Demand for exorcisms is booming as a result of a decline in Christian faith and the internet providing easy access to black magic, the occult and Satanism, a Vatican conference for exorcist priests was told on Monday.
So many people are asking to be liberated from the malign hold of the Devil that some priests are now delivering prayers of liberation – a first step towards exorcism – over the phone.
“There are priests who carry out exorcisms on their mobile phones. That’s possible thanks to Jesus,” said Cardinal Ernest Simoni, an Albanian who was tortured and imprisoned by the Communist authorities but after his release performed frequent exorcisms.
His comments took some prelates by surprise, with priests pointing out that conducting an exorcism remotely would not be wise because people who are possessed often writhe around violently and have to be physically restrained to stop them harming themselves.
“Priests pray with people on the phone to calm them down, but if you are not there you cannot control the physical aspects,” said Professor Giuseppe Ferrari, one of the organisers of the event and an expert on demonic sects. “Some exorcists say it is effective. Whether it is orthodox or correct, I couldn’t say.”
More than 250 priests, theologians, psychologists and criminologists from 51 countries gathered at a Catholic university in Rome for the start of the week-long conference, the only one of its kind in the world.
The concept of demonic possession may be regarded by agnostics and atheists with scepticism, even derision, but it is a subject of deadly seriousness for the Catholic Church.
This is the 13th time the annual conference has been held at the Regina Apostolorum pontifical university – the first was in 2004 – and the number of participants grows every year.
Topics to be discussed this week include: Angels and demons in Holy Scripture, How to recognise diabolical obsessions, Witchcraft in Africa, Afro-american cults in Latin America and Paedophile pornography used in Satanic and occult rites.
On Wednesday, they will hear disturbing testimony of a young woman who was allegedly kidnapped and use in a satanic rite.
A belief in black magic and Satan – or “the Prince of Evil” as one priest called him - is on the increase and with that, the need for exorcisms, delegates said.
In Italy, it is claimed that in the past decade the number of people asking for exorcisms to rid themselves of demonic infestation has tripled to half a million.
The country now boasts around 300 exorcist priests, with hundreds more in other parts of the world.
The Vatican insists that every Catholic diocese in the world must have a priest trained as an exorcist.
To cast out the Devil, they read out the Roman Ritual of Exorcism, which was drawn up by Pope Leo XIII in 1884.
The prayer, which must only be uttered by a priest, calls on God, Christ and all the saints to “repulse the attacks and deceits of the Devil”, who is also referred to as “most cunning serpent.”
“Demand is growing, absolutely,” said Father Anthony Barratt, a British priest who is based in Albany, New York State. “I think it is partly due to the internet, which makes it (satanism) so accessible. Films and television programmes are also a factor. There’s a fascination.”A Spanish priest holds up a book entitled "Exorcism rites and prayers"
Priests at the conference claimed that, as depicted by Hollywood, victims really do speak in tongues and vomit nails and shards of glass during exorcisms.
They develop supernatural strength, their voices change to a gravelly growl and they are unable to speak languages they have never studied.
“Most commonly they speak Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic,” said Father Pedro Barrajon, a Spanish priest and a past organiser of the conference.
“If you show them a holy object, like a rosary or a cross or a picture of the Madonna, they go into shock and start yelling.”
Experts insisted they could discern the difference between people suffering from psychiatric problems and those who had fallen into the diabolical clutches of the Prince of Darkness.
“There’s a protocol. A person will be referred by the parish priest. There may then be an assessment by a psychologist. They may be bipolar or there could be issues with drug abuse, which does serious damage to the brain. It’s a lengthy process,” said Father Barratt. “Only a very small number of people need an exorcism.”
While lamenting the fact that the media sometimes “sensationalises” exorcisms, the Church also seems to revel in the dark appeal of the phenomenon.
Prof Ferrari proudly told delegates that there is a reference to the conference in The Rite, a 2011 film starring Anthony Hopkins and Ciaran Hinds about an American seminarian who heads to Rome to learn about exorcisms.
“She doesn’t need a priest, she needs a shrink,” the sceptical seminarian tells Hopkins’ character, a veteran exorcist, in reference to one alleged victim.
The prelates at the conference have no time for such doubts.
They insist that the Devil is real, not just a metaphor for evil or a character from folklore.
Such views are shared by Pope Francis, who makes frequent references to Satan in his homilies and addresses.
“He is evil, he’s not like mist. He’s not a diffuse thing, he is a person,” he told a Catholic television channel in December. “I’m convinced that one must never converse with Satan - if you do that, you’ll be lost.”
Opening the conference, Father Jose Enrique Oyarzun, a professor of theology and philosophy, said: “We need to confront the reality of something that has always been present in the life of the Church.”
The Devil is capable of behaviour that is “unexplainable by science”, he said. “The Devil roars around us like a lion. The father of lies is more and more sought after. Digital technology is invigorating him and leading people astray. The phenomenon is very, very widespread.”
Cardinal Simoni, 89, spent 28 years in forced labour camps under the Communist regime of Enver Hoxha for refusing to renounce his faith.
He was released from prison in 1981 but had to preach secretly until the regime finally collapsed in 1990.
Since then, he has performed exorcisms on many people, including Albanian Muslims, who he said came to him begging for help.
The cardinal gave a vivid description of one exorcism he said he performed.
“There was a very tall woman. She must have been two metres in height. It took six people to hold her down in a chair. After hours and hours of struggle, I was able to banish the evil. I cast out the demons. This is the power of God.”
For true believers, there is still much work to do, he told the conference. “There are millions of people who are possessed by Satan. But when Satan hears the word of God, he is terrified.”
Seen Below: Books on the Occult line the bookshelves at most major book retailers. (I took these photos during a recent trip to the local bookstore)
I am a bi-vocational Christian Minister who specializes in Biblical-centered Demonology and function primarily in a deliverance-type position as an exorcist for Southern Maryland, DC, and Central Virginia. 30+ years experience dealing with what is now called "the paranormal". I am married and have two amazing children. Retired Coast Guard veteran with maritime law enforcement experience, I am a PhD candidate in Theology, hold an M.B.A. in Project Management from Norwich University, have diplomas in counseling and psychology, and was an EMT/Firefighter in the local communities where I was stationed.149 Articles