After the recent news of Father Gabriele Amorth’s death and the recent unveiling of Fox’s new “Exorcist” miniseries, the Catholic rite of exorcism is once again in the news. Often looked at as a prayer service seen only in the movies, the rite of exorcism is something more and more people in the US are looking to priests to perform, believing that evil has infiltrated their lives and they need to be delivered.
According to a recent article in the Telegraph, “the number of official priest exorcists [in the US] has more than quadrupled from 12 to 50” in the past 10 years. Father Gary Thomas and Father Vincent Lampert, both exorcists in the US, believe there are many factors that have influenced the rise in requests for exorcisms.
They explained to the Telegraph that some of the factors included “an expanding spiritual void in the lives of Americans, the diminishing authority of the Church, and the failure of the mental healthcare system.” Also, a rise in pagan and demonic activities has greatly contributed to the increase in requests.
Father Lampert said that many people have contacted him saying, “We were playing with a Ouija board and all of a sudden our friend starting speaking in this crazy language that we didn’t understand. And strange things started happening – things moving in the house.” Half of the requests for exorcisms are from non-Catholics and Father Lampert explained that, “only one out of every 5,000 requests is someone afflicted by full demonic possession.” Most cases are concerned with various ways that a demon is oppressing someone.
Father Thomas too has a full plate of exorcisms even though he is a full-time pastor.
“I could conduct one or two exorcisms a week for demonic attachment (as opposed to full possession). People could be quite functional but once they get into a sacred arena, such as a church, or participate in some element of parish life, they’ll begin to manifest or they’ll begin to get sick or they’ll begin to show other kinds of signs that something is amiss. And it’s my role and my team’s to discern what it is. Is it something psychological?”
The process to discern whether or not a demon is afflicting a person is often a long road, sometimes taking months of personal meetings. A priest is never alone in this discernment and typically seeks the assistance of a licensed professional who can rule out various mental illnesses. What becomes tricky is that the devil can also influence a person’s health, making them ill especially when they are seeking the help of a priest. Whatever the case may be the solution is hardly ever reached instantaneously. As Father Thomas says, “I don’t do exorcisms on demand.”
After much prayer and discernment, an exorcist will determine what course of action should be taken and will advise the person being afflicted to remain steadfast in prayer and have recourse to the sacraments of the Church.
Father Thomas and Father Lampert both admitted that they are never afraid when conducting exorcisms as God called them to that ministry and firmly believe in God’s grace. The devil, while he may appear to be strong, cannot force himself into a person’s life. They must freely choose to open a doorway and so exorcists are confident that the devil has no power over them. Before performing the rite, priests must go to confession and have a clean soul to combat the wiles of the devil. Although the power of exorcism is part of priestly ordination, most dioceses require that a priest be authorized by the bishop to undertake this ministry.
Recent popes have supported this ministry of the Church and Pope Francis has not been afraid to say, “But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here…even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naive, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.”