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US bishops seek to boost number of exorcists

By on Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A crucifix used by American priest Fr Gary Thomas in performing an exorcism (CNS photo/Don Feria)

A crucifix used by American priest Fr Gary Thomas in performing an exorcism (CNS photo/Don Feria)

Bishops in America are sponsoring a two-day conference on exorcism in response to a growing interest in the rite and because of a shortage of trained exorcists nationwide.

The Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism, on November 12-13, will be attended by 56 bishops and 66 priests.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, said he knew of perhaps five or six exorcists in the United States. They are overwhelmed with requests to perform the rite, he said.

“There’s this small group of priests who say they get requests from all over the continental US,” Bishop Paprocki said.

“Actually, each diocese should have its own resource [person]. It shouldn’t be that this burden should be placed on a priest when his responsibility is for his own diocese,” he said.

Under canon law – Canon 1172 specifically – only those priests who get permission from their bishops can perform an exorcism after proper training.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that an exorcism occurs when the Church, in the person of an exorcist, asks “publicly and authoritatively” in Christ’s name “that a person or object be protected against the power of the evil one and withdrawn from his dominion”.

At baptism, the rite is performed in a simple form. A solemn or major exorcism, according to the catechism, “is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted in his Church”.

Scripture contains several examples of Jesus casting out evil spirits from people.

Bishop Paprocki said: “We don’t think that’s poetic metaphor.”

The conference will encompass the spiritual, the theological and the practical. Speakers include Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, who will discuss the scriptural basis of evil. Fr Dennis McManus, an assistant to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, and Fr Jeffrey Grob, pastor of St Celestine Church in Elmwood Park, Ill, also will lead sessions.

Fr Grob said he would review diocesan protocol in the appointment of an exorcist as well as what canon law says about the rite. He will also offer recommendations on how to evaluate an individual to determine if an exorcism is necessary.

Bishop Paprocki said that despite the many requests for an exorcism, the actual number of people possessed by a demon is far fewer than people fear.

The rite is considered a sacramental, which canon law describes as a sacred sign “by which effects, especially spiritual effects, are signified in some imitation of the sacraments and are obtained through the intercession of the Church”. The rite rarely is as dramatic as portrayed in movies and popular media, Bishop Paprocki said.

Other actions, especially reception of the sacraments, can drive out the devil as well, he added.

“The sacrament of penance is much more powerful than an exorcism,” the bishop explained. “The work of the devil is much more regular and our response to that should be rather regular. It’s not that you need a special exorcism to deal with the devil.”

Church practice, which was updated in 1999, requires that a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the individual thought to be possessed be undertaken. Physical and psychological exams are conducted. A priest also will examine the person. Family, friends and co-workers may be interviewed.

Bishop Paprocki said: “There’s a lot of preliminary work that has to go in with dealing with the people in terms of assessing what the situation is. We use the principal that we exclude the natural before going to the supernatural level.”

Fr Grob used the image of an onion to explain how the evaluation process works.

“You have to peel away the layers and if there is general demonic activity, it didn’t get there overnight,” he explained. “There’s not an instantaneous change in the person.”

Signs of demonic possession might include:

- Speaking in a language the individual does not know.

- Scratching, cutting, biting of the skin.

- Profound display of strength.

- Sleeplessness.

- Lack of appetite.

- Aversion to anything holy, such as mentioning the name of Jesus or Mary, or the act of praying.

- Strong or violent reaction to holy water.

Once the need for a formal exorcism is determined, the rite is conducted in a private setting such as a church, a holy space if no church is available, or a person’s home, where family members can be present.

Bishop Paprocki said in a case where the possession is deep-seated, it may take more than one performance of the rite over a period of months or even years to dispel the devil.

“We, because of Hollywood, have this kind of exaggerated sense of not only a very dramatic kind of possession, but also a very dramatic kind of exorcism. It ties in with our culture of quick fixes: you do it once and the person is going to be liberated,” he said.

Holy water, a crucifix, relics of saints and blessed salt are part of the exorcism rite.

“The reality is that a full exorcism is a rare thing,” Bishop Paprocki said, “but we still have to have people who know how to do that because the reality is that it’s not unheard of.”

