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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. Tom

    The republican party has, truly, gone to hell.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Reality

      The Republican Party is the only thing that will stand between you and hell in November, buddy.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  2. Sockeyerama

    It is disingenuous to ask an agnostic or atheist why he/she might expresses anger. You must know. A lot of you religious folk have caused a lot of harm to a lot of people over a lot of years. Acknowledging all the fine works of the Catholic Church, I'd still wager they are at the top of the list for causing damage to people. Santorum wants to keep this tradition alive.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      And remember, you don't need religion to have good works. Be a good person because it is the right thing to do.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Reality

      We're talking about Satan, not some little things like atheists and agnostics. Sorry if it that offends your sensibilities, but he's the great adversary. Just stay clear when we go at him.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      Reality, be sure to get Thor and Herules to help you.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  3. Seaturtle

    Seriously??!!! It is quite frightening that this thought process continues to exist in the USA...even more so that a presidential candidate can be this close to nomination. Are we being infiltrated by the Taliban who believe that women have NO RIGHTS?! Afghanistan is the model for the new American dream according to Santorum's beliefs.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • 21k

      what's even more frightening is the fact that we have educated folks in this country that , like you, don't realize we have tens of millions of fellow citizens who believe this stuff. and would likely take up arms against our country if asked by people like santorum , palin, bachmann, et al.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  4. Betty Z. Smith

    I'm not surprised. Santorum finally got around to speaking of satan. Santorum is one of satan's hand picked workers. I've said it before....I repeat "Santorum is diabolical; be afraid"

    February 21, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  5. Dandy

    If this guy is not on drugs, he should be.
    I can see why the religious right loves this guy. He puts things in terms they like to hear – Satan vs Jesus, good vs evil. And Santorum is our saviour...
    What a delusional man. Vote this guy in and we will find out if our nuclear weapons work or not. After all those other guys are Satan and they should be incinerated. When I see the GOP push guys like this up to the forefront of their party – I have to conclude that the GOP has become brain dead. Mitt is not much better – he will say whatever you want to hear. Lying is second nature to the guy. So apparently we have a two party system – a bunch of crackpots who want to tell us what to do.. the GOP and the Democrats, a confused group of people looking for solutions while dealing with a bunch of crackpots. This country is in serious trouble and this is the best we can do!?!

    February 21, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      They embrace the whole black and white mentality as it requires very little thought or contemplation. Add the bonus that someone will tell them what is good and what is evil and they are set for life!

      February 21, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  6. ryan

    Rick Santorum must have been the love child of Adolph Hitler.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  7. Jojo

    I am 43 years old and I was born and raised Roman Catholic. Santorum represents a kind of Catholic that is not the norm. In fact, he is an extreme Catholic – the kind which I am not comfortable with. He is not the kind of Catholic that would normally be invited to lead Sunday school for any age group. I am surprised and disappointed that this distinction has not been pointed out. As a Catholic, Santorum is NOT a representative of my faith.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • 21k

      i am a recovering catholic. i took the step to acknowledge that i never really believed, and life is great now. anyway, when muslims use the same language as you about radicals in their midst, you label all muslims as terrorists. yet you xtians allow yourselves to make a distinction between nut-jobs and yourselves. is that what jesus would do, you f$$$$$$ hypocrite?

      February 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Jojo

      ahh, yeah. Jesus made a lot of distinctions. Recovering Catholic? You Xtians? Hypocrite? Sleep it off brother.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  8. M1sf1ts

    I have no problem with anything Santorum said, except maybe he was too restrained.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  9. steve-o

    Satanrum supporters are idiots. This twit ignores some of the bible(slavery, women being slaves to their husbands) but follows what he wants. You people want to get rid of birth control(HE DOES) –who will feed these millions of unwanted children-the republicans?? Vote Satanrum and go to hell.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • ryan

      Rick Santorum is no different than the radical Muslims that bombed America. At least they haven't pretended to like America the way Santorum does. I wonder if he has already mobilized his Santorum youth the way Hitler did?

      February 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  10. TerryK

    Ensures this nutjob won't get elected and ensures the nutjob that's president now will get re-elected.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Regis990

      Lemme guess...Ron Paul 2012?

