TAG | Exorcism
A sharp rise in the number of people dabbling in Satanism and the occult is fueling a growing demand for more exorcists on both sides of the Atlantic. Speaking in tongues, levitating and vomiting nails may seem far-fetched to most people, but experts from the Catholic Church in Italy and the US claim there is an urgent need to recruit more priests as exorcists in order to combat sorcery and black magic.
Valter Cascioli, a psychologist and scientific consultant to the International Association of Exorcists, which is endorsed by the Vatican, described as an “emergency” the lack of priests capable of fighting the forces of evil.
“The lack of exorcists is a real emergency. There is a pastoral emergency as a result of a significant increase in the number of diabolical possessions that exorcist priests are confronting,” he told La Stampa newspaper.
Dr Cascioli teaches courses in exorcism at the Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum, a Vatican-backed university in Rome. “The number of exorcists has increased in recent years, but there are still not enough to deal with a dramatic situation that affects, above all, young people who use the internet a lot.
The Internet, always guilty….
Back to the Telegraph:
“There is a broad spread of superstitious practices, and with that a growing number of requests for help from people who are directly or indirectly struck by evil.
“It is dangerous to underestimate a phenomenon that is caused by the direct actions of the devil, but also by a decline in faith and values.”
He called for the establishment of a permanent training college or university where Catholic priests would be taught how to counter the malign influence of the Devil. “There doesn’t exist a training institution at university level. We need an interdisciplinary approach in which science collaborates with religion, and psychiatrists work with demonologists and exorcists.”
He said it was important not to confuse cases of diabolical possession with psychiatric illnesses. Only one per cent of people who claim to have problems with demons have real need of an exorcist, he said.
Still, one percent represents, I suspect, quite a number. Who knew?
Father Gary Thomas, whose training in Rome was chronicled in the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, and Father Vincent Lampert, whose work has featured on the television show Paranormal Witness, said demonic possessions were the result of an increase in drug and pornography addiction.
That the former can be associated with severe psychological problems is, of course, only a coincidence, while the reference to pornography as, in a real sense, an ‘addiction’ is a sign that we have entered territory where the science is not—rigorous.
They also pointed to a rise in the popularity of “pagan activities”, such as using a Ouija board to summon the dead, the failure of the mental health care system, a spiritual void in the lives of Americans and the diminishing authority of the Church.
It’s worth paying attention to that reference to the ‘diminishing authority of the church’. There’s some truth to that. The decline of established religion has meant that people are willing to go elsewhere to satisfy their spiritual needs, and on occasion, sadly, to some highly unsavory destinations. But Satanism is not proof of Satan.
What we do see in this story is the church using the Devil as an argument against behavior, from drugs to porn, to overdoing it on the Internet, of which it disapproves.
And, none too subtly, it is, in a way, also using the Devil as a recruiting sergeant to fill its own pews.
That’s not to argue that many senior churchmen do not believe in the Devil (some more literally–and, so to speak, frequently–than others) but sometimes all that talk of the threat Old Nick allegedly represents does seem very convenient.
Writing in the Washington Post, a psychiatrist (Richard Gallagher) essentially gives up on the ability of his profession to understand the complexity of the human mind. Some cases of ‘demonic possession’ are, he has come to believe, real.
For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. It’s an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don’t see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions….
The Vatican does not track global or countrywide exorcism, but in my experience and according to the priests I meet, demand is rising. The United States is home to about 50 “stable” exorcists — those who have been designated by bishops to combat demonic activity on a semi-regular basis — up from just 12 a decade ago, according to the Rev. Vincent Lampert, an Indianapolis-based priest-exorcist who is active in the International Association of Exorcists. (He receives about 20 inquiries per week, double the number from when his bishop appointed him in 2005.) The Catholic Church has responded by offering greater resources for clergy members who wish to address the problem. In 2010, for instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops organized a meeting in Baltimore for interested clergy. In 2014, Pope Francis formally recognized the IAE, 400 members of which are to convene in Rome this October. Members believe in such strange cases because they are constantly called upon to help. (I served for a time as a scientific adviser on the group’s governing board.)
