2 Mar 2011

Catholic Church downplays talk of the devil in public but maintains international network of exorcists

The Independent - UK      February 24, 2011

The Devil’s own work: Why do priests still perform exorcisms?

Exorcism is a Hollywood favourite, the latest being 'The Rite'. The Catholic Church continues with the ritual, but will only talk about it behind closed doors. What are they afraid of, asks Peter Stanford

Of the approximately 70,000 exorcisms he has carried out, Father Gabriele Amorth estimates that fewer than 100 have been cases of genuine demonic possession.

The chief exorcist of the diocese of Rome quotes this second figure as if to comfort me, but to a modern Catholic, convinced that the Devil is just a face the church has traditionally put to the otherwise intangible presence of evil in the world, 100 sounds like an awful lot of encounters with someone I don't believe exists.

I am momentarily struck dumb as we sit on either side of a table in Father Gabriele's bare-walled office, situated in an anonymous church building on the outskirts of Rome. A large crucifix lies between us, resting on a purple cushion. I want to ask if he is absolutely sure he wasn't mistaken in those 100 cases, but everything about the manner of this burly, pugnacious priest, in his mid-80s and with a deeply-lined bulldog face, makes plain he means every single word.

"It is vital," he continues, "to distinguish two causes [for apparent demonic possession]: for most people it is an illness of the psyche that can be cured by psychiatry." We are getting back onto more familiar, shared ground. Instead of splashing those who come here to seek his help with holy water and reading the rite of exorcism, as was the standard practice of the medieval church, he appears to be accepting the need for referral to a suitably qualified doctor, much more in keeping with modern, mainstream Christianity.

"But," says Father Gabriele, "there are the others, the small number of real possessions. Often they were outwardly normal people, going about their lives in a normal way." And when he exorcises them, what exactly happens? "I have had people vomit up nails during an exorcism," he replies matter-of-factly, "others pieces of glass, others pieces of radio equipment."

Radio equipment? It sounds almost comical, but he is not smiling. At no point during our 30 minutes together does he come anywhere near a smile. And neither, do I. "The Devil works through the media," he explains, looking me straight in the eye, knowing full well I am a journalist.

This chilling encounter with Father Gabriele came back vividly as I watched The Rite, Hollywood's latest follow-up to The Exorcist, the iconic 1973 horror film that remains fixed in the memory of anyone brave enough to watch it all the way through. The Rite explores similar territory as it follows a young, thoroughly modern American priest, Father Michael Kovak, (Colin O'Donoghue) who is sent to Rome by his bishop, against his wishes, to attend a training course for exorcists being run in the headquarters of Catholicism.

Deeply sceptical about what he sees as the outdated mumbo-jumbo that is demonology, Father Michael proves so disruptive on the course that he is referred by his tutor (Ciarán Hinds) to the eminence noire of Rome exorcists, Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins). "Do you believe in sin?" Father Lucas barks at his visitor. It instantly put me in mind of Father Gabriele. "I do, but I don't believe the Devil makes us do it," Father Michael replies with the sort of courage I lacked in my brush with an old-style exorcist in Rome.

The younger cleric initially sticks to his sane, rational, 21st century guns over the nonexistence of the Devil. "She doesn't need a priest," he tells Father Lucas of one of his tortured charges, her belly swelling, her eyes rolling and her fiendish screams intensifying, "she needs a shrink". Yet by the end of this horror-thriller, Father Michael is as ready to brandish his crucifix as a weapon against Satan as Father Lucas.

Despite its primary vocation to terrify cinema-goers, The Rite cannot lightly be dismissed as a piece of shameless exaggeration and sensationalism because it does manage to get much of the incidental detail right. Such as being set in Rome. It was the only place – when I was researching a book on the Devil – where church exorcists are open about their work. According to recently reiterated papal rules, every single one of the 3,000 dioceses of the Catholic Church around the world must have, among the ranks of its priests, a trained exorcist, but their identity is cloaked in secrecy. When I asked to interview one anywhere in Britain, I was told I would have to demonstrate prima facie evidence of possession first. Which, however thorough my research, would have been stretching it a bit. That is when I discovered that in Rome, the rules are rather different and ended up face-to-face with Father Gabriele.

The Rite is based on the experiences of Father Gary Thomas from Saratoga, California, a parish priest in suburban Silicon Valley who was dispatched to Rome in 2005 by his bishop for training so he could fill the vacancy for a diocesan exorcist. He arrived deeply distrustful of talk of the Devil, and like Father Michael in the film, was sent off to meet an old hand. In interviews, he hasn't named the senior exorcist in question, and any passing similarity with Father Gabriele has to be tempered by the Hopkins character being portrayed as having his own doubts about the reality of the Devil, not a position my interviewee had ever adopted. Indeed last year he made headlines when he produced a memoir claiming that Satan was at work even in the corridors of the Vatican itself.

The publication of that book caused a few blushes among the papal entourage. In the modern church, you see, it is just not the done thing to mention the Devil. The figure who looms so large in the gospels, whose horned, scaly, terrifying face adorned the walls of many a medieval church in scenes of the harrowing of hell, and who has inspired artists from Dante and Bosch through Milton and Byron and on to Bulgakov and CS Lewis, is now rarely mentioned from the pulpit.

The last Pope to speak at any length on the Devil was Paul VI in 1972. In an address (which Father Gabriele quotes from at length during our meeting), he personified evil in the figure of the Devil as "an effective agent, a living spiritual being, perverted and perverting". By contrast, Pope John Paul II, in the 27 years of his reign, made only two glancing references to Satan, both times in larger contexts. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the comprehensive rulebook that John Paul published in 1993, the Devil figures in only a handful of the 3,000 entries, and then simply as a "seductive voice" luring humankind astray.

The logic behind this vow of silence is plain. Church leaders don't like mentioning the Devil in case it makes them sound medieval, superstitious or out of touch. There is also a smattering of remorse in there for the crimes that the Church has committed down the centuries by invoking the real presence of the Devil. When the Inquisition was torturing and murdering those who dared to disagree with the papal line, its victims (Jews, women, pagans alike) were usually presented as being in league with Satan.

Yet even in 2011, the Devil is not wholly disowned by the church that did so much more than any other institution to make him seem frighteningly flesh and blood. He remains part of Catholicism but is now treated like the disreputable relative with a dark past who the family prefers to keep shut away. Hence the silence that surrounds the work of exorcists. It is hard to downplay talk of the Devil in public when you are simultaneously maintaining a network of diocesan exorcists around the world.

This is an ambiguity the Church has long lived with. John Paul II, for all his public reticence about Satan, nevertheless managed in 1982 to carry out an exorcism himself on a disturbed young woman, an episode recalled in My Six Popes, the autobiography published in 1993 by the retired head of his household, French Cardinal Jacques Martin.

And it is not just church leaders who are in two minds about the Devil. However much I could rationally trace the development of the character of the Devil as a theological, historical, artist and church-political construct, a shorthand explanation for what many regard as the evil abroad in the world, in that moment when I was sitting opposite Father Gabriele in his office in Rome, and he started talking about the Devil possessing the media, I felt myself shifting in my chair. Was he about to attempt an exorcism on me? And if he did, what was there to worry about because I didn't share his belief a physical incarnation of evil? His words would have no effect. But frightened I was, and I beat a hasty retreat from what I later heard described as the "delivery room", and gasped with relief when I got outside the building.

There is a part of us that remains irrationally susceptible to the idea of the Devil. Perhaps it is just those who, like me, had a traditional Catholic upbringing. My Christian Brother teachers were big on the real and imminent danger of Hell. But the enduring appeal of Satan spreads beyond my generation and my particular denomination. Politicians and public alike, when faced by a monstrous crime, are still quick to characterise its perpetrator as the Devil incarnate. Think of the descriptions routinely used of the Moors Murderess, Myra Hindley. "May She Rot in Hell," ran one headline on the day she died. Indeed, if there was ever a modern image of the Devil it was that Medusa-like picture of her taken in 1966, all blond hair, defiance, and cold, cold eyes.

Confronted with something unthinkably cruel and inhumane, we reach not for the language of psychiatry but for medieval demonology and scapegoating. As does the Church. Benedict XVI, generally as reluctant as his predecessor to mention the Devil in public, did nevertheless last June talk about the orchestrating role of "the enemy" in the paedophile priest scandal that has so damaged the Church's moral standing.

The Devil can still be a convenient get-out clause, whether it be from culpability for unspeakable crimes against children, or more mundane problems. I remember once attending a prayer group where young Evangelical Anglicans had gathered to share the trials and tribulations of their week, and how Jesus would shape their lives if they let him. "I've had a terrible few days," one twentysomething confided, "the Devil has made me spend all my money." She said it without a hint of irony or self-knowledge. She was taking no responsibility herself.

That same reaction can be glimpsed in remarks made by Father Gary Thomas, in interviews he has given to mark the release of The Rite in the United States. Since he successfully completed his training as an exorcist in Rome, he has dealt with five cases he describes as genuine possession by the Devil. His work with those individuals, he confides, has left him vulnerable himself to Satan. "My celibacy gets attacked a lot," he remarks. Rather than locate any problems he may have with the Catholic rule that priests must be celibate within, either himself or the church, Father Gary evidently prefers to externalise them and project them onto the Devil.

The connection between sex and Devil is almost as old as Christianity. Familiar figures in the medieval church iconography were incubus and succubus, copulating demons who would seduce both women and men and impregnate females with children of the Devil.

So is Satan in the 21st century being relegated to the extreme fringes of Christianity that still prefer a literal interpretation of the Bible? Apparently not. He's still right there in the mainstream churches. Indeed, in the opening titles for The Rite, the film-makers draw attention to a New York Times report on a conference of US Catholic bishops that took place in November 2010 to debate growing demand from their congregations for exorcism, and the absence of sufficient suitably-qualified priests to service them. [see article link below]

Unlike Father Gabriele, most of this secret army of priest-exorcists prefer to operate away from the spotlight, but for all that there is no question that the Devil is real. If they ever break cover and are confronted about their work, they have a standard response, best summed up by the 19th century French poet, Baudelaire – "the Devil's deepest wile is to persuade us that he does exist".

It is a pretty circular argument. When you counter, as Father Michael does in the early sections of The Rite, that the absence of proof of the Devil cannot be taken as proof itself, they just smile knowingly. While Father Gabriele didn't even manage a smile when I met him, I am sure the same justification was going through his head.

Peter Stanford's "Biography of the Devil" is published in paperback and e-book by Arrow

This article was found at:


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  1. I'm a non-believer but the mind has a role in health, so much so that clinical studies take this into account. We know, for instance, that stress leads to hypertension.

    That being said - if a person believes himself possessed then a priest and not a doctor is needed. A psychiatrist is not going to "cure" the patient of his belief in the supernatural.



  3. Ritual to ‘exorcise girl’s demons’

    by Neil Oelofse - Cape Times, South Africa November 21 2011

    A Humansdorp priest and five of the African Gospel Church congregation have been accused of murdering a seven-year-old girl during a bizarre exorcism ritual, believing that her epilepsy was caused by demons.

    Pastor Lonwabo Thando, 30, and Mhlabelesi Nodaka, 22, Unathi Norushu, 22, Nteboheng Thukani, 21, and Busisiwe Thukani, 24, appeared in the Humansdorp Magistrate’s Court last week charged with murdering Mihlali Mazantsi.

    They will stay in jail till they apply for bail today, along with a 32-year-old man who was also part of the “prayer group” which apparently tried to do the exorcism.

    Police spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the last suspect was arrested at the weekend. She said police would oppose bail for all the accused.

    They are also charged with the attempted murder of a 25-year-old woman who was allegedly locked in a house in KwaNomzamo township for four weeks and repeatedly assaulted.

    Mihlali was apparently sent from her home in Keiskammahoek to the church by her mother, Nomaxabiso Mazantsi, to be cured of epilepsy with a “healing miracle”.

    Mazantsi told the Cape Times yesterday that her daughter started having epileptic fits in May.

    “The fits stopped but started up again in September. We took her to the doctor and the traditional healer, but nothing helped.”

    The church in Humansdorp was recommended by friends.

    “We were told that other people were healed there. I put my faith in God. I wanted them to heal Mihlali.” Mazantsi said her father took Mihlali to Humansdorp and left her in the care of the church.

    “They told us the fits were caused by demons which had to be removed through prayer.”

    She travelled to Humansdorp a few days later to find her child vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea. She slept overnight in the same house as her child, but was initially not allowed close to her.

    “They told me she was getting better. The pastor said she was vomiting because the demons were leaving Mihlali.”

    Mazantsi said she was encouraged to attend a church service in a marquee tent set up by the church near the house where her daughter was being kept, and was later allowed to go to her bedside.

    “Her face was swollen and her left eye was closed. There was a bruise over her eye. I tried to lift her up to me to hug her, but she said her body was sore. Then she coughed and started to vomit again.”

