The UK Telegraph calls it “The Pope Francis Effect,” the rise in the number of people seeking relief from demonic possession via exorcism, a liturgical rite of the Catholic Church where a demon is cast from a person. Â In his commentary, homilies and sermons, Pope Francis is known for speaking of Satan and the seductive nature of the dark side, if you will.
In the last few years, the rise in exorcism has been documented worldwide, so much so that in Milan there is a special hotline for people who suspect demonic possession, a third of the calls in the Rome archdiocese are people requesting the rite, and several dioceses have doubled the number of exorcists they have on staff including a number of locations in the United States.
One thing that is not always made clear is that the majority of cases referred to the Church for demonic possession are usually psychiatric in nature. Â That possibility always must be eliminated before the exorcism process begins.
The thing is, it didn’t really start with Pope Francis. Â It started over thirty years ago with Saint John Paul II sending Father Gabriel Amorth, now in his 90s, to train a new generation of exorcists. Â It is this body of men, now hundreds strong, their identities largely a closely guarded secret, that are meeting this week at the Vatican and warning of what can happen when one gets addicted to less than wholesome entertainment offerings such as pornography, drugs, Twilight, and believe it or not, satanic yoga. Â (It’s not the stretching, it’s the spiritual aspect of it, otherwise, we neti-pot users would be in trouble.)
This week in Rome atÂ Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum, about 160 exorcists are participating in a conference aimed at teaching them what seems to be the trigger for demonic possession as opposed to psychiatric disorder. Â Bottom line seems to be that obsessions are the beginning, especially when the obsession is not based in Christianity.
One priest trained in exorcism put it this way: “If one is addicted to something, it allows the evil spirit to hook into that and make it more potent.” Â The warning, then, is to avoid that which potentially COULD lead to demonic possession including all obsessions. Â Participating in any of the objectionable activities is not necessarily guaranteed to lead to demonic possession, but it is the weakness that the demon latches onto.
Monsignor Luigi Neri, the archbishop of Ferrara in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, attributed the growing demand for exorcisms to atheism and consumerism…. “Evil exists and poisons the human experience. It is a challenge and a provocation.“
Of course, as with anything else, there are warnings about exorcism. Â Thanks to the UK Independent, here is a list:
* Exorcisms should only be carried out by properly trained priests, licensed to do so by the diocese in which they work. Priests can not perform exorcisms in different dioceses without special permission.
* Lay people should never perform exorcisms, say the special prayers of liberation, nor bless or touch a possessed person.
* Exorcists should defer to qualified doctors or psychiatrists, though priests may help by praying.
* Priests should not perform the Eucharist during an attempt to exorcise somebody because that can make the process â€œtoo Hollywoodâ€.
* Priests must welcome and pay heed to anyone who reports that a demonic possession may have taken place.
* Exorcists should consider the possibility that symptoms may be due to known medical conditions and seek appropriate professional advice if they suspect this to be the case.
This is not to say that the exorcism issue within the Church Herself is settled. Â Following Vatican II in 1965, all of the rites in the Catholic Church were rewritten (several have reverted back to closer to the original form since then). Â The last one rewritten was the Rite of Exorcism, and according to the exorcists themselves, it doesn’t work. Â In order to use the old rite, they need permission from a bishop – and that’s dependent on him actually following Canon Law and having an exorcist on staff. Â There’s a number of bishops and priests who do not believe in the practice.
However, as Pope Francis has ramped up the talk against Satan and demons, and we all know that the devil’s favorite trick is to convince us that he doesn’t exist, it looks like the spiritual battle of good and evil is still on, contrary to popular belief.
The big question is, will the people believe it?Â Pitted against an entertainment culture where the occult is glamorized and uncatechized individuals think that the dark arts are a game sometimes that message gets lost. Â After all we currently have a world that is deChristianized, full of agnostics and atheists scoffing at anyone telling them otherwise. Â Any spiritual leader, least of all a pope, cannot persuade them without personal exoerience. Â As such, those people who deny the existence of evil are in for a world of hurt, the exorcists themselves warn.