… But I believe I’ve seen the real thing. Assaults upon individuals are classified either as “demonic possessions” or as the slightly more common but less intense attacks usually called “oppressions.” A possessed individual may suddenly, in a type of trance, voice statements of astonishing venom and contempt for religion, while understanding and speaking various foreign languages previously unknown to them. The subject might also exhibit enormous strength or even the extraordinarily rare phenomenon of levitation. (I have not witnessed a levitation myself, but half a dozen people I work with vow that they’ve seen it in the course of their exorcisms.)
I have not witnessed a levitation myself.
Back to Gallagher:
We are not dealing here with purely material reality, but with the spiritual realm. One cannot force these creatures to undergo lab studies or submit to scientific manipulation; they will also hardly allow themselves to be easily recorded by video equipment, as skeptics sometimes demand.
This is very reminiscent of the arguments used by the Harvard psychiatrist John Mack (I wrote something about him in National Review back in the day) who, at the height of America’s obsession with ‘alien abductions’, began to see such stories as, to a greater or lesser degree, a spiritual phenomenon. That allowed him to dispense with normal scientific discipline and even to caricature it as somehow retrograde, evidence of a narrowly ‘western’ mindset.
Gallagher’s comment about video equipment also reminds me of a joke from that era.
Q: What’s the best way to stop yourself being abducted by an alien?
A: Install video cameras at home and set them to record.
But anthropologists agree that nearly all cultures have believed in spirits, and the vast majority of societies (including our own) have recorded dramatic stories of spirit possession. Despite varying interpretations, multiple depictions of the same phenomena in astonishingly consistent ways offer cumulative evidence of their credibility.
Not so much. Demons, like gods, are a product of the human mind, an evolutionary by-product, an end in themselves, or a bit of both: It would be astonishing if they did not recur in society after society. We are all human.
In the end, however, it was not an academic or dogmatic view that propelled me into this line of work. I was asked to consult about people in pain. I have always thought that, if requested to help a tortured person, a physician should not arbitrarily refuse to get involved. Those who dismiss these cases unwittingly prevent patients from receiving the help they desperately require, either by failing to recommend them for psychiatric treatment (which most clearly need) or by not informing their spiritual ministers that something beyond a mental or other illness seems to be the issue. For any person of science or faith, it should be impossible to turn one’s back on a tormented soul.
Yes, delusion can be used combat delusion (think of exorcisms as a kind of placebo), but the psychiatrist who takes the reality of demonic possession seriously is taking on a heavy responsibility, not only with respect to his patient but, by promoting a belief in this phenomenon, to the vulnerable elsewhere.
Jung talked a great deal of nonsense, but, he was right when he wrote this:
The Middle Ages, antiquity and, prehistory have not died out, as the “enlightened” suppose, but live on merrily in large sections of the population. Mythology and magic flourish as ever in our midst and are unknown only to those whose rationalistic education has alienated them from their roots.
Well, he was not so right about that last bit. A rationalistic education will not, of itself, lead to enlightenment.
Human nature is stronger than that. As Richard Gallagher reminds us.
The Vatican has formally recognised the International Association of Exorcists, giving its blessing to a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who claim to save the possessed from Satan.
The association’s practice of exorcism is now recognised under canon law, the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper reported Thursday.
Pope Francis often insists on the need to fight “Satan” and “demons”, and was captured in dramatic images last year placing his hands on the head of a boy in a wheelchair who appeared to slump at his touch — an act of prayer exorcists claim was intended to free the victim from the devil.
The first association of exorcists was founded by Father Gabriele Amorth, the Holy See’s chief exorcist for almost 30 years, who has described intense sessions with possessed people who scream, blaspheme and spit shards of glass.