    Mazantsi said Pastor Thando shook her daughter by the shoulders while calling out her name. “Then pastor took her to hospital in his BMW. I followed in our car.”

    A doctor who examined the girl told the mother it was “too late”.

    “The doctor was angry. He wanted to know who had done this. He said he was calling the police,” said Mazantsi.

    She said a post-mortem examination had revealed liver damage and a number of external and internal injuries.

    Naidu said the woman who filed the charge of attempted murder did not want to be named.

    “She is a member of the community and fears for her life.” She was given a medical examination and found to have injuries and bruises all over her body.

    According to reports, Kwanomzamo residents celebrated the arrest of the priest and the congregants.

    They said church members often ran through the township after midnight making a noise and accused people who did not attend church of practising witchcraft.


  4. Australia 'Exorcism' Killing Trial: 4 Convicted In Death Of Sarah Bara

    AP, Huffington Post December 23, 2011

    DARWIN, Australia -- Four people convicted in the beating death of a woman during what they said was an exorcism ritual on a remote Australian island were sentenced Friday to several years in jail.

    Sarah Bara was beaten to death with sticks last year on Groote Eylandt off the northern Australian coast. Last month, Glenys Wurrawilya, Susie Wurrawilya, Paul Wurramara and Roderick Mamarika pleaded guilty to negligent manslaughter in connection with the beating, which several children witnessed.

    Some of the accused had originally claimed that they beat Bara as part of an exorcism intended to cleanse her of the devil. But on Friday, Northern Territory Supreme Court Justice Peter Barr said the accused attacked Bara simply to cause her pain and humiliation.

    "I am not satisfied that any of the accused thought she had the devil in her," he said.

    On the day she was killed, Bara had been asked to find a bag containing medication for Susie Wurrawilya. When she couldn't find it, both Glenys and Susie Wurrawilya began to hit her. Bara was then forced to sit on the ground while a circle of fire was lit around her and was again struck with sticks. An autopsy found she had been hit with extreme force more than two dozen times.

    Mamarika and Wurramara did not participate in the beating, but watched and did nothing to stop it, Barr said.

    The four received sentences ranging from five years to seven-and-a-half years in jail.

    Groote Eylandt, home to an Aboriginal and mining community of around 1,500, is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the northern Australia mainland.


  5. Teen Girl Exorcism Squad: Three Arizona Girls Claim to Cast Out Demons

    By DAN HARRIS, JACKIE JESKO and JENNA MILLMAN, ABC Nightline April 5, 2012

    Brynne, Tess and Savannah from Phoenix are black belts in karate, expert horseback riders and avid musical theater fans. And they perform exorcisms.

    "We're just normal girls who do something extraordinary for God," Brynne said. "After seeing an actual exorcism in person, led by us, you will walk away with no doubt, whatsoever."

    Brynne, 17, is the leader of the pack, the one the others call the "enforcer." She is home-schooled and a regular on the beauty pageant circuit. Savannah, 20, is known as the "compassionate one," a college student who likes to shop. Finally, there's Tess, "the middle man" because the others say this 17-year-old can play both good and bad cop. She also performs in local musicals.

    "There is a war going on every day, being waged against us," Brynne said. "Satan hates us. We know how the enemy is, we know what he's attacking and we can fight back."

    Their teacher is Brynne's father, the Rev. Bob Larson, who says he has performed more than 10,000 exorcisms in the last 30 years.

    Before agreeing to perform an exorcism, Larson interviews his clients to determine whether they are, in his opinion, demonically possessed. The client must fill out a questionnaire and give some background on his or her personal history.

    But Larson claims that 50 percent of the population is probably affected by demons in some way and his girls are the front line of defense. Armed with crosses, Bibles and holy water, the girls summon the demon within the subject, and then the demon apparently takes over the person's body. Brynne said she can tell when someone is demonically possessed when she looks into his eyes.

    "When you look at that person, you could just see the evil looking back," she said.

    The girls say there are many different types of demons, each with their own names and personalities. One demon, Brynne said, is named Jezebel and is very proud and haughty.

    "There's Hate, Murder, Anger, all of those are very violent demons," she added.

    "When a demon comes into someone, it's going to bring as many of its kind with it as it possibly can because its desire is to steal, kill and destroy that person's identity, that person's life," Tess said.

    Classic signs of possession, the girls said, include when a possessed person starts speaking in tongues, reciting historical facts he wouldn't know otherwise, or having superhuman strength.

    Performing exorcisms can be dangerous work, and Larson's wife said she was reluctant to let their daughter, Brynne, do it. But Bob Larson believes it is a good lesson for her.

    "The Christian life is risky," he said. "Ministry is risky. Taking on the devil is risky. What's riskier? Saying no to God. Say no to God and the Devil's gonna get you."

    Larson said that sometimes the people who come to them to be exorcised are a little taken aback when they see how young the girls are.

    "It's like, 'They're going to exorcise me?' It's just totally out of the box. But a few minutes into it, when they see the boldness and the confidence, the maturity and the knowledge of these girls, that all fades away," he said.

    "We're not proud of ourselves," Tess said. "We're humble. We're still learning."

    Nonetheless, there are very serious questions about the safety and morality of what the girls are doing for others, especially those who might need mental health care.

    continued in next comment...

  6. continued from previous comment:

    One woman, a grandmother who flew in from Dallas for an exorcism with the girls, told "Nightline" that she has demons who have physically hurt and raped her. She insisted she is not mentally ill, but admitted she had been on anti-depressants and had suicidal thoughts in the past. During the exorcism, the woman said her father sexually abused her as a child.

    When asked if she thought the exorcisms could be making people with mental illness worse, Brynne disagreed.

    "We do this under Dad's supervision. We never do it alone," she said. "He's been doing it for 30 years. He would know if something was going wrong."

    However, Bob Larson has been accused of fraud and taking advantage of vulnerable people who are either desperate or prone to suggestion.

    The Rev. Darrell Motal of the "Soul & Spirit" Para Church, who believes in the existence of demons, told "Nightline" that Larson is too quick to blame someone's problems on demonic possession and that it's more likely that Larson's clients need mental health care and spiritual guidance.

    Father Edward Beck, a Roman Catholic priest, echoed Motal's comments and said he also believes that these young girls are "unqualified" and "unprepared" to perform exorcisms, and that it could be dangerous for them, as well as their clients.

    While Larson admitted that he was not a mental health expert, he said if a demon is "blocking the therapeutic help, the therapy's not going to go anywhere significantly."

    "Get the demon out, the impediment, and then the therapy can go forward," Larson said.

    What's more, Larson and the girls' exorcism sessions are not free, and he insists that one session almost never does the trick.

    "We have to fund what we do," he said.

    Larson is currently weighing several offers for new reality shows starring Brynne, Tess and Savannah.


  7. Group calls for exorcism inquiry after Saskatoon incident

    CTVNews.ca Staff April 18 2012

    Reports that a Saskatoon priest was called to help a man allegedly possessed by demons have triggered questions from a national scientific group.

    The Centre for Inquiry, an organization devoted to critical thinking, is calling for an investigation into the prevalence of exorcisms in Canada.

    Their call for analysis was spurred on by reports last week indicating that Saskatoon's Roman Catholic Diocese was searching for an exorcist after a woman said her uncle showed signs of being possessed by the devil.

    Sometimes symptoms of serious mental illness are misinterpreted as signs of demonic possession, said the Centre for Inquiry's Carmen Finnigan.

    "Once upon a time we couldn't understand what was going on in this bit of grey matter here," she told CTV Saskatoon, pointing to her head. "So people had the idea that this was demon possession."

    Church officials have said no formal exorcism was performed on the man in question, but blessings were offered until his unusual behaviour ceased.

    For its part, the Roman Catholic Diocese in Saskatoon has tried to downplay reports that the church is looking for an exorcist.

    "We are seeking as a diocese to determine how to pastorally respond to people in all kinds of situations of mental distress," Bishop Don Bolan told reporters at a Tuesday news conference.

    He said the church acknowledges the role of medicine for those struggling with mental illness, and said that prayer can also be part of the healing process.

    Bolan balked at questions about the recent case of alleged demonic possession, saying the story should have been a private matter. He did, however, refuse to back down on the church's overall belief in exorcisms.

    "In Jesus's ministry, there were exorcisms and so it's not something we can lightly dismiss," he told reporters.

    There may be certain circumstances where an exorcism could assist someone with a mental illness, said David Nelson, executive director of the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

    "In the context of a person's religion or their culture, it might be demonstrated that some sort of intervention, like an exorcism may be some help with that," he told The Canadian Press.

    Still, when a loved one begins behaving unusually, he stresses that families shouldn't skip medicine or psychiatry in favour of spirituality.

    With a report from CTV Saskatoon's Carla Shynkaruk


  8. Canadian media criticized for irresponsible exorcism reporting

    By Benjamin Mann, Catholic News Agency April 24, 2012

    Saskatoon,(CNA)- Canadian news outlets are sensationalizing an event that was not treated as demonic possession and did not prompt a search for an exorcist, according to the Diocese of Saskatoon's communications office.

    Communications coordinator Kiply Yaworski told CNA that the public had been misled by “headlines that were completely false,” suggesting that an exorcism had been performed by a local priest in March. “There was no rite of exorcism,” said Yaworski. “No one here was calling it that.” She said media outlets were erroneously connecting the “blessing of a distraught man” to the topic of possession and exorcism, “just to get people to click on their stories.”

    Yaworski was eager to clear up misunderstandings about an event reported by CBC News on April 13, under the headline “Exorcist expertise sought after Saskatoon 'possession'.” According to CBC News, the incident involved a “shirtless middle-aged man, slouched on a couch and holding his head in his hands,” who had “used a sharp instrument to carve the word 'Hell' on his chest.”

    “When the priest entered the room,” the Canadian outlet reported, “the man spoke in the third person, saying 'He belongs to me. Get out of here,' using a strange voice.” CBC's article acknowledged that the priestly blessing the man received was “not a formal exorcism.” Bishop Donald Bolan, the only Catholic leader named in the article, reportedly said it was unclear whether the man was possessed or merely mentally disturbed. But his comments were placed alongside those of the unnamed “church leaders,” who were said to be “considering whether Saskatoon needs a trained exorcist” after “a case of what is being called possible demonic possession.”

    Yaworski blasted the misleading portrayal of the blessing that had occurred in March, and said Bishop Bolan's considerations about a diocesan exorcist had not been affected by the incident at all. Bishop Bolan did tell CBC that the diocese was “kind of looking at what the diocese of Calgary does,” with its “special commission for spiritual discernment” which looks into unusual cases. Yaworski explained that these comments were a general reflection, not a response to the March incident.

    continued in next comment...

  9. continued from previous comment:

    The spiritual discernment commission in Calgary does not discuss its cases with the media. On April 20, this prompted the Toronto Sun to claim that the Calgary diocese was “working in mysterious ways” with the Church in Saskatoon, through its “shadowy” and “closely-guarded” commission. Yaworski dismissed the notion of a “shadow” and “mysterious” commission in Calgary, and suggested the media were mistakenly imagining a secretive attitude in cases where the Church simply seeks to protect family and personal privacy.

    On April 17, the Saskatoon diocese issued an official statement on the original March occurrence, acknowledging that it had “captured media attention.” During the incident, the diocese said, “a priest blessed a distraught and emotional man with holy water and prayed with the family, before advising them to call the police.”

    In his statement on the matter, Bishop Bolan stressed the reality of supernatural evil, but confirmed that no exorcism had occurred in the March incident. “In Jesus' ministry there were exorcisms, and so it is not something that we can lightly dismiss,” he said. “But the headline that the bishop of Saskatoon is looking for an exorcist was a vast oversimplification. Catholic dioceses, like other Christian communities, must look at how best to respond to requests in this area.”

    “Our resurrection faith is that life is stronger than death, that God brings hope out of despair and light out of darkness,” Bishop Bolan said. “It is more important to affirm the goodness of the love of God than to speculate about the nature of events such as these.”


  10. Arlington lawsuit says priest sexually assaulted woman during exorcisms

    By Annie Gowen, Washington Post June 27, 2012

    When a troubled Virginia woman became convinced she was possessed by the devil, she turned to a Catholic priest in Front Royal for help.

    He was the Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, the telegenic head of one of the country’s largest antiabortion groups, and he appeared regularly on cable news shows. He had put his regular priestly duties on hold to come to Virginia to lead Human Life International in 2000, but he still dabbled in the occasional exorcism.

    When they met in 2008, Euteneuer told the woman that he thought her case was “severe” but that he was sure he could help rid her body of a “demonic infestation” of “unclean spirits,” according to a lawsuit filed in Arlington County Circuit Court.

    Over the next two years, the suit alleges, Euteneuer sexually molested the woman repeatedly during purported “exorcism” sessions, often conducted in offices on the Human Life International campus, near Interstate 66 about an hour west of Washington.

    The rite of exorcism begins with a priest sprinkling holy water and saying prayers. In some cases, it is described as ending with the subject shaking violently, screaming or speaking in tongues. What the lawsuit alleges goes well beyond the rituals prescribed by the Catholic Church.

