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An Exorcist in Trouble

Via Politics Daily:

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.

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Paranormal Activity

Via Entertainment Weekly:

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.

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Neither Hobgoblin nor Foul Fiend (2)

It’s not just the Poles who are holding a conference on exorcism. The New York Times reports that American bishops are doing the same in Baltimore. The report is pretty fair-minded and two snippets in particular caught my attention:

[T]o R. Scott Appleby, a professor of American Catholic history at the University of Notre Dame, the bishops’ timing makes perfect sense.

“What they’re trying to do in restoring exorcisms,” said Dr. Appleby, a longtime observer of the bishops, “is to strengthen and enhance what seems to be lost in the church, which is the sense that the church is not like any other institution. It is supernatural, and the key players in that are the hierarchy and the priests who can be given the faculties of exorcism.

“It’s a strategy for saying: ‘We are not the Federal Reserve, and we are not the World Council of Churches. We deal with angels and demons.’ ”

All this flummery has a lot to do with control – and thus power.

And then there’s this:

The Rev. Richard Vega, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, an organization for American priests, said that when he first heard about the conference on exorcism, “My immediate reaction was to say, why?”

He said that he had not heard of any requests for exorcisms and that the topic had not come up in the notes of meetings from councils of priests in various dioceses.

The conference on exorcism comes at a time, he said, when the church is bringing back traditional practices. The Vatican has authorized the revival of the Latin Mass, and now a revised English translation of the liturgy, said to be closer to a direct translation from the Latin, is to be put in use in American parishes next year.

“People are talking about, are we taking two steps back?” Father Vega said. “My first reaction when I heard about the exorcism conference was, this is another of those trappings we’ve pulled out of the past.”

But he said that there could eventually be a rising demand for exorcism because of the influx of Hispanic and African Catholics to the United States. People from those cultures, he said, are more attuned to the experience of the supernatural.

Well, that’s just great.




Neither Hobgoblin nor Foul Fiend

Here via the Daily Telegraph, a little reminder of what lies beneath:

Polish exorcists are gathering in Warsaw for their national congress confident in the knowledge that their numbers are increasing as more and more Poles struggle with Satanic possession. Since 1999 the number of Polish exorcists has surged from 30 to over a 100, despite the influence of the Catholic Church waning in an increasingly secular Poland. Exorcists attribute the increase in their numbers to growing scepticism in psychology in the wider Polish population, and people looking for spiritual reasons for mental disorders.

In recognition of modern science, however, exorcists now work in tandem with psychologists in order to distinguish between psychiatric problems and the work of the devil. But while some cases of Satanic work are difficult to diagnose others manifest themselves in shocking circumstances explained exorcist Father Andrzej Grefkowicz.

“An indication of possession is that a person is unable to go into a church, or, if they do, they can feel faint or breathless,” he said.

“Sometimes if they enter a church they are screaming, shouting and throwing themselves on the ground.”

The national congress comes as part of a policy by Poland’s Catholic Church to lift the veil on what was once a secretive practice. Frustrated by the Hollywood image of cross-wielding exorcists engaged in dramatic conflicts with demons the Church intends to show the complicated and often more mundane world of exorcism.

Father Grefkowicz stressed that the most of the time exorcism required quiet prayer.

Amazing. Of course, nobody should overlook the calming power of a tranquil, reassuring chat (and that’s what that “quiet prayer” could, at its best, amount to), but it is impossible to avoid the suspicion that much of the exorcism process tends to feed hysteria rather than cure it.

Perhaps we should ask Governor Jindal, the Linda Blair of Louisiana, for advice on this question. No, thinking about it, we probably shouldn’t.

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How’s That Whole Enlightenment Thing Going?

Here (via the Daily Telegraph) is some remarkable news:

The Devil is lurking in the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican’s chief exorcist claimed on Wednesday. Father Gabriele Amorth said people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron. He added that the assault on Pope Benedict XVI on Christmas Eve by a mentally unstable woman and the sex abuse scandals which have engulfed the Church in the US, Ireland, Germany and other countries, were proof that the Anti-Christ was waging a war against the Holy See.

“The Devil resides in the Vatican and you can see the consequences,” said Father Amorth, 85, who has been the Holy See’s chief exorcist for 25 years. “He can remain hidden, or speak in different languages, or even appear to be sympathetic. At times he makes fun of me. But I’m a man who is happy in his work.” While there was “resistance and mistrust” towards the concept of exorcism among some Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI has no such doubts, Father Amorth said. “His Holiness believes wholeheartedly in the practice of exorcism. He has encouraged and praised our work,” he added.

The Pope is not alone in sharing Amorth’s beliefs. I should imagine that the exorcist now serving as governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, is also an enthusiast for esoterica of this type. Amorth meanwhile has more details of what to expect when Old Nick is around:

In a rare insight into the world of exorcism, the Italian priest told La Repubblica newspaper that the 1973 film The Exorcist gave a “substantially exact” impression of what it was like to be possessed by the Devil. People possessed by evil sometimes had to be physically restrained by half a dozen people while they were exorcised. They would scream, utter blasphemies and spit out sharp objects, he said.

“From their mouths, anything can come out – pieces of iron as long as a finger, but also rose petals,” said Father Amorth, who claims to have performed 70,000 exorcisms. “When the possessed dribble and slobber, and need cleaning up, I do that too. Seeing people vomit doesn’t bother me. The exorcist has one principal duty – to free human beings from the fear of the Devil.”

You couldn’t make this stuff up. Well, maybe you could…Read the whole thing.

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