He set up an Italian exorcists association in 1991, after which he began organising meetings with devil fighters from other countries, leading to the establishment of the international group.
Francesco Bamonte, the head of the association, told L’Osservatore that the recognition was “a cause for joy for the whole Church,” saying that “exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer”.
The Middle Ages, wrote that old crank Carl Jung, “live on… merrily”.
And so they do.
They are good box office too. As this cannily populist pope understands very well.
The Devil (or, more accurately, fear of the old monster) has always been a good recruiting sergeant for clergy looking to fill their pews. It’s thus no great surprise to read that the Roman Catholic church is taking advantage of a current surge in the jitters.
The Daily Telegraph reports:
The diocese of Milan recently nominated seven new exorcists, the bishop of Naples appointed three new ones a couple of years ago and the Catholic Church in Sardinia sent three priests for exorcism training in Rome, amid concern that the Mediterranean island, particularly its mountainous, tradition-bound interior, is a hotbed of occultism. In Spain, Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, the archbishop of Madrid, chose eight priests to undergo special training in May to confront what he described as “an unprecedented rise” in cases of “demonic possession”. The Church in Spain was coming across many cases that “go beyond the competence of psychologists” and they were occurring with “a striking frequency”, the archbishop said.
Why the surge?
My guess is that decades of devilry on TV and in the movies have had quite a bit to do with the revival in beliefs of this nature, but the Roman Catholic Church seems to be looking elsewhere in its search for an explanation:
The rise in demonic cases is a result of more people dabbling in practices such as black magic, paganism, Satanic rites and Ouija boards, often exploring the dark arts with the help of information readily found on the internet, the Church said.
In a way, that’s fair enough. If someone is inclined to be religious, it is probably no bad idea to act on that instinct in a reasonably conventional manner: attend the local church, you know how it goes. For an individual to open him or herself up instead to a vague ‘spirituality’ or, indeed, more specifically esoteric alternatives, is to risk the prospect that any number of nasties (psychologically speaking) might come flying in.
The canny populist now presiding in the Vatican is well placed to take advantage of all this. The Daily Telegraph quotes the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen:
“After the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, there was a great deal of embarrassment among ‘enlightened’ Catholics about exorcisms and other aspects of the supernatural. It was seen as a medieval anachronism. But at the grassroots level there has always been a very strong streak of popular religion, a fascination with the occult and the powers of the Devil. We know that Pope Francis is a strong believer in popular religion such as Marian devotion, but that also includes belief in the Devil.”
In May it was claimed that Pope Francis had performed an exorcism during a Mass in St Peter’s Square.
Television images show him laying his hands on a wheelchair-bound man, who appears to go into convulsions with his mouth open before slumping down into his chair. The encounter was shown by TV2000, a channel owned by the Italian bishops’ conference, which quoted experts as saying that there was no doubt the Pope had performed an exorcism. Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, later dismissed the claims, saying Pope Francis “did not intend” to perform an exorcism — an ambivalently-worded denial that left many convinced that he had indeed done so. Pope Francis has not publicly commented on exorcisms, but many of his sermons and homilies feature references to the Devil.
Indeed they do.
Via The Daily Telegraph:
‘Political correctness’ is preventing police from stopping child abuse by parents and church leaders who believe in witchcraft, a minister warns.
Tim Loughton, the children’s minister, said that a “wall of silence” was obscuring the full scale of cruelty in some communities where beliefs in evil spirits was common. He was speaking as the Government announced plans to introduce new training for social workers, teachers, police and church members to combat the abuse.
It follows the conviction earlier this year of Eric Bikubi a London football coach, and his partner Magalie Bamu, for torturing and murdered a 15-year-old boy because they believed he was practising witchcraft. The couple, whose families came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, subjected Bamu’s brother Kristy to a three-day ordeal because they were convinced he was practising “kindoki” or sorcery. The case had echoes of that of Victoria Climbié, the eight-year-old girl who was murdered by her guardians who believed she was possessed by demons.