    “He kissed the corners of her mouth; stroked her legs, breasts and thighs; caressed her face; laid his body on top of hers; and frequently explained full, passionate kisses as ‘blowing the Holy Spirit into’ her,” the lawsuit alleges. Once, at a conference, the suit alleges, Euteneuer invited the woman to his hotel room to “pray over” her, then removed her clothes and assaulted her.

    The lawsuit, filed last week in Circuit Court, does not name Euteneuer as a defendant. It seeks $5.3 million in damages from his former employer, HLI, and from the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and its bishop, Paul S. Loverde, who the woman’s attorneys say gave Euteneuer permission to perform the rite.

    ‘Not authorized’

    “He was not authorized to perform an exorcism on this woman. He may have lied to her and said he was, but he was not,” said Michael J. Donohue, a spokesman for the diocese. Donohue said Euteneuer worked for a private company and has never been a priest of the Arlington diocese.

    The Arlington diocese already has an exorcist, Donohue said, one of about 50 who perform the solemn rite in Catholic parishes across the country. In 1999, the Vatican formally revised and upheld the practice of exorcism for the first time in nearly 400 years.

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  11. continued from previous comment:

    Donohue said the Warren County woman — identified in court papers as “Jane Doe” — eventually sought help from the diocese’s victim-assistance office in 2010. After hearing her story, the office reported the allegations to church officials in Palm Beach, Fla., Euteneuer’s home diocese, where he was ordained in 1988.

    The Arlington diocese also provided the woman with counseling and spiritual assistance, Donohue said.

    Meanwhile, Euteneuer was recalled to Florida to undergo counseling. His “priestly faculties” were removed, meaning that he can no longer perform Mass or other sacraments, according to Dianne Laubert, a spokesman for the Palm Beach diocese.

    Last year, Euteneuer issued an official statement apologizing for his actions and saying that he was motivated only to help people in “great spiritual distress.”

    “One particularly complex situation clouded my judgment and led me to imprudent decisions with harmful consequences, the worst of which was violating the boundaries of chastity with an adult female who was under my spiritual care,” he said in his statement. “I take full responsibility for my own poor judgment, my weakness and my sinful conduct that resulted from it.”

    He is not named as a defendant in the current lawsuit because he reached a settlement with the woman out of court, the woman’s attorneys said. Euteneuer’s attorney did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

    Euteneuer served as president of Human Life International for 10 years before he abruptly stepped down in August of 2010. The nonprofit missionary group, formed in 1981 by a Benedictine monk, advocates for families and against abortion and population control. It has affiliates in 80 countries.

    “To the extent Father Euteneuer has already admitted to engaging in highly inappropriate conduct with a young adult woman, we can only emphasize that such behavior was never within the scope of his employment with HLI,” Stephen Phelan, the organization’s director of communications, said in a statement.

    According to the lawsuit, which was first reported by the Associated Press, the woman signed a document pledging her “complete cooperation” in spiritual work with Euteneuer in February 2008.

    Over time, the lawsuit says, Euteneuer began touching the woman in inappropriate ways, activity that culminated one evening when he slept in the same bed with her all night. The abuse was paired with “exorcism sessions” that left the victim with a “distorted and damaging belief that exorcism was tied to sexual activity,” the lawsuit says.

    Money and a job

    According to the lawsuit, he later began giving the woman money, arranged for her to move her home from Sterling to a place closer to his offices and hired her as an employee of HLI. When he learned that she had kept a diary of their encounters, he allegedly asked to have it for safekeeping and then burned it.

    The woman’s attorney, Demetrios C. Pikrallidas, said that she has suffered severe emotional distress as a result of the abuse and that she remains “upset and distraught.”

    “She placed her trust in a man of faith,” he said.


  12. Exorcism boom in Poland sees magazine launch

    By AFP, The Express Tribune September 12, 2012

    WARSAW: With exorcism booming in Poland, Roman Catholic priests here have joined forces with a publisher to launch what they claim is the world’s first monthly magazine focused exclusively on chasing out the devil.

    “The rise in the number or exorcists from four to more than 120 over the course of 15 years in Poland is telling,” Father Aleksander Posacki, a professor of philosophy, theology and leading demonologist and exorcist told reporters in Warsaw at the Monday launch of the Egzorcysta monthly.

    Ironically, he attributed the rise in demonic possessions in what remains one of Europe’s most devoutly Catholic nations partly to the switch from atheist communism to free market capitalism in 1989.

    “It’s indirectly due to changes in the system: capitalism creates more opportunities to do business in the area of occultism. Fortune telling has even been categorised as employment for taxation,” Posacki told AFP.

    “If people can make money out of it, naturally it grows and its spiritual harm grows too,” he said, hastening to add authentic exorcism is absolutely free of charge.

    Posacki, who also serves on an international panel of expert Roman Catholic exorcists, highlighted what he termed the “helplessness of various schools of psychology and psychiatry” when confronted with extreme behaviours that conventional therapies fail to cure.

    “Possession comes as a result of committing evil. Stealing, killing and other sins,” he told reporters, adding that evil spirits are chased out using a guide of ritual prayers approved by Polish-born pope John Paul II in 1999.

    “Our hands are full,” admitted fellow exorcist and Polish Roman Catholic priest Father Andrzej Grefkowicz, revealing exorcists have a three month waiting list in the capital Warsaw.

    Priests performing exorcism also work with psychiatrists in order to avoid mistaking mental illness for possession, he said.

    “I’ve invited psychiatrists to meetings when I’ve had doubts about a case and often we’ve both concluded the issue is mental illness, hysteria, not possession,” he said.

    According to both exorcists, depictions of demonic possession in horror films are largely accurate.

    “It manifests itself in the form of screams, shouting, anger, rage – threats are common,” Posacki said.

    “Manifestation in the form or levitation is less common, but does occur and we must speak about it — I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” he added.

    With its 62-page first issue including articles titled “New Age — the spiritual vacuum cleaner” and “Satan is real”, the Egzorcysta monthly with a print-run of 15,000 by the Polwen publishers is selling for 10 zloty (2.34 euros, 3.10 dollars) per copy.


  13. Cult leader convicted of killing 6 in exorcisms hanged in Japan

    The Associated Press Toronto Star September 27, 2012

    TOKYO—Japan executed two people Thursday, including a 65-year old female cult leader convicted of six murders that took place during supposed exorcisms.

    The Justice Ministry said 65-year-old Sachiko Eto and 39-year-old Yukinori Matsuda were executed by hanging. Matsuda was convicted of killing two people during a robbery in 2003.

    Eto turned to faith healing after she and her husband joined a cult, according to Japanese media reports. She and two accomplices, including her daughter, were convicted of beating their victims to drive out “demons” and then hiding their bodies at her home.

    During her trial, Eto’s lawyers argued she had diminished responsibility as she was suffering mental problems at the time of the crimes. She pled not guilty, but a Japanese court upheld her sentence, ruling that her crimes were “excessively grave.”

    Eto’s daughter and another cult member were sentenced to life in prison for the 1995 murders.

    Japan is one of the few industrialized countries that have capital punishment. The lack of transparency in the system has been criticized by human rights groups, but capital punishment is generally supported by the public, according to opinion polls.

    Japan had no executions in 2011 but has conducted seven this year. The Justice Ministry says 131 convicts are on Japan’s death row.


  14. Hi, deliver me from evil: Church sets up an exorcist hotline to deal with demand

    by MICHAEL DAY The Independent NOVEMBER 29, 2012


    The Catholic Church has established an exorcist hotline in Milan, its biggest diocese, to cope with demand. Monsignor Angelo Mascheroni, the diocese’s chief exorcist since 1995, said the curia had also appointed twice as many exorcists to cope with a doubling in the number of requests for help over 15 years.

    “We get many requests for names, addresses and phone numbers; that’s why we’ve set up a switchboard in the curia from Monday to Friday from 2.30pm to 5pm,” he told the chiesadimilano website.

    “People in need can call and will be able to find a priest in the same area who doesn’t have to travel too far.” And to that end, the number of demon-busting priests on call has increased from six to 12.

    The Monsignor said he knew of one exorcist who had been seeing up to 120 people a day. “But with so little time per client he was only able to offer a quick blessing. That’s not enough,” he said. ”There should be two to four appointments a day, no more, otherwise it’s too much.”

    It’s not clear why the number of suspected possessions has risen so sharply. But Monsignor Mascheroni said that part of the increase might be explained by the rising numbers of parents having difficulty controlling disobedient teenagers.

    “Usually the parents call [because they are] concerned about a child who won’t go to school or who’s taking drugs or rebelling. In reality it’s not a demon, but when they’re 18 years old young people don’t want to be told what to do.”

    He warned that many worried and vulnerable people were at risk from charlatans. “Magicians demand money; we … give our time, give benediction … all for free. It couldn’t be any other way.”

    The Monsignor said that all those who sought help were welcomed. But he added: “The real diabolical phenomena, at least in my experience, are very rare.” He said that “mental phenomena, mental and psychiatric disorders” were often to blame for unusual behaviour.

    Not all Catholic exorcists take such a pragmatic approach, however. Father Gabriele Amorth, who was the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years, claims to have dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession.

    Father Amorth said that sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church were proof that “the Devil is at work inside the Vatican”. He also claimed that satanic behaviour lay behind Vatican attempts to “cover up” the deaths of Alois Estermann, then commander of the Swiss Guard, his wife and another Swiss Guard, Corporal Cedric Tornay, in 1998.

    Father Amorth also took a dim view of fantasy novels and yoga. Practising the latter, he once warned, was “satanic; it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter”.

    The act of exorcism: Catholic practice

    Defined by the Catholic Encyclopaedia as “the act of driving out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, or things which are believed to be possessed or infested by them, or are liable to become victims or instruments of their malice,” exorcism has been practised by the Church for centuries, but its use has increased dramatically over the last half century.


  15. The pope and the devil: Is Francis an exorcist?

    by Associated Press May 21, 2013

    VATICAN CITY — Is Pope Francis an exorcist?

    The question has bubbled up ever since Francis laid his hands on the head of a young man in a wheelchair after celebrating Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square. The young man heaved deeply a half-dozen times, shook, then slumped in his wheelchair as Francis prayed over him.

    The television station of the Italian bishops' conference reported Monday that it had surveyed exorcists, who agreed there was "no doubt" that Francis either performed an exorcism or a prayer to free the man from the devil.

    The Vatican was more cautious. In a statement Tuesday, it said Francis "didn't intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone who was suffering who was presented to him."

    Fueling the speculation is Francis' obsession with Satan, a frequent subject of his homilies, and an apparent surge in demand for exorcisms among the faithful despite the irreverent treatment the rite often receives from Hollywood.

    Who can forget the green vomit and the spinning head of the possessed girl in the 1973 cult classic "The Exorcist"?

    In his very first homily as pope on March 14, Francis warned cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel the day after he was elected that "he who doesn't pray to the Lord prays to the devil."

    He has since mentioned the devil on a handful of occasions, most recently in a May 4 homily when in his morning Mass in the Vatican hotel chapel he spoke of the need for dialogue — except with Satan.

    "With the prince of this world you can't have dialogue: Let this be clear!" he warned.

    Experts said Francis' frequent invocation of the devil is a reflection both of his Jesuit spirituality and his Latin American roots, as well as a reflection of a Catholic Church weakened by secularization.

    "The devil's influence and presence in the world seems to fluctuate in quantity inversely proportionate to the presence of Christian faith," said the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome's Pontifical Holy Cross University. "So, one would expect an upswing in his malicious activity in the wake of de-Christianization and secularization" in the world and a surge in things like drug use, pornography and superstition.

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  16. In recent years, Rome's pontifical universities have hosted several courses for would-be exorcists on the rite, updated in 1998 and contained in a little red leather-bound booklet. The rite is relatively brief, consisting of blessings with holy water, prayers and an interrogation of the devil in which the exorcist demands to know the devil's name and when it will leave the possessed person.

    Only a priest authorized by a bishop can perform an exorcism, and canon law specifies that the exorcist must be "endowed with piety, knowledge, prudence and integrity of life."

    While belief in the devil is consistent with church teaching, the Holy See does urge prudence, particularly to ensure that the afflicted person isn't merely psychologically ill.

    The Rev. Giulio Maspero, a Rome-based systematic theologian who has witnessed or participated in more than a dozen exorcisms, says he's fairly certain that Francis' prayer on Sunday was either a full-fledged exorcism or a more simple prayer to "liberate" the young man from demonic possession.

    He noted that the placement of the pope's hands on the man's head was the "typical position" for an exorcist to use.

    "When you witness something like that — for me it was shocking — I could feel the power of prayer," he said in a phone interview, speaking of his own previous experiences.

    Sunday also happened to be the Pentacost, when the faithful believe Jesus' apostles received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and Maspero noted the symbolism.

    "The Holy Spirit is connected to the exorcism because ... it is the manifestation of how God is present among us and in our world," he said.