      February 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  11. slapalibtard

    I see more hate from liberals daily. Obama has done nothing to bring this country together. Media doesn't help either.
    Has anyone ever vetted Obama. Do you know he only worked... i.e a real job, for 6months and couldn't handle it.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • 21k

      probably the same folks who vetted palin. she only made it thru half her term as governor of a state with a whole ....700,000 people in it, who all get yearly checks from the oil companies.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • steve-o

      you are an idiot. Hate is the teaparty way, liberals are just getting in line.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Regis990

      With a name like "slapalibtard" we can clearly see that you are right and EVERYONE else is wrong. Why you aren't president is beyond me.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • anagram_kid

      I guess that president job he has doesn't count huh? The country is moving forward, the economy is improving and our troupes are coming home. He was elected to make changes to how insurance companies operate and he delivered. The more successful he is the more folks like you will hate him.

      Obama 2012 – Because the next four years will prove just how wrong Republicans are

      February 21, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  12. Prayer is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
    Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
    Prayer makes you fat.
    Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
    Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
    Prayer fucks up your knees and your neck and your back.
    Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
    Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world.
    Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
    Prayer makes you think doilies are exciting.
    Prayer makes your kids avoid spending time with you.
    Prayer gives you knobbly knees.
    Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just google him to find out about his frothy activities.
    Prayer dulls your senses.
    Prayer makes you post really stupid shit.
    Prayer makes you hoard cats.
    Prayer makes you smell like shitty kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
    Prayer wastes time.

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

    Jesus must be thrilled at what his followers have become...

    February 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  14. slapalibtard

    "Sources who have known Santorum for some time told CNN that this is who Santorum is..." Are you joking? Is this what passes for reporting. Even an opinion piece wouldn't have the gall to add some horsh!t comment like this.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • denver2

      Referring to unnamed sources has been a tradition in the press since forever. Why is this surprising?

      February 21, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Regis990

      So...reporting something that Santorum actually said in 2008 isn't reporting? What, should CNN ignore all the crazy and focus only on the sunshine and flowers? This isn't FOX, go there if you want to live in a world of make believe.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  15. James Ruston

    The conservatives talk about liberty and freedom, but the policies they pursue would limit freedom or force certain kinds of behavior on people. I guess talking about it is all that is necessary for them.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    February 21, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • denver2

      Name one thing. Be specific and explain how you know that whatever it was happened because of prayer and not just because it happened.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • 21k

      if i pray hard enough, can i end religion? cause that's the one reason that i would pray.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Prayer is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
      Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
      Prayer makes you fat.
      Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
      Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
      Prayer fucks up your knees and your neck and your back.
      Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
      Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world.
      Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
      Prayer makes you think doilies are exciting.
      Prayer makes your kids avoid spending time with you.
      Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just google him to find out about his frothy activities.
      Prayer dulls your senses.
      Prayer makes you post really stupid shit.
      Prayer makes you hoard cats.
      Prayer makes you smell like shitty kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
      Prayer wastes time.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Regis990

      How is atheism not healthy for children and other living things? To not believe in fairy tales and myths, that's unhealthy? Meanwhile, organized religion kills people everyday...both in the name of their religion and by those seeking to wipe out said religion. But, yeah, atheism is bad.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  17. denver2

    "If you were Satan, who would you attack?"

    Well... if I were Satan, I think the most obvious (and satisfying!) tactic would be to infiltrate churches and use religious dogma to bring people around to my way of thinking.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • larry dillon

      I've been saying the same thing for years.Doesn't seem it wouldbe reasonable for the 'Anti-Christ and False Prophet" to decieve the church then all others will follow

      February 21, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  18. BlogHaha

    I h8 The youSA

    February 21, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  19. Attila, The Hun

    Interesting that Santorum did not include slavery and discrimination with Satan. Both these plagues have been with America since its founding.

    Now anyone with half a brain can see why this Santorum is so dangerous. He is no different than the ayatollahs. He can believe anything he wants, but he should not be in a position that would force those beliefs on the rest of society.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  20. geETO

    The Founding Fathers resemble the Republican candidates about as much as the American flag resembles an overflowing adult diaper.

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

      damn, now i am imagining newt gingrich in a full adult diaper, sans pants and shirt.

      February 21, 2012 at 7:41 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.