It was Jung who wrote (in his book on UFOs) that the “Middle Ages…live on merrily”. So they do…and so do their business opportunities. Check out this story from ABC.
Today’s Roman Catholic hierarchy knows that the old hoodoo is a good way to bring in the crowds, so here’s one veteran doing his bit:
Father Gabriele Amorth, who for years was the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have cleansed hundreds of people of evil spirits, said yoga is Satanic because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation”.
Well, I give him credit for rejecting the intellectually absurd temptations of ecumenicism, but I interrupt:
Reading JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books is no less dangerous, said the 86-year-old priest, who is the honorary president for life of the International Association of Exorcists, which he founded in 1990, and whose favourite film is the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist. The Harry Potter books, which have sold millions of copies worldwide, “seem innocuous” but in fact encourage children to believe in black magic and wizardry, Father Amorth said.
“Practising yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter,” he told a film festival in Umbria this week, where he was invited to introduce The Rite, a film about exorcism starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as a Jesuit priest.
“In Harry Potter the Devil acts in a crafty and covert manner, under the guise of extraordinary powers, magic spells and curses,” said the priest, who in 1986 was appointed the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome.
“Satan is always hidden and what he most wants is for us not to believe in his existence. He studies every one of us and our tendencies towards good and evil, and then he offers temptations.” Science was incapable of explaining evil, said Father Amorth, who has written two books on his experiences as an exorcist. “It’s not worth a jot. The scientist simply explores what God has already created.” His views may seem extreme, but in fact reflect previous warnings by Pope Benedict XVI, when as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s enforcer of doctrinal orthodoxy. In 1999, six years before he succeeded John Paul II as Pope, he issued a document which warned Roman Catholics of the dangers of yoga, Zen, transcendental meditation and other ‘eastern’ practises. They could “degenerate into a cult of the body” that debases Christian prayer, the document said. Yoga poses could create a feeling of well-being in the body but it was erroneous to confuse that with “the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit,” the document said…
Father Amorth has previously said that people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron and have such superhuman strength that even children have to be held down by up to four people. He has also claimed that the sex abuse scandals which have engulfed the Catholic Church in the US, Ireland, Germany and other countries was proof that the Anti-Christ is waging a war against the Holy See.
Via the Utne Reader:
With a doctorate in astrophysics, Frank (not his real name) considers himself a man of science who relies on research and analysis to make sense of the world. Despite the occult overtones, his body’s violent reaction to the deliverance prayer struck him as an obvious case of cause and effect. He became convinced that he—like the poor souls he’d just read about—was infested with evil spirits.
After reading more books about demonic possession, Frank, a lapsed Catholic at the time, asked around for a priest who might be willing to exorcize him.
In a way Frank was fortunate. Exorcism is experiencing a renaissance in American Catholicism. There are more exorcists in the United States now than at any other time in modern history, according to experts. More than 100 bishops and priests met in Baltimore last November to recruit dozens more. So Frank didn’t have to look far to find Father Gary Thomas, a gregarious priest in Saratoga, California, a small city on the western slope of Silicon Valley…
Dormant for centuries at a time, exorcism tends to awaken when the church confronts significant crises, says Nancy Caciola, a history scholar at the University of California–San Diego. Portable manuals detailing ever more elaborate and standardized rituals of exorcism proliferated during the papal schism of the 15th century, when two men claimed to be the rightful pope. The manuals surfaced again during the Protestant Reformation.
The challenges now confronting the Catholic Church in the United States are legion: the sex abuse scandal, a secularizing society, and a restive flock that, studies show, loses one out of three adult Catholics, to name just a few. Exorcism reasserts the relevance of the church and its inimitable power over human destiny. Who else is going to help when the devil comes for you?
Pope John Paul II, who is rumored to have performed several exorcisms, frequently warned Catholics that Satan is very real and very dangerous. In a similar vein, Pope Benedict XVI praised a group of Italian exorcists in 2005, encouraging them to pursue their “important ministry.”