    The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, sought to tamper speculation that what occurred was a full-fledged exorcism. While he didn't deny it outright — he said Francis hadn't "intended" to perform one — he stressed that the intention of the person praying is quite important.

    Late Tuesday, the director of TV2000, the television of the Italian bishops' conference, went on the air to apologize for the earlier report.

    "I don't want to attribute to him a gesture that he didn't intend to perform," said the director, Dino Boffo.

    That said, Francis' actions and attitude toward the devil are not new: As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio frequently spoke about the devil in our midst. In the book "Heaven and Earth," Bergoglio devoted the second chapter to "The Devil" and said in no uncertain terms that he believes in the devil and that Satan's fruits are "destruction, division, hatred and calumny."

    "Perhaps its greatest success in these times has been to make us think that it doesn't exist, that everything can be traced to a purely human plan," he wrote.

    Italian newspapers noted that the late Pope John Paul II performed an exorcism in 1982 — near the same spot where Francis prayed over the young disabled man Sunday.


  17. Catholic Church Top Exorcist Claims He Rid World of 160,000 Demons

    By Leonardo Blair, Christian Post May 28, 2013

    The Catholic Church's top exorcist, who claims to have sent 160,000 demons back to hell, says he wants Pope Francis to allow all priests to start performing the ritual to deal with a rising demand for exorcisms from the faithful.

    Father Gabriele Amorth, 88, who also heads the International Association of Exorcists, told The Sunday Times that he will ask Pope Francis to allow all priests the right to do exorcisms without the church's approval. According to the report, priests currently need special approval from their bishop to perform the rite and it is rarely granted.

    "I will ask the pope to give all priests the power to carry out exorcisms, and to ensure priests are properly trained for these starting with the seminary. There's a huge demand for them," said Father Amorth.

    He explained that he was inspired to make the request after watching Pope Francis perform what he insists was an exorcism on a man "possessed by four demons" in St. Peter's Square.

    "The pope is also the Bishop of Rome, and like any bishop he is also an exorcist," Amorth reportedly told La Repubblica newspaper. "It was a real exorcism. If the Vatican has denied this, it shows that they understand nothing."

    "There was now, more than ever, a need for exorcists to combat people possessed by 'sorcerers' and 'Satanists,'" he noted in that report.

    An 84-page update of exorcism rites compiled in 1614 and drawn up in 1998 stipulates how Catholic priests trained as exorcists should operate. According to the guidelines established by the church, they have to follow a ritual known as "De exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam," or "Of exorcisms and certain supplications."

    Amorth explained that Pope Francis' exorcism on May 19 helped to balance the growing atheism in the world where people don't believe in the Devil anymore.

    "We live in an age in which God has been forgotten. And wherever God is not present, the Devil rules," said Amorth.

    "Today, unfortunately, bishops don't appoint sufficient exorcists. We need many more. I hope that Rome will send out directives to bishops around the world calling on them to appoint more exorcists."

    Amorth is also an outspoken critic of yoga and Harry Potter books and dismissed them as ungodly hobbies.

    "Practicing yoga brings evil as does reading Harry Potter. They may both seem innocuous but they both deal with magic and that leads to evil," he said.

    In addressing Harry Potter, he said: "People think it is an innocuous book for children but it's about magic and that leads to evil. In Harry Potter the Devil is at work in a cunning and crafty way, he is using his extraordinary powers of magic and evil."

    "Satan is always hidden and the thing he desires more than anything is for people to believe he does not exist," he noted. "He studies each and every one of us and our tendencies towards good and evil and then he tempts us."


  18. Floyd man pleads no contest in daughter's death, says demon possessed her

    Eder Guzman-Rodriguez said he thought a demon had entered his 2-year-old daughter in November 2011, and that was why he punched and choked her to death.

    by MELISSA POWELL, The Roanoke Times June 3, 2013

    FLOYD — Eder Guzman-Rodriguez told police that his 2-year-old daughter was possessed by a demon, causing him to punch and choke her until she lay lifeless inside the family’s home.

    “I didn’t mean to kill the baby,” Guzman-Rodriguez told police shortly after the incident in November 2011. “I didn’t mean to choke her.”

    Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Shortt read that quote in circuit court Monday after Guzman-Rodriguez pleaded no contest to first-degree murder.

    Guzman-Rodriguez, 30, originally from Mexico, was sentenced to 20 years and 11 months for the murder of his daughter, Jocelyn. He was also originally charged with malicious wounding and felony child neglect, but those charges were dropped Monday morning as part of a plea agreement.

    According to Shortt’s summary of the evidence, Guzman-Rodriguez told police that Jocelyn had a demon inside of her and that he had attempted to exorcise her of the demon. Jocelyn’s cause of death was manual asphyxiation, Shortt said.

    Shortt said that on Nov. 23, 2011, the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office received a call at 9:39 p.m. reporting the death of a child in the 100 block of Lance Drive. The first deputy who arrived saw “several Hispanics holding Bibles” standing on the deck of a mobile home, Shortt said.

    Police found Guzman-Rodriguez and his wife, referred to in court as Carmen Nolazco, sitting on a couch in the living room, Shortt said. Nolazco was crying and had visible injuries to her face, head and chest, Shortt said.

    Jocelyn was found on a bed in the master bedroom, wrapped in a blanket, according to Shortt. She was blue and had no pulse. The room was in disarray with several Bibles and “other religious literature,” Shortt said.

    Guzman-Rodriguez told police that he saw his daughter gesturing to him as if she wanted to fight, Shortt said, and that he punched her “over and over” with his bare hands, Shortt said.

    “I know I am the one who hit her,” Shortt said Guzman-Rodriguez told police. “I was the only one there. The demon used my body to kill her.”

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  19. Shortt said Nolazco could not have prevented Jocelyn’s death because Guzman-Rodriguez had beaten, kicked and strangled his wife to the point of unconsciousness before he attacked his daughter.

    While Shortt was describing Jocelyn’s injuries — which included fractured ribs, abrasions, contusions on a lung and hemorrhages — Nolazco ran out of the courtroom Monday and began loudly sobbing and screaming just outside the courtroom doors.

    Shortt requested a recess but came back minutes later and continued her summary of the evidence. Nolazco did not re-enter the courtroom.

    Shortt said the plea agreement allows Nolazco to “immediately begin the healing process” and “avoid having to relive in detail the horrible tragedy that altered her life forever.” Guzman-Rodriguez was previously scheduled to have a five-day jury trial in August.

    Circuit Court Judge Marcus Long accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Guzman-Rodriguez to life in prison, suspended after he serves 20 years and 11 months. Guzman-Rodriguez will be placed on 25 years of active supervised probation upon his release.

    Because he is not a United States citizen, Guzman-Rodriguez will be deported after he serves his sentence, said one of his lawyers, Jonathon Venzie.

    Before announcing the sentence, Long asked Guzman-Rodriguez if he wished to make a statement. Through an interpreter, who stood next to him throughout the hearing, Guzman-Rodriguez at first said “no.”

    Then he added: “I just want to say to Ms. Stephanie Shortt that I hope God forgives her for all the hurt she caused my wife.”

    After the hearing, Venzie said that Shortt had previously gone through the autopsy report with Nolazco, causing her to go “off the deep end.”

    Guzman-Rodriguez found that unnecessary, Venzie said.

    Nolazco is “on his side. She believes it was the devil,” Venzie said, adding that the two are still married. In Jocelyn’s obituary, published by a Galax funeral home, Nolazco’s full name was listed as Maria dell Carmen Nolazco Garcia.

    Venzie said Jocelyn was “cute as a button and loved by everyone.”

    “It’s a horrible family tragedy,” Venzie said. “They’re all victims. Poor Carmen was living the dream — she was married, she had a child, a home, and in one second, she lost everything. My heart goes out to Carmen.”


  20. Exorcisms often claim most the innocent -- our children

    By Benjamin Radford, LiveScience June 7, 2013

    A Virginia man was convicted earlier this week in the death of a 2-year-old who died during a 2011 exorcism. Eder Guzman-Rodriguez beat his daughter Jocelyn to death in an attempt to rid her of the demon he believed was inside her.

    Police summoned to the scene encountered several people holding Bibles outside the home, where Guzman-Rodriguez stated that he had also become possessed by a "bad spirit" when he punched and choked Jocelyn to death. The girl was found on a bed, wrapped in a blanket surrounded by Bibles.

    Such beliefs in demonic possession and the violent exorcisms that may follow have a long history and can harm the most innocent among us, children.

    Psychology of the exorcism

    The belief that demons can possess people is one of the most widely held religious beliefs in the world. The Vatican first issued guidelines on exorcisms in 1614 and revised them in 1999. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, signs of demonic possession in adults include superhuman strength, spitting, cursing, aversion to holy water and the ability to speak in unknown languages.

    Those conducting exorcisms are devoutly religious and truly believe they are doing good through the beating and torture of innocents. Though spirits are said to be able to possess anyone, children are especially likely to be suspected of being possessed. Not only are children often thought to be more corruptible and susceptible to evil influences, but their misbehavior (and even innocent actions) may also seem to be manipulated by dark forces. Parents and caregivers who believe in spiritual possession may look for signs their child is possessed: According to police, Guzman-Rodriguez said he believed his daughter was "gesturing to him as if she wanted to fight."

    In other cases, believers assume bad behavior is driven by evil spirits — "the devil made me (or him, or her) do it" is very much alive in many people's minds. The beatings and abuse are not seen as a punishment for the child, because the physical aggression, in the exorcist's mind, is directed at the evil spirit within. The child's body is simply seen as a temporary vessel for the bad spirit. The physical and emotional abuse is seen as an unfortunate but necessary price to pay for the child's spiritual salvation.

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  21. Child exorcisms

    As disturbing as this case is, there are many similar historical precedents. A century ago in Ireland, it was not demons but other supernatural, malevolent entities — fairies — that were believed to possess babies and children. Some children were believed by their parents to be changelings, either "false children" or children possessed by an evil spirit that could be driven from the child through abused and punishment.

    In her book "The Burning of Bridget Cleary" (about a woman killed by her husband in an attempt to exorcise fairy spirits from her), folklorist Angela Bourke of the National University of Ireland notes that many "accounts can be found in nineteenth-century newspapers and police reports of suspected child-changelings in Ireland being placed on red-hot shovels, drowned or otherwise mistreated or killed."

    Bourke cites an example from 1828 in which a woman named Ann Roche drowned a 4-year-old boy she believed was possessed; like Guzman-Rodriguez, she claimed that she didn't mean to harm or kill the child, just to drive the spirits out of him. Unlike Guzman-Rodriguez, who was sentenced to just under 21 years in prison, Roche was found not guilty and released.

    Though belief in fairies has waned in modern times, belief in spiritual possession by demons and other supernatural entities remains very much with us. In 2003, an autistic 8-year-old boy in Milwaukee was killed during an exorcism by church members who blamed an invading demon for his disability; and in 2005, a young nun in Romania died at the hands of a priest during an exorcism after being bound to a cross, gagged, and left for days without food or water in an effort to expel demons. In 2010, a 14-year-old boy in England was beaten and drowned to death by relatives trying to exorcise an evil spirit from him.

    Though belief in spirits and demons has been a part of humanity for millennia, it also has a dark side and can inflict terrible harm on the most innocent among us.

    Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of "Skeptical Inquirer" science magazine and author of six books including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries" and "Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking." His Web site is www.BenjaminRadford.com.


  22. Madonna to be discussed at Polish exorcists meeting

    Madonna will feature on the agenda of a secretive five-day meeting of European exorcists in Poland.

    By Matthew Day, Warsaw The Telegraph July 11, 2013

    Long the scourge of the Catholic Church, Madonna has often triggered Christian ire, once going through a mock crucifixion during one her stage shows.

    Now her music and shows will come under the scrutiny of priests trained in the art of defeating demons, treating satanic possession and looking for the devil in a section of the conference dedicated to finding evil in popular culture.

    "Part of the conference is dedicated to the hidden subliminal message in communication, and the choice of this subject was inspired by the woman who dares to call herself Madonna," said Father Andrzej Grefkowic, an exorcist and one of the organisers of the conference. "We've been worried about her concerts."

    Although popular in Poland, Madonna has faced frequent protests by conservatives against her shows in a country where the Catholic Church retains considerable influence. She has also had to contest with calls for her concerts to be banned on the grounds she is antireligious and promotes a deviant lifestyle.

    Father Grefkowic also warned of a growing risk from Satan, highlighting the increasing popularity of tattoos, body piercing, horoscopes and magic shows as ways evil could corrupt people.

    Along with analysing the apparent risks posed by modern fashions and trends, the exorcism conference will also discuss ways to deal with possession. Exorcists claim that despite European culture becoming increasingly secular demands for their services are on the rise as people look for unorthodox help for the unexplained.

    About 300 exorcists and lay specialists are expected to attend the five-day conference, which is held every two years, at the Jasna Gora monastery, the most holy site in Poland.


