About Exorcism

The first item here was the article from THIS ROCK reviewing Fr. Gabriele Amorth's book about exorcism (THIS ROCK, January 2000, page 40). For comleteness sake, I'm also including the editorial comments about the revised Rite of Exorcism from the February 1999 issue of THIS ROCK (page 10).


A review of AN EXORCIST TELLS HIS STORY, by Fr. Gabriele Amorth (Ignatius Press: 1999)

We need a good book on both extraordinary demonic activity--since there has been so much of it lately--and on exorcism, now that the new rite of exorcism has been released. Unfortunately, Fr. Gabriele Amorth's AN EXORCIST TELLS HIS STORY is probably not that book. Fr. Amorth is the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome. He makes the claim to have performed 30,000 exorcisms over nine years (129), a number that surpasses the credulity of even the most favorably disposed reader. Though this particular claim appears late in the book, a careful reader will encounter various other problems throughout.

Fr. Amorth's book will not fare well under commonly thoughtful analysis. There are no footnotes, no bibliography, and no index. Save for a small number of textual references, there is no way to check most of Fr. Amorth's multitudinous assertions, even many that he claims are well documented. And as for the personal, real life episodes described by Fr. Amorth, they are frequently unconvincing.

Consider one of three examples of a "curse" narrated by Fr. Amorth (130-131): A father cursed his son at birth and continued to curse him as long as the son lived at home. The son, says Fr. Amorth, "suffered from every conceivable misfortune"--poor health, unemployment, marriage difficulties, and health problems with his own children. But how does any of this prove prove the existence of a curse? These sad facts seem readily explainable as the common manifestations of an emotionally battered child. With dads like that, who needs devils?

Inconsistencies are common in Fr. Amorth's book. He notes that canon law requires priests to obtain express permission to perform an exorcism and that such a solemn rite should be applied only after diligent examination (see canon 1172). Yet he describes case after case of people who seem to appear on his doorstep, and he immediately sets about performing an exorcism (70, 77, 88, 158-159). Even accepting Fr. Amorth's claim that only 94 of  his 30,000 exorcisms represented full-blown possession, that means nearly one case per month had to be thoroughly examined and processed over nine years, a daunting feat to say the least.

The author is critical of physicians who treat patients for years with little or no results (62, 70), and yet he records his own weekly exorcisms of some people that run on for years (49, 73, 139, 169). He correctly outlines the eventual triumph of Christ over Satan that is manifested in exorcism cases (19-23, 56, 96) but then tells about a house that was so infested "I was forced to recommend simply leaving the place" (125). What are we to make of this? That some places are off limits to God? Fr. Amorth also dismisses as a "false belief" the idea that the devil will expose the sins of the others during the expulsion ceremonies, then he immediately provides two examples of the devil doing precisely that (94-95).

Some of Fr. Amorth's assertions are jarring. For example, he describes the bizarre objects that the unfortunate people he works with have ingested, and states that this practice might be a sign of demonic activity (118-119). Indeed, it might be. But it might also be a sign of pica, schizophrenia, or even Kleine-Levin syndrome, none of which Fr. Amorth alludes to. Other assertions are just silly. After mentioning the use of cats in certain types of witchcraft, Fr. Amorth adds, "I want to make it clear that it is not the fault of this charming household pet" (127). Later he advises that "materialized" objects regurgitated by possessed individuals be thrown into a river or the sewer, but never "into the toilet or sink; when this happens, often the entire house is flooded or every drain becomes plugged" (138). I can imagine.

I need no convincing that extraordinary demonic activity has increased greatly this century, especially over the last 30 years. Still, I understand why clergy tend to regard exorcism with suspicion and trepidation. Pervasive personal sin and serious psychological disturbances account for much of the sorry state of affairs around us. But make no mistake: The Devil is real, and his minions are active. Fr. Amorth's book provides some interesting descriptions of diabolical deeds and of the salvific responses available to them.

This book will go on my recommended reading list for those who would like to know more about these matters (Fr. Amorth's observations on white magic and sorcery, to name but two topics, I found especially helpful). But I urge con siderable caution in drawing any conclusions from it.

[Iow, the Amorth book is not going to supplant Malachi Martin's HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL. SMB.]

The following text is from the "Dragnet" section of the February 1999 issue of THIS ROCK (page 10): I added the material in square brackets to correct omissions or provide a little additional information.

And while you're at it, you might have [to] throw out that outdated mental image of Satan too. On January 26 [1999] the Congregation for Divine Worship released DE EXORCISMUS ET SUPPLICATIONIBUS QUIBUSDAM, the first revision of the Church's ritual for exorcism since 1614. According to press reports the day prior to its release, the new version drops references to "Satan" or "the Devil" as the embodiment of evil in favor of definitions more compatible with modern concepts of "pyschological disturbance."

