks that he talks to god..yes he hear voices too in his own solitude..

      February 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Muneef

      Ron in California.
      Thank you for explaining but the question here who does he mean by the Devil that has been in US for almost 200 years? There must be a party or a lobby that he thinks represent the devil in it's acts...?

      February 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  13. well

    It amuses me how worked up the Left is over this guy. He has no chance. Relax. Nobody is going to stop you from aborting your children.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      This article has nothing to do with abortion. Go troll on one that actually talks about.

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

      Seems to get your pathetic little mind upset. But people with double digit IQs are easy.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • garc

      That's how these wingnuts get in, honey. We liberals allow EVERYBODY to have their own opinion. We allow it...till you whackjobs get in and take away all our rights, while talking about how the government has too much power over us Americans (and in the meantime are working feverishly to allow more than half the population no control over our bodies).

      February 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      If you think people on the left are the only ones having abortions you are dilusional.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • well

      It is just amusing how worked up you guys are getting. He has no chance.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • BADGUY

      I'm not worried about him stopping us from aborting babies. I'm worried the guy will pull a "Divinci Code" end of days on us. This guy walks, talks and acts like a grown-up "Damien"!

      February 21, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  14. mightyfudge

    NO ONE knows what happens when we die, and ANYONE claiming such knowledge is a LIAR who probably wants your money.

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

      And if you don't have money, they are happy just to have control over you instead!

      February 21, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  15. dick

    The right wing freaks make me want to puke. They call themselves Christian but all they stand for is hate, war, guns, and exploitation of the earth and others just to make a quick buck.

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

      I find the right wing Christians odd, they are supporting Mr. Santorum who has said that other than Catholic you are wrong! You would vote for this guy who thinks you are being used by Satan?

      February 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  16. Joe

    oh except that Santorum is a boy scout version of Taliban, of course!

    February 21, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  17. BADGUY

    Opus Dei...Opus Dei....Opus Dei....

    February 21, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  18. ThinkAgain

    Sanitorium should run for Pope; his desire to establish a theocracy has no place in the United States.

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

      maybe sanitarium..

      February 21, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  19. wholewitt

    I have stated this many times and we should all start using the term. The Republican party is the American Taliban. Nut jobs, pushing for theocracy, prayer everywhere, control of personal life. I'm amazed how people can see all their lies and still vote for them. They can not simply say anything that is truthful and Santorum is Insanetorum.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • ThinkAgain

      A couple days ago, Santorum stated, “Freedom isn’t to do whatever you want to do, it’s to do what you ought to do." And guess what? Ricky thinks he's in charge of the rulebook.

      I agree – Santorum and his ilk ARE the American Taliban. (The Repub push the last several years is very similar to Saudi Arabia, where a few families own and control everything and religious police keep the masses in line. Is it any coincidence that the Bushes and Saudi royals are so tight?)

      February 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  20. dick

    The only way Santorum can win is by hate. If there are enough ignorant, dillusional haters in this country, then god help us.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:20 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.