Good grief. Read the whole thing.
A Catholic priest who traveled the country performing exorcisms and launching fierce attacks against anyone he viewed as insufficiently tough on abortion — he once suggested Fox News host Sean Hannity was a “heretic” for saying birth control could be a better option than abortion — has been removed from ministry for sexually exploiting at least one woman he was treating for demonic possession.
The surprising revelations about Father Thomas Euteneuer, who was for a decade the charismatic leader of Human Life International (HLI), a Catholic anti-abortion lobby, have not only stunned his many fans among church conservatives but have also left them sharply divided.
Some of Euteneuer’s avid disciples continue to praise him as a prophet who confessed to a single and very human failing, while others feel betrayed and say the priest and his organization are so hypocritical they have hurt the sacred cause of protecting the unborn. Critics also say that the full story of Euteneuer’s misdeeds has still not been told, and that policies on exorcism must be tightened to prevent further abuses…Exorcism is enjoying something of a renaissance both in popular culture and in the Catholic Church…[J]ust last November, 66 priests and 56 bishops turned out for a two-day seminar sponsored by the American hierarchy to teach clerics about exorcisms and hopefully ease the shortage of priests authorized to formally cast out demons; reports of demonic possession are overwhelming the handful of exorcists in the United States, church officials say.
Euteneuer was one of those few priests with a mandate to conduct exorcisms, and that job, along with his campaign against abortion for HLI (based in Front Royal, Va.), kept him traveling around the country and in demand in conservative Catholic circles…Questions about Euteneuer, a handsome, square-jawed 48-year-old, first arose last August when he abruptly resigned as president of HLI. He had been living in Virginia while heading up the organization, but as a priest of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., he was subject to the authority of Bishop Gerald Barbarito, who ordered him back to Florida.
Euteneuer portrayed the move as a return to the life of a parish priest that he had always wanted, and as a much-needed respite from his labors…Fellow conservatives like Deacon Keith Fournier praised him as a “heroic priest” and the board of directors of Human Life International released a statement on Aug. 27 effusively praising Euteneuer for 10 years “of meritorious service to HLI” and for “his leadership, hard work and dedication.”
In reality, however, Euteneuer had been forced to resign after being accused of inappropriate relations with a “young adult woman” on whom he was performing an exorcism.
An interesting story, at many levels. Read the whole thing.
Discovery Channel is teaming with the Vatican for an unprecedented new series hunting the deadliest catch of all: Demons.
The Exorcist Files will recreate stories of real-life hauntings and demonic possession, based on cases investigated by the Catholic Church. The project includes access into the Vatican’s case files, as well as interviews with the organization’s top exorcists — religious experts who are rarely seen on television.
“The Vatican is an extraordinarily hard place to get access to, but we explained we’re not going to try to tell people what to think,” says Discovery president and GM Clark Bunting.
Bunting says the investigators believe a demon can inhabit an inanimate object (like a home) or a person. The network executive says he was initially skeptical when first meeting the team but was won over after more than three hours of talks.
“The work these folks do, and their conviction in their beliefs, make for fascinating stories,” Bunting says.
If the show’s first season is successful, the network hopes its partnership with the Church will pave the way for producers GoGo Luckey to take the series to the next level — joining Catholic investigators on live demon-purging ride-alongs.
Even if exorcism appears to have a more prominent place on the Vatican’s bill of fare than in the recent past, my first reaction was to think that this story was a hoax about as believable as, well, demons. It seems that my first reaction was wrong. This story is for real.
In a way this makes sense. Today’s Vatican has taken a distinctly traditionalist turn and demons have long had a role to play in many Christian cosmologies (if not one that I associate with the splendidly mild Church of England of my youth). What’s more, they make pretty good recruiting sergeants.
I just hope it’s better viewing than Ghost Hunters.