  23. Exorcisms Gaining Popularity in Bay Area

    A look into Bay Area exorcisms and the men who offer the service

    By Stephanie Chuang, NBC August 15, 2013

    Do you believe in exorcism? More and more people do. New information reveals Americans are turning to exorcism to deal with their demons.

    NBC Bay Area take a look at two Bay Area exorcists who are being tapped more and more for their spiritual powers.

    Father Gary Thomas is the official exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose.

    Under order of Pope John Paul II, he traveled to Rome in 2005 to train in the Vatican-certified seminary on how to perform an exorcism.

    Father Thomas was the inspiration for Anthony Hopkins' character in the 2011 movie "The Rite."

    “Since the movie came out the number of exorcists has quadrupled," Father Thomas said.

    He works with a team and is accompanied by three medical professionals during the procedure, which he says does not happen in one day. He estimates 90-percent of the cases he sees are just mental health issues.

    No major U.S. medical organization recognizes exorcism. It doesn't even get one mention.Father Thomas says the ritual doesn't need a debate or acknowledgement from anyone, except those who need it.

    "If people are coming and they're suffering from what they perceive to be demonic and even though it may not be, we're still there to help support them however we can," Father Thomas said.

    Catholic priests aren't the only ones getting the requests.

    When Steve Lukacsy started hearing demonic voices he first turned to a doctor for help.

    "I'm bipolar and a psychologist prescribed me medicines," Lukacsy said.

    The medicines failed, according to the East Bay native, adding that demons pushed him into alcoholism.

    For help, he turned to a man who calls himself Brother Carlos after medicines failed him.

    Brother Carlos' real name is Carlos Oliveira.

    “I feel like I’m doing the work that Jesus Christ did 2,000 years ago," Oliveira said.

    He doesn't charge for his services, but does take donations. He says he isn't trained and is not part of a church.

    "I'm open to debate anybody on the subject. I still haven’t found anyone to debate -- I am looking for scientists, doctors, and physicians to debate me. Nobody wants to debate me," Oliveira said.

    Father Thomas says the ritual doesn't need a debate or acknowledgment from anyone except those who need it.

    “If people are coming and they’re suffering from what they perceive to be demonic and even though it may not be -- we’re still there to help support them however we can," Father Thomas said.


  24. The country where exorcisms are on the rise

    By Vladimir Hernandez BBC Mundo November 25, 2013

    Does God exist? Does the Devil exist? The Catholic church believes they both do - and some priests say they are currently having an immense battle in Mexico.

    To some it may seem extraordinary, but priests say the country is under attack by Satan, and that more exorcists are needed to fight him.

    This attack, they say, is showing itself in the gruesome drug-related violence, including human sacrifice, that has engulfed the country since 2006.

    According to the latest official figures available, at least 70,000 people have died in this period, including gunmen, members of the security forces, and many innocent civilians.

    But, the priests say, it's not just the numbers. The savagery also stands out.

    In recent years it has not been uncommon in many parts of Mexico for children to find dismembered bodies on the streets on their way to school. Or for commuters on busy roads to drive past bridges with severely tortured corpses hanging from them. Scenes from hell.

    "We believe that behind all these big and structural evils there is a dark agent and his name is The Demon. That is why the Lord wants to have here a ministry of exorcism and liberation, for the fight against the Devil," says Father Carlos Triana, a priest, and an exorcist, in Mexico City.

    "As much as we believe that the Devil was behind Adolf Hitler, possessing and directing him, we also believe that he (the Devil) is here behind the drug cartels."

    Mexico's exorcists say there is unprecedented demand for their services.

    Some are even not taking new cases, as they are having to exorcise demons almost every day.

    "This didn't happen before", says Father Francisco Bautista, another exorcist in Mexico City.

    Most of the cases, he explains, require a lesser form of exorcism, called liberation prayers - effective when a person still controls part of his or her mind and body.

    Only rarely does the Devil possess someone completely, he says, but when that happens, the bishop of the diocese must intervene.

    In Bautista's view, the rising demand for exorcism is partly explained by the large numbers of Mexicans joining the cult of Saint Death, or Santa Muerte.

    It is estimated that the cult, whose followers worship a skull in a wedding dress carrying a scythe, has some eight million followers in Mexico - and more among Mexican migrants in Central America, the US and Canada.

    "It has also been adopted by the drug traffickers who ask her for help to avoid arrest and to make money," Bautista says. "In exchange they offer human sacrifices. And this has increased the violence in Mexico."

    Another reason for the surge in exorcisms, he argues, is the decriminalisation of abortions in Mexico City, in 2007. Both the cult and abortion have given evil spirits a foothold in the country, he insists.

    "Both things are closely related. There is an infestation of demons in Mexico because we have opened our doors to Death."

    continued below

  25. If it is surprising how many Mexicans believe in Saint Death, it may also be surprising how many believe, like Father Triana and Father Bautista, that the Devil and demons are at work in the country.

    Exorcism is an ancient practice and one that appears in many different religions, but many believers doubt the existence of demons.

    A frontline of sorts for Mexico's exorcists is the northern region of the country where, for the last seven years, the Mexican military has been waging war against the heavily armed and cash-rich drug cartels.

    In parallel with the soldiers, priests have been waging a spiritual conflict. One is Father Ernesto Caro, based in Monterrey, a city blighted by frequent shootouts and kidnappings.

    He has exorcised several members of the drug cartels - and there is one case he cannot forget. It was a gang hitman, who confessed to horrific crimes. Father Caro said the man had been in charge of cutting the bodies into pieces and he said he enjoyed hearing them cry as he did so. Others he burned alive.

    The priest says the man had committed his life to the service of Saint Death.

    "The cult is the first step into Satanism and then into this band of people [the drug traffickers], that's why he was chosen for that job."

    "Santa Muerte is being used by all our drug dealers and those linked to these brutal murders. We've found that most of them, if not all, follow Santa Muerte," he adds.

    The cult is also followed by criminals, policemen, politicians and artists.

    "The biggest presence is in the poorest sectors of Mexican society," says journalist Jose Gil Olmos, who has published two books on Saint Death.

    The first references to Saint Death occur in the 18th Century, he says, not in Aztec times, as many believe.

    "In modern times the numbers of followers exploded, especially after the early 1990s economic meltdown."

    Many middle-class Mexicans found themselves in misery. In despair they searched for hope, and some turned to Saint Death, Olmos says.

    "From approximately eight years ago we have seen Santa Muerte having a big presence with drug cartel members, from the bosses all the way down. Why? Because these people say that Jesus or the Virgin Mary can't provide what they ask for, which is to be protected from soldiers, police and their enemies."

    I went to see what this cult was all about at its biggest annual ceremony in the neighbourhood of Tepito, in Mexico City, a place riddled with drug trafficking and crime.

    It's here that one of the biggest sanctuaries of Saint Death in Mexico is located. It's kept tidy by Enriqueta Romero, a woman in her sixties, whose life changed dramatically 12 years ago when she shocked her neighbours by putting a Saint Death figure in her window.

    Over the years, more and more people started arriving to pay tribute to the skull figure in a dress. And now thousands gather for the cult's most important ceremony on 31 October, the eve of Mexico's Day of the Dead festival.

    "She loves us and heals us. People come here to ask her for help - a son in prison or with Aids, or something to eat," says Romero.

    continued below

  26. During my visit, some people reach the shrine walking on their knees. One of them is a man who carries a 20-day-old baby in his arms. He's come to present his daughter to the skull.

    I also see ordinary working-class families, pregnant women asking Death to protect the life of their unborn child, and plenty of people heavily tattooed with the female skull.

    Are these people possessed, as the church says?

    "No, I also believe in God, in the Virgin, and all the saints, but I am more devout to [Saint] Death. She is the one that helps me the most," says Jose Roberto Jaimes, a man in his 20s who's come on his knees to thank the skull after surviving three years in jail.

    I get similar answers from all of the cult followers I talk to.

    Romero says the church itself bears responsibility for the rise of the cult, having shot itself in the foot with the worldwide child abuse scandal.

    "They finished off our faith with the things that the priests did. What can they criticise? That we believe in Death? That is not bad. What's bad is what they did," says Romero.

    But does she feel comfortable knowing that people behind horrific crimes also follow this cult?

    "We are in a free country and everyone can do what they want. We all will have to answer to God at some point," she says.

    It was former President Felipe Calderon who launched the offensive against drug cartels in Mexico in 2006, by deploying troops to the worst-hit areas.

    Over the years the military has discovered numerous shrines, temples and even churches of Saint Death across the region, and plenty of evidence of human sacrifice.

    "He [Calderon] started a war against them and he started a war as well against the cult of Saint Death, and he asked the church to help him," says Father Ernesto Caro.

    "The Church is not going to go on TV and say: 'Look, we think that Mexico is going to get better and be saved if we do exorcisms because the Devil is behind all of this.' We have to be discreet [with exorcisms] or else we may be ridiculed, even by our own followers," adds Father Carlos Triana.

    Whether exorcisms can help reduce the drug-related violence in Mexico - especially the sadistic killings - is debatable. Although at this point, many in Mexico would probably welcome any help if it brings them some peace.

    You can hear and see more about this topic in Crossing Continents, BBC Radio 4 on 28 November 2013 at 11:00 GMT, and Our World, on BBC News Channel or BBC World on the weekend 30 November/1 December 2013, or catch up later on BBC iPlayer.


  27. Rise of the exorcists in Catholic Church

    Forty years after The Exorcist scared the wits out of cinema audiences around the world, the Roman Catholic Church is training up a new generation of priests to meet a growing demand for exorcisms

    By Nick Squires, The Telegraph Rome January 4, 2014

    Dioceses across Italy, as well as in countries such as Spain, are increasing the number of priests schooled in administering the rite of exorcism, fabled to rid people of possession by the Devil.

    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.

    The increase in the number of priests being trained to tackle the phenomenon is also an effort by the Church to sideline unauthorised, self-proclaimed exorcists, and its tacit recognition that belief in Satan, once regarded by Catholic progressives as an embarrassment, is still very much alive.

    The trend comes four decades after the 1973 release of The Exorcist, the American horror film based on the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and attempts to exorcise her by two priests.

    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.

    “Diabolical possessions are on the increase as a result of people subscribing to occultism,” said Fr Francesco Bamonte, the president of the Italy-based International Association for Exorcists. “The few exorcists that we have in the dioceses are often not able to handle the enormous number of requests for help,” he told La Repubblica last month.

    The association was founded in 1993 by Fr Gabriele Amorth, who served as the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have conducted thousands of exorcisms.
    He has written several books on the subject, including The Last Exorcist — My Fight Against Satan.

    A controversial figure, he has claimed that yoga is “evil” because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and other Eastern religions.

    During the papacy of Benedict XVI he said that the sex abuse scandals which engulfed the Church in the US, Ireland, Australia and other countries were proof that the Antichrist was waging a war against the Holy See.

    continued below

  28. The Church insists that the majority of people who claim to be possessed by the Devil are suffering from a variety of mental health issues, from paranoia to depression. Priests generally advise them to seek medical help.

    But in a few cases, it is judged that the person really has been taken over by evil, and an exorcism is required.

    The need for exorcisms is “rare, very rare”, said Fr Vincenzio Taraborelli, a priest in a church which lies just a few hundred yards from the Vatican. “In the cases where a mental illness is apparent, we try to send them to a doctor.”

    Don Gianni Sini is a priest in Sardinia, an island with a reputation for spiritualism — its interior is dotted with mysterious stone-built structures called nuraghi, which predate Carthaginian and Roman occupation.

    “People come to me thinking that with an exorcism they can resolve all the problems they have in their lives. A child is doing badly at school? With an exorcism we can make him study. They see exorcists as a last resort. Out of 100 people that I receive, there will be one who has need of me as an exorcist.”

    “Demonic” possession manifests itself in people babbling in languages foreign to them, shaking uncontrollably and vomiting nails, pieces of metal and shards of glass, according to those who believe in the phenomenon.

    They must undergo the official Catholic rite of exorcism, which involves a consecrated priest invoking the name of God, as well as various saints and the Archangel Michael, to cast out their demons. The growth in the number of priests being trained is “a response to public demand, but it’s also about quality control”, said John Allen, an expert on the Vatican from the National Catholic Reporter.

    “There are all these guys, some of them priests, who have set themselves up as exorcists. A lot of it is fairly dodgy theologically — they are self-appointed exorcists running around purporting to be acting on behalf of the Church.

    “Now there is an attempt to ensure that all this is done in accordance with the Church’s official teaching. The hierarchy don’t want it going on outside the official channels.” Monsignor Bruno Forte, a theologian and the archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, said the Church teaches that evil exists and that in extreme cases it can take possession of a person.

    “God has the power to beat his adversary, but Satan never ceases to work. There are people who experiment with subjection to the Devil, even a state of diabolical possession, for which the help of an exorcist can be necessary,” he told La Repubblica.