Exorcisms are more common in Europe. Dozens of priests are authorised to perform the rite, especially in Italy, France and Poland.

“It’s not only performed more commonly [in Europe], but a lot less people get excited about it,” Bishop Paprocki said. “It’s not quite as exceptional as we would take it.”

  • Ratbag

    We could do with more of them here in the UK, too! The sooner the reality of evil and the devil is taken seriously, the better.

    Your report made a serious omission – satan is also repellant to a blessed rosary being put on the affected person and its recitation; a blessed scapular is also a repellant.

    I'm without neither of these sacramentals.

  • paul

    drive out the devil? Demonic possession? This is simply crazy, were not living in the dark ages, this isn't Utah State and we're not all living in sky's 'most haunted'. For the Church and the Herald to insult us with this ridiculous idea is quite astonishing in the 21st century.

    When was the last time you had a sermon on demonic possession for goodness sake? How on earth am I meant to take this seriously, doesn't anyone else find this an insult to their intelligence?…

  • Mamasnookems

    In Acts 16:17-18 ” This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ” I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.” This is when Paul and Silas are imprisoned because Paul casted out a spirit in her, and the girls owners saw that they can't profit from her anymore and casted them into prison. There was never a rosary used here, just the name of Jesus Christ, nothing else, the devil shudders at His name. You need to be born again and that what Paul and Silas was with the Holy Spirit in them, they can do this.

  • Beck_madison2001

    the devil works hard to make people think he doesn't exist. this is why it is ludicrous to you.

  • Plato

    I agree with the Bishops. I think it is a good move on their part. Pray for continued guidance-

  • paul

    I'm very surprised anyone believes in a 'devil' character as such, or being. Surely this just a characterization of evil, we make our own decisions, free-will.

  • n raph

    Paul, are you a catholic? a christian? if so and you don't believe in satan then something has gone seriously wrong. have a read of the diary of saint faustina or about st padre pio, these are 20th century figures, they knew about satan – it certainly wasn't a joke to them. so much of christianity has been watered down, the reality has always been, regardless of what century we are in, that there is a genuine spiritual battle going on.

  • Marcwater21

    Are these bishops completely nuts? What kind of world are they living in???

  • Marcwater21

    I think you got it right!

  • Cjkeeffe

    It would seem to me that the bishops are right and that you may be out of step. Jesus cast out devils was he nuts!

    Whilst most claims would be due to mental illness or watching too much TV, the church always seeks medical advice prior to an exorcism and has done so for 100's of years.

  • Cjkeeffe

    It would seem to me that the bishops are right and that you may be out of step. Jesus cast out devils was he nuts!

    Whilst most claims would be due to mental illness or watching too much TV, the church always seeks medical advice prior to an exorcism and has done so for 100's of years.

    Just because theres no sermons doesn't mean it don't exist! When was the last time you heard a sermon on the true precnce of Christ in the Eucharit?

  • Ron

    I can't believe in our scientific age that people still believe in this stuff. This is all about the continuance of power through the use of fear. It has no evidential basis whasoever.

  • Ratbag

    No. The devil is REAL! Years ago, a priest had to be called into my old high school because some so-called tough girls thought it would be fun to play with a ouija board behind the bike sheds – they soon realised that it wasn't fun and that they weren't tough, to put it very mildly…

    When the BBC made the drama series “Apparitions”, they called in a Roman Catholic priest on set, as do film directors when the subject evil and demonic possession is part of the storyline being acted.

    Look at superpower governments in the 20th Century and 21st Century for their continuance of power through the use of fear instead of Bishops. There is evidence of evil which science can't explain.

    Don't diss evil or existence of the devil out of hand – the world has already come unstuck because of it.

  • Ratbag

    I'm with you on this, Plato.

    With some people, the devil doesn't have to work hard to make people think he doesn't exist… as is evident with some of the comments on this board.