But the day of the document's release Catholic World News reported that the text acknowledges the reality of both "angelic creatures" and others "called demons, who are opposed to God."

The LONDON TIMES reported that under the new rituals priests are encouraged not to refer to the problem as "the Prince of Darkness" or "the Accursed Dragon" or "the Foul Spirit" or "the Satanic Power" or "the Master of Deceit." Instead the formulas refer to "the cause of evil." According to CWN, however, the documents says that the Church "has prayed, and continues to pray, that men will be freed from the snares of the Devil," and confirms "the victory of Christ and the power of the Church over demons." The document was released only in Latin.

According to the TIMES, Msgr. Corrado Balducci, the Vatican's chief exorcist, says every diocese is supposed to have at least one priest qualified in exorcism. Under the old rituals the priest lays his hands on the head of the possessed person while recitiing the words "Exorcitio te" ("I exorcise you"). He then calls out "ex cruciem Domini" ("through the cross of Christ") while wrapping the hem of his stole around the neck of the possessed person and keeping his right hand on the person's head.

Exorcists say the evil spirits emerge "sometimes a bit at a time, sometimes in one big convulsion." Msgr. Balducci said that out of every thousand people who sought the help of an exorcist only five or six were really possessed. Thirty cases in a thousand qualify as "demonic obsession, infestation, or disturbance." The rest (to state the obvious) were in need [of] "pyschological help."

The TIMES account said that many modern theologians regard the depiction of Satan as a reptilian beast with cloven hooves, wings, and a tail as a medieval invention and prefer Augustine's definition of evil as "the absence of good." Try depicting THAT in art.

Note: I included a few additions below in square brackets.

THE BOSTON GLOBE. Friday, November 24, 2000

Vatican cracks down on exorcisms

Strict new rules requires bishops' oversight of rituals

by Philip Pullella (Reuters)

VATICAN CITY--The Vatican issued strict new norms yesterday to curb unauthorized exorcisms and faith healings such as those practiced by a controversial African archbishop who was recently disciplined. The norms came in the form of a 17 page "instruction" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department that was once called the Holy Office and ran the [Roman] Inquisition. In 10 "disciplinary norms," the congregation said it was legitimate for the faithful to pray to God for healing from pain or illness. But group meetings for that purpose should be regulated and authorized by diocesan bishops, and should not be built around the cult of an individual, it added.

While he was not mentioned by name, many norms appeared to be directed at Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, a controversial faith healer and exorcist from Zambia who is based in Rome. In September, Milingo, who has had repeated run ins with church authorities since he moved to Rome in 1983, was quietly stripped of his job in a Vatican department. In open defiance of diocesan bishops in Italy, particularly in the Rome Diocese, Milingo, 70, has presided at colorful Masses and meetings which have taken on the form of revivals and have sometimes been interspersed with impromptu exorcisms. Milingo, whose many supporters say he has special powers of healing and spirituality, has drawn thousands of people to his gatherings--many asking for relief from pain and demons--although he has kept a low profile since September.

One of the norms appeared to be directly applicable to Milingo's case. It said permission to hold faith healing services had to be given explicitly by a diocesan bishop, even if the services themselves were held by another bishop.

The norms also said exorcisms could be carried out only by authorized exorcists appointed by a diocesan bishop. They could not be improvised and had to follow a specific ritual which was updated in 1999, for the first time since 1614. The so called Roman Ritual lists a step-by-step procedure of prayers and pleas to cast out demons. Milingo, a charismatic and independent minded [sic!] man, has often done things his way.

He sometimes throws faith healing prayers into his Masses--where the media are often welcome--or asks people to hold 
up pictures of their loved ones who are sick, or performs impromptu exorcisms. The norms warned of the dangers of allowing the media, particularly television, into faith healing meetings and exorcisms, and said the atmosphere should be kept under control.

"Anything resembling hysteria, artificiality, theatricality, or sensationalism should be absent from such gatherings, above all on the part of those who are in charge," one said.

The official Roman Catholic exorcism starts with prayers, the blessing and sprinkling of holy water, the laying of hands on the possessed, and the making of the sign of the cross. It ends with an "imperative formula" in which the devil is ordered to leave the possessed. The formula begins: "I order you, Satan..." It goes on to denounce Satan as "prince of the world" and "enemy of human salvation." It ends: "Go back, Satan."

Some church officials refer to Milingo with disdain as a "witch doctor" or "medicine man" who has gone too far in mixing his African spirituality [sic!] with traditional [i.e., ORTHODOX] Christianity.

compiled by Sean M. Brooks


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