    “When Christians recite the Our Father prayer, they ask for delivery from evil. In every diocese the bishop chooses one or two priests to act as exorcists — they have to be well balanced and discreet.

    “The great majority do not have need of an exorcism, but medical treatment. But with those who are possessed we begin a course of conversion, help them to return to prayer, to the sacraments, to enable them to throw off the possession.”

    continued below

  29. Belief in black magic and Satanism may have been spread by the internet, but there has been a streak of popular superstition in the Catholic Church for centuries. “I’m not sure it ever really went away,” said Mr 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.
    During a Mass in November in the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican residence where he lives, he said that although “God created man to be incorruptible”, the
    Devil entered the world and there are those “who belong to him”.

    At a Mass days before, he talked of the dangers of worldliness, warning that: “When we think of our enemies, we really think of the Devil first, because it’s the
    Devil that harms us. The Devil enjoys the atmosphere, the lifestyle of worldliness.”


  30. Mom charged with killing 2 kids during exorcism

    2 kids, 1 and 2, dead after stabbing; 2 kids, 5 and 8, injured with stab wounds, hospitalized

    The Associated Press January 19, 2014

    A Maryland woman charged with killing two of her children has told investigators that she thought an exorcism was necessary to remove the presence of the devil and evil spirits, a police captain said Sunday.

    Zakieya Latrice Avery, 28, of Germantown, is charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of the children, ages one and two.

    Montgomery County police responded to Avery's home Friday morning following a neighbour's 911 call. Police said they found the two children dead and two other siblings, ages five and eight, injured with stabbing wounds.

    "She thought the devil was in the kids, and that's sort of the thing she centred it around as to why she had to conduct an exorcism," said Capt. Marcus Jones, director of the police department's major crimes division. "She just thought that there were evil spirits within the kids."

    Another woman charged in the killings, Monifa Denise Sanford, 21, made similar statements during questioning, police said.

    Sanford was arrested Saturday. The two women had been living together at the house in recent months.

    Jones said the father of the children does not live in the area and is separated from Avery, but was returning to be with the surviving children, who remained hospitalized Sunday.

    Both women were being held without bond on charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder and are not expected to appear in court until Tuesday afternoon. Court records do not list lawyers for the women.

    Mother 'wasn't herself'

    Police said officers went to Avery's row house community north of Washington, D.C., early Friday when a neighbour called 911 after noticing a car with the door open and a knife lying outside of the vehicle.

    Officers recovered two knives from the home. The children died from multiple stab wounds, Jones said.

    Jones said the women are believed to have met each other at a church, which he identified as Exousia Ministries in Germantown.

    The pastor of that congregation, Darryl Jones, declined to discuss the case after services at an elementary school Sunday or even confirm that the women worshipped there.

    "This is a tragic situation. We're keeping the family in (our) prayers and we are respecting the privacy of the family," he said.

    Avery's step-grandmother, Sylvia Wade, told The Washington Post that Avery was "humble and meek" and said she loved her children.

    "I don't know what triggered it. She wasn't herself. When a person is not of themselves, they are not responsible for what they are doing. They are in another zone."


  31. Exorcism is back! Meet the mavericks who will teach you how to cure demonic possession

    Do-it-yourself exorcism schools, some aligned with actual Vatican guidelines, are on the rise. Is it really 2014?

    by KATIE ENGELHART, Salon May 5, 2014

    This spring, a new school for exorcists opened in Illinois. The Pope Leo XIII Institute for the “education & training of priests in the holy ministry of exorcism and deliverance” was launched at the Mundelein Seminary in February — when the first cohort of trainees arrived for a 10-day seminar. For just $1,500 (plus $960 room and board; check and credit card accepted; donations welcome and tax-deductible), priests received instruction from some top exorcists — using a curriculum that was reportedly pre-approved by a committee of credentialed bishops.

    The time was ripe. Just a month before the school’s quiet opening, headlines the world over broadcast news that exorcism is back. The Catholic Church is training a new class of priests to perform exorcisms: allegedly, to meet a growing public demand. “Diabolical possessions are on the increase as a result of people subscribing to occultism,” noted Father Francesco Bamonte, president of the Italy-based International Association for Exorcists. “The few exorcists that we have in the dioceses are often not able to handle the enormous number of requests for help.”

    An ensuing rash of news stories — most of which referenced the 1973 American horror film “The Exorcist” — must have left Catholic progressives gritting their teeth. For a generation that worked hard to sideline wild-eyed talk of Satan, the reappearance of Catholic priests lashing out against Ouija boards and demonic cults could only have been unsettling. News articles included juicy interviews with priest-exorcists — and vivid descriptions of what demonic possession purportedly looks like: “people babbling in languages foreign to them, shaking uncontrollably and vomiting nails, pieces of metal and shards of glass.”
    Yet the story was not reported as thoroughly as it should have been, likely as a result of the Lord Almighty. The exorcism story is, at its root, a tale about Catholic theology — and reporters tend to treat this subject with undue reverence. (As opposed to, say, Vatican intrigue and church pedophilia scandals, which are examined with more scrutiny.) Many articles could have done with more “allegedly[s]” and “reportedly[s].” (We’re talking about vomiting nails, after all). Basic facts were taken at face value, though they were merely the anecdotes of several priests whose motives were not explored.

    Exorcism is a centuries-old rite, but it is being sold differently today. Increasingly since 1999, the church has attempted to coat the practice with a sheen of secular legitimacy: by requiring that the “demon-possessed” obtain medical clearance before an exorcism is performed — and by training exorcists to differentiate between “psychological” and “spiritual” malaise.

    But if we accept, as I do, that there is definitely no such thing as demonic possession — and, therefore, that this all crazy talk — we should take pause, and consider the effect that a push for exorcisms might have on vulnerable Catholics: the mentally ill, the developmentally impaired and the psychologically traumatized.

    Right off the bat, I’d like to know: Where are the psychiatrists who are approving the use of exorcism on patients — and can they please stand up?

    * * *

    Catholic priests who have spoken openly about exorcism tout a predictable line, as reported by the Telegraph in January: “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.”

    continued below

  32. Never mind that I haven’t seen a Ouija board since the ’90s — the church says, as the church has said for decades, that our spiritually plastic ways are guiding us into Satan’s den.

    Other observers point to the growing influence of Pentecostalism, with its direct and physical experience of Godc—cor films like “The Rite” (2011), which was based on a real American priest.

    Exorcism is “the practice of expelling evil spirits.” By popular accounts, crazy things happen when those demons are given the boot: “There are foul smells, vomiting, foaming at the mouth, foul language, psychological attack as well as a physical attack, languages you’ve never heard, items flying across the room (what we call poltergeist activity) … voices that sound like they came out of ‘The Exorcism’ movie,” Rev. Steven Maness, a New Jersey-based exorcist, tells me.

    In theory, only Catholic priests with permission from superiors can conduct exorcisms. But recent decades have given rise to gaggles of rogue agents — many of whom charge a hefty fee for their services, as opposed to affiliated priests who usually claim to exorcise for free. Some speculate that the church’s new exorcism push is an attempt to steal back authority from these unaffiliated mavericks. It’s “a response to public demand, but it’s also about quality control,” John Allen, an author and Vatican expert, noted in January. “A lot of it is fairly dodgy theoretically — they are self-appointed exorcists running around purporting to be acting on behalf of the Church.” In 2008, a senior Italian priest made £3 million ($5 million) by performing unsanctioned exorcisms at his “House of the Sainted Archangels” in Florence.

    Online, lone wolves aren’t hard to find. A quick search leads to the website of one Bob Larson who, for a fee, offers exorcist “accreditation” at his “International School of Exorcism ®.” Classes like “Healing the Fragmented Soul” and “Weapons of Warfare” can be taken by students as young as 18 — and you can sign up even if you’re “not well-versed in the Bible.” Larson’s website boasts a flashy sidebar with a “Got Demons?” advertisement. I clicked to take “the Demon Test ®” — but jumped ship when I was asked for a credit card number.

    The Catholic Church itself has a fuzzy relationship with exorcism, which stretches back to New Testament times. After the reform-minded Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, many church officials brushed exorcism aside — considering it a relic of more superstitious times.

    This began to change in 1999, when the Vatican updated its guidelines on exorcism (“Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications”) for the first time since 1614. The rite was minimally rejigged. “Some of the more colorful descriptions of the devil were removed,” explained the Vatican expert John Allen. In 2005, Pope John Paul II reportedly “wrote a letter requiring every U.S. bishop to designate an exorcist.”

    Movement picked up under Pope Benedict XVI, who had a penchant for traditional rituals. In the early aughts, Rome’s Pontifical Academy began offering classes for clergy and seminarians on “Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation.” Under Benedict’s reign, a plethora of exorcism-themed conferences were launched; exorcist training organizations and “boot camps” gained newfound prominence.

    Today, Pope Francis makes frequent references to the devil. And last May, he was accused of performing an exorcism of his own during a St. Peter’s Square Mass. (TV footage captured the pontiff gingerly placing his hands on the head of a wheelchair-bound man, who then began convulsing.) He denied the charge — sort of. The Vatican released a statement saying that Pope Francis “did not intend to perform any exorcism.”

    continued below

  33. According to the Vatican’s new exorcism guidelines people who claim to be demonically possessed must be examined by doctors — to rule out the presence of physical or mental illness. Many exorcists quoted in newspapers insist that they adhere to this requirement: stressing that they only perform exorcisms on a small minority of the people who seek them. Monsignor Mottet, the Iowa priest, tells me that it took some searching to find a medical professional who would take his referrals: “Most psychiatrists don’t believe in this. You’ve got to shop around.”

    Assuming that priests really do require medical clearance (they are not regulated, so it’s hard to say), who is providing it? Who are these doctors—and are their actions in line with their obligations as medical professionals? We should be asking why and which doctors support the use of exorcism on people who believe that they are possessed by demons.

    There is something very troubling about recent efforts to justify exorcism by scientific means. Steven Maness, the New Jersey-based reverend, says he has been performing exorcisms for around a decade. On his website, Maness writes that his “Institute for Spiritual Forensics” is “affiliated with the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) facility at Princeton University.” But I emailed Princeton to confirm this — and PEAR’s laboratory manager Brenda Dunne told me that she had “never even heard of them before.”

    Last August, the Healing Ministry of Deliverance & Exorcism (which launched the new exorcism class in Chicago) held an exorcism seminar that was reportedly attended by more than 200 priests and lay teams. One scheduled speaker was the Rev. Chad Ripperger, who reportedly lectured on “how to distinguish” between the “psychological” and the “preternatural” when performing a “diagnostic.” But elsewhere, Ripperger has expressed hostility to “modern psychology.”

    In this light, the new exorcism push seems like an effort to demonize (quite literally) mental illness and psychological trauma. Indeed, some of the so-called symptoms of demonic possession — hearing voices, speaking in strange voices, feeling watched or haunted or possessed — seem a lot like psychiatric symptoms. One worrisome result: Jennifer Percy’s new book “Demon Camp”profiles American Army veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who seek out exorcisms at a Pentecostal retreat in Georgia, where a husband-and-wife team perform them by the handful.

    Also worrisome are priests like Father Gary Thomas (inspiration for the hit book and then movie “The Rite”), who notes: “Eighty percent of the people who come to see me have been sexually abused … Sexual abuse is a doorway for a demon.” What is this if not theological victim shaming: blaming sexual assault victims for their own abuse? For demonic possession, as many Catholics understand it, involves an element of volition; the devil, in other words, must be invited in.

    Even in the best of cases, what does it mean for someone who believes himself possessed to “consent” to an exorcism? Maness told me that family members typically attend exorcisms — and help “to restrain people if they get violent or start throwing things.” I asked if he could elaborate on the verb “restrain.” “It’s not an illegal restraint of any sort,” Maness bristled. “The family is doing it under spiritual auspices. There is a separation of church and state here in the United States.”

    * * *

    The thing about exorcism is that it has built-in theological safeguards that superficially protect it from chicanery-alleging secularists. Your exorcism doesn’t seem to be working? You might need more that one! Feeling OK after all? Ah, but the demon may be lying nascent. Everyone else says you’re crazy?
    “There’s a saying,” a weary Maness tells me, near the end of our interview: “The greatest strength the devil has is that nobody believes in him.”


  34. Decline of religious belief means we need more exorcists, say Catholics

    Decline of religion in the West has created a rise in black magic, Satanism and the occult

    By Nick Squires, Rome The Telegraph May 2014

    The decline of religious belief in the West and the growth of secularism has “opened the window” to black magic, Satanism and belief in the occult, the organisers of a conference on exorcism have said.

    The six-day meeting in Rome aims to train about 200 Roman Catholic priests from more than 30 countries in how to cast out evil from people who believe themselves to be in thrall to the Devil.

    The conference, “Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation”, has also attracted psychiatrists, sociologists, doctors and criminologists in what the Church called a “multi-disciplinary” approach to exorcisms.