  • Mamasnookems

    Devils are fallen angels from heaven who decided to disobey God. Lucifer who was a beautiful angel thought that he can be higher than God and pride got him in trouble and God cast him out of heaven, God made hell for the fallen angels. So yes, devils and angels do exist, so do posessions and ratbag is right about the ouija board is bad news, evil spirits are real, mediums also are bad to go to also, the people that they are “so called” are trying to contact, are evil spirits mimicking the “dead person” of what his or her personality was like when they were alive. Praise God that we have the bible that is only true Word of God to go by and that is how I learned that we should avoid mediums and evil things.

  • paul

    agreed. One of the arguments I hear all the time against 'aggressive' atheist or secularism from people like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens is that they will discourage those Christians who want to pursue a career in science as they are made out to be incompatible.

    Reading this superstitious nonsense will certainly discourage those with a keen mind from either going into the science world, or from being a Christian.
    I would hope we could be both members of 21st century society AND Catholics too

  • paul

    Devil? This article talks about devils, and lots of them presumably

  • paul

    if I'm honest it just sounds like a step back into history. It feels like we are discussing hauntings of witchcraft

  • Ratbag

    The Holy Rosary is firmly steeped in the Gospel. Orthodox and Anglican Christians recite the Holy Rosary in different ways. The holy name of Jesus is uttered in virtually every single prayer. The Mysteries of the Holy Rosary contemplate specific events in the lives of Jesus and Mary from the Gospels.

    Mentioning the name of Christ puts the devil to flight and mentioning the name of Mary is like dry nails on a blackboard to the Devil to make sure he stays away hence the Holy Rosary and the words of the Holy Rosary are in the Gospels with the second part is where the Church asks Mary to PRAY FOR US SINNERS NOW AND AT THE HOUR OF OUR DEATH. We DO NOT WORSHIP MARY. We cannot ask The Divine to pray for us – to whom would The Divine pray? It's silly when you think about it, isn't it? Mary isn't divine – she has a special place in our faith because she is close to Christ as His Mother and she is OUR MOTHER. When Mary stood at the foot of the cross with Saint John and told Mary to 'behold her son' and to Saint John 'behold your mother!' Christ also meant US!

    Mary becoming the Mother of Christ stuck in the craw of the devil's pride and the devil DESPISES MARY. This fact even goes back to the Old Testament!

    There is a crucifix on the end of the Holy Rosary, upon where our first words are “In the Name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit. Amen” An exorcism gets stronger and stronger with the recitation of the Holy Rosary because of the following:

    The Apostles Creed (I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth and in Jesus Christ His Only Son Our Lord who was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary…)

    Saying the very words of God's promise on the beads through the Our Father (…deliver us from evil…), Hail Mary (Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee..blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus…) and the Glory Be (Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to The Holy Spirit…) and the Fatima prayer, which Mary gave to the seers of Fatima (O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell…)

    The Holy Rosary evolved organically and the Rosary we are familiar with today is from the Dominicans, as Saint Dominic cast out hundreds of devils and the Holy Rosary helped. Coupled with the facts of the Rosary which I have mentioned plus the many hundreds of saints who have battled and won against the devil through the Cross and The Holy Rosary, it is widely known as 'the weapon against evil'.

  • Ratbag

    Sorry for the typo: CHRIST said to Mary at the foot of the cross: Mother, behold your son!

    and to Saint John: Behold your mother!

  • Ratbag

    This is because the subject matter is “Exorcism” – duh??!?!?!?!

    Devil and devils – The Devil is satan and the plural 'devils' are his lackeys!

  • Mamasnookems

    You are sure giving Mary more glory than her Son, I gave an example from scripture above there what Paul did. I am not here to argue, but trying to give some scripture here. Can't argue with scripture.

    Trust in Jesus alone for your salvation. God bless!

  • Hadrek

    all mediums work with the dark anyone who believes dominus works with mediums is foolishly unwise and why are the dominus observatory in italy studying zeta reticuli two and all servants of dominus including dominus of manchester should be ablolished in the name of kuhuna and the army of dominus in rome are just peverted sick images of the nazarene man made religions of utter filth 2012 21st december is nuclear holocust its started in libya and shal progress where is your stinking nazarene now –sitting on his backside fingering st.micheal in heaven number seven the last one of the highest dominus