    Giuseppe Ferrari, from GRIS, a Catholic research group that organised the conference, said there was an ever growing need for priests to be trained to perform exorcisms because of the increasing number of lay people tempted to dabble in black magic, paganism and the occult.

    “We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out, the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality,” said Mr Ferrari.

    The abandonment of religion “inevitably leads people to ask questions about the existence of evil and its origins”, he told Adnkronos, an Italian news agency.

    About 250 priests were trained as exorcists in Italy, but many more were needed, the conference organisers claimed.

    “Just in the dioceses of Rome, around a third of calls that are received are requests for the services of an exorcist,” said Fr Cesar Truqui, a priest and exorcist from Switzerland and a member of the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative Catholic order.

    In the popular imagination, exorcisms evoke images of black-clad priests holding aloft silver crucifixes while trying to rid frothing, wild-eyed victims of Satanic possession.

    The Church tries to play down the more lurid associations but at the same time insists that the Devil exists and must be fought on a daily basis.

    “Exploring the theme of demonic possession does not mean causing general paranoia, but creating awareness of the existence of the Devil and of the possibility of possession,” Fr Truqui told Vatican Radio. “It happens rarely but you can fight it with God, with prayer, with Marian devotion.”

    Demonic possession manifests itself in people babbling in foreign languages, shaking uncontrollably and vomiting nails, pieces of metal and shards of glass, according to those who believe in the phenomenon.

    Those thought to be possessed are supposed to undergo the official Catholic rite of exorcism, which involves a consecrated priest invoking the name of God, as well as various saints, to cast out their demons.

    Pope Francis has frequently alluded to the Devil in his homilies and addresses since being elected to succeed Benedict XVI last March.

    In a homily this week, he said that the Devil was behind the persecution of early Christian martyrs, who were murdered for their faith.
    The “struggle between God and the Devil” was constant and ongoing, he said.


  35. Pope Francis’s secret fear means boom times for exorcists

    Pope Francis is seen as a modern, moderate pope. But he is rekindling the supernatural spectre of Satan.

    By Anthony Faiola, The Washington Post Toronto Star May 25 2014

    VATICAN CITY—A darling of liberal Catholics and an advocate of inclusion and forgiveness, Pope Francis is hardly known for fire and brimstone.

    Yet, in his words and deeds, the new Pope is locked in an epic battle with the oldest enemy of God and creation:
    The devil.

    After little more than a year atop the Throne of St. Peter, Francis’s teachings on Satan are already regarded as the most old school of any pope since at least Paul VI, whose papacy in the 1960s and 1970s fully embraced the notion of hellish forces plotting to deliver mankind unto damnation.

    Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors, but he has also sought to rekindle the devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces of evil at his beck and call.

    Last year, for instance, Francis laid hands on a man in a wheelchair who claimed to be possessed by demons in what many saw as an impromptu act of cleansing. A few months later, he praised a group long viewed by some as the crazy uncles of the Roman Catholic Church — the International Association of Exorcists — for “helping people who suffer and are in need of liberation.”

    “But Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century,” Francis, quoting those who have noted his frequent mentions of the devil, said last month while presiding over mass at the Vatican’s chapel in St. Martha’s House. He warned those gathered on that chilly morning to be vigilant and not be fooled by the hidden face of Satan in the modern world: “Look out, because the devil is present.”

    Since its foundation, the church has taught the existence of the devil. But in recent decades, progressive priests and bishops, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, have tended to couch Satan in more allegorical terms. Evil became less the wicked plan of the master of hell than the nasty byproduct of humanity’s free will. Even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a lofty German theologian, often painted evil with a broad brush.

    Enter the plain-talking first pope from Latin America, where mystical views of Satan still hold sway in broad areas of the region. During his time as cardinal of Buenos Aires before rising to the papacy, Francis was known for stark warnings against “the tempter” and “the Father of Lies.” Now, his focus on the devil is raising eyebrows even within the normally unquestioning walls of Vatican City.

    “Pope Francis never stops talking about the devil; it’s constant,” said one senior bishop in Vatican City who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Had Pope Benedict done this, the media would have clobbered him.”

    Yet, as with so many of his actions, Francis may simply be correctly reading the winds of the Catholic Church.

    Although difficult to measure, Vatican officials talk about a resurgence of mystical rites in the church, including exorcisms — or the alleged act of evicting demons from a living host. Cardinals in Milan, Turin and Madrid, for instance, recently moved to expand the number of exorcists in their dioceses to cope with what they have categorized as surging demand.

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  36. But by focusing on old school interpretations of the devil, some progressive theologians complain that the Pope is undermining his reputation as a leader who in so many other ways appears to be more in step with modern society than his predecessor.

    “He is opening the door to superstition,” said Vito Mancuso, a Catholic theologian and writer.

    Among the things lurking behind that door is the alleged gateway to hell guarded by the small cluster of officially anointed exorcists of the Roman Catholic Church.

    By most accounts, the ranks of official exorcists number between 500 and 600 in a global church of more than 1 billion Catholics, with the vast majority operating in Latin America and Eastern Europe. At the ninth and largest Vatican-sanctioned convention on exorcism recently, attendees gushed about the fresh recognition being afforded the field.

    Almost 200 delegates from more than two dozen nations — most of them priests and nuns — talked about how Satanic cults are spreading like wildfire in the age of the Internet.

    The new Pope, exorcists say, has become their champion in the face of modern skeptics, many of them within the Catholic faith. Officially, those claiming to be possessed must first undergo psychiatric evaluations. But exorcists say liberal Catholic bishops have often rejected their services even after such due diligence.

    “The sad truth is that there are many bishops and priests in our church who do not really believe in the devil,” said the Rev. Gabriele Amorth, the 89-year-old priest who is perhaps the closest thing the church has to a Hollywood-style exorcist. “I believe Pope Francis is speaking to them. Because when you don’t believe, the devil wins.”

    At a rare glimpse of an official exorcism recently, in a white-tiled room outfitted with images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, Amorth wrapped his purple sash around a Neapolitan housewife in her 40s who said she was afflicted by multiple demons. He then began chanting in Latin, commanding the devils inside her to reveal themselves.

    “Tell me your name!” he demanded.

    “No, no,” hissed the woman, shaking her head and speaking in an altered voice as her eyes rolled to the back of her head. “I will not!”

    “Tell me your name!” he kept repeating, until finally she spat out, “Asmodeus,” the name of an ancient demon and hellish spokesman.

    “How many are you?” he yelled, repeating the question as she grunted and shook her head violently.

    Finally, she defiantly said, “We are five!”

    After his bout with the demons, the diminutive Amorth simply shrugged.

    “That,” he said, “was a light one.”

    Following the session, the woman and her husband, who gave their names only as Antonella and Michele, said they had been going through a living hell for years. They had begged bishops to authorize an exorcism when Antonella began having uncontrollable fits after receiving Holy Communion and became violent around religious prayers. But they were repeatedly denied.

    It was only after they were referred to Amorth and began sessions four years ago, Antonella said, that her condition finally began to improve.

    “The Devil exists, and thanks to this treatment, I have gotten back my faith,” she said. “I think Pope Francis is telling us it’s okay to believe.”

    Stefano Pitrelli contributed to this report.


  37. Nine year old suffers burns in Alleged Exorcism Attempt

    Vibe Ghana June 13, 2014

    A pastor and his assistant who used heated stones to burn the body of a nine-year-old boy at Mankessim in the Central Region under the pretext of exorcising a demonic spirit out of him have been sentenced to a 15-year jail term each with hard labour.

    The pastor, Kojo Affram, alias Osofo Kojo Abraham, 41, and his assistant, Yaw Nkansa, 28, both of the Holy Church of Ghana, pleaded guilty with explanation.

    Prior to the sentencing, they had pleaded with the court to have mercy on them.


    The Cape Coast Circuit Court, presided over by Ms Eva Bannerman-Williams, ordered the convicts to also pay the medical bills that would come from the plastic surgery that the boy would have to undergo.

    Delivering her sentence, Ms Bannerman-Williams said, “Looking at what you have caused to this boy, I think he is emotionally and psychologically traumatised. I am, therefore, appealing to individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working for the good of children to come to the aid of this boy and offer him help in the restoration of the deformity meted against him.”

    Osofo Abraham burst into uncontrollable tears after the judgement, saying, “I will die in prison within one year.”

    Facts of case

    The prosecutor, Inspector Christiana Sampong, said the victim’s father, Stephen Nyame, lived in the same vicinity as the convicts at Mankessim.

    About three months ago, the victim left home unceremoniously and could not be found for two days.

    She said knowing Osofo Abraham as a friend and prophet of God, Mr Nyame approached him and asked for prayers for the return of his son.

    Fortunately for Mr Nyame, his son returned home that very day when Osofo Abraham happened to be visiting his friend.

    She said Osofo Abraham ordered Mr Nyame to send the boy to his (Osofo Abraham’s) prayer camp for spiritual deliverance because he believed the victim was possessed by a demonic spirit.

    Out of fear of losing his son, the prosecutor said, Mr Nyame sent his son to Osofo Abraham to cleanse him of the demonic spirit.

    Inspector Sampong said Osofo Abraham kept the boy at his prayer camp and when Mr Nyame visited the camp one day to see his son, he saw him firmly held onto three big heated stones on the ground and covered with a mat and a cloth.

    She told the court that the boy had already gone through that ordeal twice and on both occasions he had screamed for help before he was freed, after suffering burns all over his body.

    She said realising the deformity caused to his son, Mr Nyame lodged a complaint at the police station, leading to the arrest of Osofo Abraham and Nkansa.


    In his explanation, Osofo Abraham told the court that Mr Nyame had approached him to cast out a spirit which he (Mr Nyame) believed had been tormenting his son.

    He said Mr Nyame had told him that the boy started crawling just a month after he was born and that the father believed was not normal.


  38. Vatican recognizes exorcists' organization

    The organization has 250 members in 30 countries.

    By Ed Adamczyk UPI July 2, 2014

    VATICAN CITY, July 2 (UPI) --The International Association of Exorcists has been formally recognized by the Vatican's Holy See, an indication the Catholic Church approves of the controversial practice of exorcism.

    The group, restricted to Roman Catholic priests, was founded in 1990 by six priests. They included Father Gabriele Amorth, known as the "Exorcist of Rome," who claims to have performed 160,000 exorcisms -- the ceremonial process of releasing demons from those possessed by them.

    The organization now has 250 members in 30 countries.

    Roman Catholic exorcism procedure requires a priest's consent from his bishop, and examinations by medical specialists to determine if a victim's medical or psychological issues can be treated by non-religious means. The Church issued a revised guide to exorcism in 1999.

    The practice was brought to the attention of the non-Catholic world in 1973 by the film The Exorcist.

    "The approval by the Holy See is a joy not only for our association but for the church as a whole. We hope more priests will realize the existence of this dramatic reality, which is often ignored or underestimated. Exorcism benefits people who are suffering, and is doubtless a work of bodily and spiritual mercy," exorcist Father Francesco Bamonte told L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, Wednesday.


  39. Pope Francis and the psychology of exorcism and possession

    Endorsement of exorcism by the Vatican will do nothing to prevent future tragedies like the death of Victoria Climbié

    by Chris French, The Guardian July 9, 2014

    Last week it was reported that Pope Francis had formally recognised the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests spread across 30 countries who supposedly cast out demons. The head of the association, Rev Francesco Bamonte, announced that this was a cause for joy because,
    “Exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer.” While Pope Francis, who frequently mentions Satan, no doubt agrees with this sentiment, this granting of legal recognition to the concepts of possession and exorcism has come as something of a shock to those who do not share this world view.

    Belief in possession is widespread both geographically and historically and is far from rare in modern western societies. A YouGov poll of 1,000 US adults last year found that over half of the respondents endorsed belief in possession and 20% remained unsure. Only 11% said categorically that they did not believe people could be “possessed by the devil”.

    Is it possible that the pope is right and demons can sometimes take control of their victims’ behaviour? Are exorcists really bravely battling against the most powerful, evil forces imaginable? Or are possession and exorcism best explained in terms of psychological factors without any need to postulate the existence of incorporeal spiritual entities? I would argue that the available evidence strongly supports the latter interpretation.

    There can be no doubt that some forms of behaviour that would once have been seen as evidence for possession by demons or evil spirits would now be recognised as being caused by neuropathology. Hippocrates, in The Sacred Disease, declared that epileptic convulsions were caused by brain malfunction, not evil spirits. Belief in possession was still widespread some 400 years later, however, when Jesus encountered an individual believed to be possessed but who was, in fact, clearly suffering from epilepsy.

    Another condition that would often have been interpreted in a similar manner is Tourette’s syndrome. Interestingly, the first recorded description of a case of Tourette’s may be in Malleus Maleficarum (or Witch’s Hammer) published in the 15th century by Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kraemer. This notorious book served as a guide for identifying witches and the possessed and included a description of a priest whose tics were thought to be a result of possession by the devil. Although the symptom that people most readily associate with Tourette’s syndrome is vocal outbursts of foul language, this symptom is in fact quite rare, affecting only around 10% of sufferers. Having said that, this is probably the main symptom that, in times gone by, would have led to suspicion of possession.

    There are several other neuropathologies (eg certain forms of schizophrenia) that might also have been interpreted as possession in less enlightened times (and sadly sometimes still are) but it is not plausible to explain all cases of apparent possession in neuropathological terms. It should also be borne in mind that the type of phenomenon that would be the main focus for the International Association of Exorcists is but one example of situations where an individual appears to have been taken over by some agent, resulting in a dramatic change in behaviour, mannerisms, voice and even, allegedly, memories.

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  40. Other examples would include mediums "channelling" communications from the dead; shamans inviting possession by the gods, ancestors or animal spirits; individuals apparently reliving past-lives, having gone through a process of hypnotic regression; and volunteers during hypnosis stage shows apparently taking on the identities of celebrities, animals or even aliens.

    The controversial diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) is yet another example of this phenomenon, though many commentators, myself included, believe that it is not in fact a genuine psychiatric disorder but is instead a product of dubious forms of therapy.

    The sociocognitive approach, as outlined by Nick Spanos in his posthumously published book, Multiple Identities and False Memories, has the potential to explain all the phenomena listed in the previous two paragraphs without the need to invoke disembodied spiritual entities. Essentially, this approach argues that all of these phenomena reflect learned patterns of behaviour that constitute particular recognised roles within specific cultural contexts.

    Although it may not always be immediately obvious, there are often benefits to enacting the role of being possessed. Indeed, in many societies, certain forms of possession are welcomed. For example, glossolalia, or “speaking in tongues”, is encouraged in many western Christian societies and is interpreted as possession by the Holy Spirit. During glossolalia, the individual produces vocalisations of meaningless syllables. Although these may sound superficially like a foreign language, analysis shows them to have no true linguistic structure whatsoever. Glossolalia can sometimes involve dramatic behaviour such as convulsions, sweating and rolling eyes but can also be much more subdued. The actual form the glossolalia takes is entirely determined by the expectations of the particular religious community involved.

    For less positive forms of possession, the benefits of taking on this role may be harder to identify but they still exist. As Michael Cuneo describes in his excellent book, American Exorcism, the phenomena of alleged possession and exorcism are much more widespread in the US than is officially recognised. For many people, the idea that all of their previous socially and morally unacceptable behaviour was not in fact their fault but due to possession by demons is appealing. Furthermore, once those demons have been exorcised, the repentant sinner is now welcomed back into the loving arms of his or her community.

    Anthropologists have pointed out that in some cultures, those with little or no social influence can let off steam and vent their true feelings towards the more powerful members of their society while “possessed” without having to face any repercussions. They are not held to be responsible for their actions, the possessing spirit is. It is notable that historically in Europe, it was women who were much more likely to be “possessed” than men.

    Of course, we must not forget that the outcome for the person who is labelled as “possessed” can sometimes be far from positive. To give one notorious example, the parents of 23-year-old Anneliese Michel and two West German priests were convicted in 1978 of causing her death (they received suspended sentences). They had starved the young epileptic as part of a horrendous 11-month exorcism. She weighed just 68 pounds (5 stone or 30 kilograms) at the time of her death. The Guardian has noted that belief in possession has been a factor in several child abuse cases in the UK, including the tragic death of Victoria Climbié in 2000.

    The official recognition of such pre-Enlightenment beliefs by the Vatican will do nothing to prevent future tragedies of this kind.


  41. Pope Francis praises exorcists for combating 'the Devil's works'

    Catholic Church warns of a rise in Satanism and the occult as Pope Francis sends message to Rome convention of international exorcists

    By Nick Squires, The Telegraph 28 Oct 2014

    Rome - Pope Francis has told a convention of exorcists from around the world that they are doing sterling service in combating "the Devil's works", as the Catholic Church warned of a rise in Satanism and the occult.

    The Pope, who frequently cites the fight against Satan in his sermons, said that exorcists needed to show "the love and welcome of the Church for those possessed by evil". By treating people who were possessed, priests could demonstrate that "the Church welcomes those suffering from the Devil's works," he said in a message to a conference organised in Rome by the International Association of Exorcists.

    The organisation, which brings together Catholic clergy and psychiatrists, was founded in 1990 by two Catholic priests and was given formal recognition by the Vatican in June.

    At the conference, 300 priests and experts from around 30 countries discussed the perils of the occult and Satanism, which many in the Catholic Church believe is on the increase.

    "The struggle against evil and the Devil is becoming more and more of an emergency," Walter Cascioli, a psychiatrist and the spokesman for the association, told Vatican Radio.

    Dabbling in the occult "opens the way to extraordinary demonic activity," said Dr Cascioli.

    He blamed books, television series and horror films for tempting people towards the dark side.

    "Certainly, the number of people who are turning to these practices, which are damaging psychologically, spiritually and morally, is constantly growing. This worries us a great deal because we have seen an increase in extraordinary demonic activity, in particular diabolical possessions."

    Whereas belief in Satan was common among Christians centuries ago, fewer people now believe in the concept of outright evil.

    That was the Devil's sly intention – to fool people into believing that he does not really exist, said Dr Cascioli.

    "His trickery is to make us believe that he does not exist. But the point is the same – to deaden people's faith."

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  42. The risks of dabbling with the dark arts were often underestimated, he said.

    "People whose faith is lukewarm don't pay enough attention to demonic activity, and the temptation to engage in it."

    The association urged "much greater vigilance" against evil.

    Religious belief was being diminished, and a belief in the occult aided, by individualism in society as well as growing secularisation.
    In April, Pope Francis urged the faithful to "learn to fight the Devil ... who exists even in the 21st century".

    Last month, during a homily in the chapel of his residence in the Vatican, the South American pontiff said that angels are constantly battling Satan for the destiny of mankind.

    "From the very beginning, the Bible speaks to us of ... Satan's [use of] seduction to destroy – maybe out of envy," he said during a Mass marking the Feast of the Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

    Last year there was speculation that the Pope had performed what appeared to be an exorcism in St Peter's Square when he laid his hands on a young man's head and recited a prayer.

    Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's main spokesman, denied the Pope "intended to perform an exorcism".

    "Rather, as he frequently does with the sick and the suffering who come his way, he intended simply to pray for a suffering person who had been brought before him."

    Catholic Church law requires that every diocese has at least one specially-trained priest who can perform exorcisms, although the Vatican says that demonic possession is very rare and that the majority of cases that are investigated turn out to be people suffering from mental illnesses.
    In past centuries, epilepsy, schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome and similar conditions were mistaken for demonic possession.


  43. 21st century exorcisms: Examining the psychology of possession

    by Sharon Hill, James Randi Educational Foundation November 27, 2014

    A video has surfaced of a reported exorcism as it was taking place last February behind the closed doors of a Roman Catholic church in Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic. A 26 year old visitor heard screams and filmed through the keyhole of the door. Not much is visible; there is plenty of screaming and obscenity (in another language) but nothing supernatural happens from this perspective. The drama that unfolded is what we would expect an exorcism to look like from our familiarity with sensational news reports. Only in the movies, in fiction, are there visions of horror that break the bounds of physics or human capabilities. In reality, exorcisms at their most basic, are an interaction between the victim in some disturbed state and the people who are enacting the ritual. Some might say the ritual enables the victim, encouraging the expression of possession. For some afflicted people, they may benefit psychologically from the process.

    The Czech priest confronted over the released video says they were asking for God’s help to protect the anonymous person in the church. He is quoted as remarking, "Of course it helps.”

    Does it really help, or is this reinforcement of an antiquated belief system harmful? Therein lies a tricky question for religious officials, psychologists, and the skeptically-minded about the value of exorcism. Most rationalists would not condone an exorcism, likely feeling that the potential for harm that could occur is unethical or the endorsement of belief in demons is nonsense. What once was a given fact - evil spirits can possess people, and had been usurped by modern medicinal practice, has recently been re-embraced by the Catholic Church and endorsed through rejuvenation of the exorcism ritual.

    On November 11, 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an English translation of the Rite of Exorcism that was published by the Vatican in 1999. The vote was 179 “yes” to 5 “no.” Pope Francis recognized 250 priests across 30 countries who are members of the International Association of Exorcists which many observers saw as a surprising step backwards in time for the church.

    The church sees exorcism as something of a last resort and repeatedly notes that the cases are carefully evaluated by medical professionals to address medical or psychological problems. Who does these evaluations? Are the psychiatric evaluators Christian? What are their criteria for concluding that, yes, this person can not be helped by Western medicine and must be treated spiritually?

    Curiously, as noted in this Catholic news agency piece, exorcism is “not magic. It is the Church imploring God to come to the aid of the person afflicted.” This can be interpreted in a secular way - if the troubled person believes that they can be helped with this ritual, then perhaps they really are helped. It is plausible that many cases of deliverance or exorcism have been successful because people have “named” their troubles and outwardly cast them away, like the devil, to be gone and leave them free.

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  44. Professor Christopher French Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit of the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London has studied the psychology of possession. He also thinks that, under certain circumstances, people can benefit from exorcism.

    “As I believe that "possession" is a purely psychological phenomenon, any psychosomatic symptoms might be cured by any form
    of treatment that the victim believes in. Also, adoption of the "possessed" role sometimes allows people to let off steam without
    being held responsible for their actions.”

    Dr. French is clear that exorcism will not directly help anyone who has an underlying neurological condition, although, he says, “If the condition was aggravated by stress and the ritual reduced the stress, it might produce temporary relief.”

    This is not to make light of the several downsides to exorcism. There have been several cases of families who subjected “possessed’ elders, women, the handicapped, and children to abuse. In some cases, this has resulted in death.

    Yet, the popular belief in exorcism is growing. There is a reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the popular cultural depictions of exorcism in movies, books and on television: the more people see of even fictional depictions of possession and exorcism, the more accepting they become of the concept. From The Exorcist in 1973 to The Conjuring in 2012 and the latest Deliver Us from Evil in 2014, the idea of demonic possession and the power of exorcism saturates popular culture.

    Exorcism is widespread in many different religions and belief systems. We most often encounter stories associated with Roman Catholic dogma, Charismatic Christian sects and Islamic belief.

    There is a difference between Catholic church-sanctioned exorcism, as exhibited in the Czech church, and any ritual undertaken by family members, faith healers or even paranormal investigators. But in general, a person is aware of the expectations of what it means to appear possessed and what goes on in an exorcism. Members of the sanctioned International Association of Exorcists may be more careful in their use of the highly emotionally charged, controversial ritual.

    When individuals steeped in belief in the devil and demons face a troubled person, whom they interpret as possessed, tragedy has resulted. Many afflicted people around the world are unwillingly subjected to brutal exorcism rituals that result in injury or death. The danger lies in the belief that the person is not their right self, but an “other” that must be removed to free the person to return to a normal state.

    Dr. French argues that the evidence for real demon possession is not reasonable based on the evidence but that conditions and behaviors can be directly explained by neuropathology, brain malfunctions, psychosis, or a social role - a learned behavior.

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  45. In less developed nations with lower levels of education and far less access to health care, people still interpret epileptic seizures, Tourette’s syndrome, or other known disorders, as spiritual afflictions. But not all cases may be medically definable. Priests report that victims appear to be harboring another personality of an evil or destructive nature. They exhibit a different demeanor, a foreign voice, and uncommon actions. Those with a scientific worldview would point to the possibility of dissociative identity disorder (previously called multiple personality disorder), or a call for attention, even faking. There can be cultural benefits to the individual who claims to be possessed, following the “script” of what the rest of their society thinks possession looks like. Socio-cognitive factors likely play a part in many modern possession and exorcism cases.

    Professor French notes that possession of the holy spirit is encouraged by some religions. If you are possessed by an evil spirit, it, not you, are deemed responsible for actions. As in the case of women in repressed societies, they can act out taboo behavior in public without repercussion. Children and workers may act possessed in order to gain some sort of control of situation that seems desperately stressful and out of their control - strict school rules or difficult working conditions, for example.

    There is no easy answer to the question of how to stem the growth of belief in possession and how to respond to the increasing requests for exorcisms. As hard as it may be not to dismiss concepts of possession and exorcism out of hand as archaic and unenlightened, there are modern elements to it - facets of culture that recognize and accept it as real and incorporate it strongly into their framework of the world. Many people have little opportunity to fight against beliefs in which they are immersed and trapped. Therefore, they will use whatever outlet that they can, even extreme behaviors that seem excessive to rational people. Even though the idea of demons seems like nonsense, it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. In order to address scenarios labeled as possession and treated via exorcism, we need to gain greater understanding.

    Sharon Hill, P.G., EdM, is a geologist with a specialty in science and society and public outreach for science. She is the creator and editor of the unique critical thinking blog DoubtfulNews.com and researches, writes and speaks about the paranormal, monsters and natural phenomena for various publications including Skeptical Inquirer and Fortean Times. Follow her on Twitter @idoubtit.

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