In this interview with an exorcist from Switzerland, we're told the devil isn't everywhere—but don't go looking for him either, just in case.
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With our modern mentality, the subjects of exorcism and demonic possession generally inspire a reaction somewhere between fascination and open incredulity. This is the stuff of movies, but it also makes you think.
For the Catholic Church, though, exorcism is something governed with a book of ritual, De exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam (Rite of exorcism and prayers for particular circumstances, adopted in 1998 to replace the previous, older version, which may still be used), and it is subject to certain conditions and prescriptions.
The motivations for these strict rules are rooted in Holy Scripture and in theology. It’s a delicate subject that must be handled prudently by priests who are suitably prepared and well balanced (“pious, knowledgeable, prudent, and with personal integrity”), with the express authorization of their bishop.
Aleteia spoke with César Truqui, who is an exorcist of the Diocese of Chur, Switzerland, and who was a speaker at the 11th course on “Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation” at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome (the course which inspired the Anthony Hopkins movie The Rite).
Chiara Santomiero: What kind of evil is confronted in an exorcism?
Fr Truqui: Evil personified. Paul VI spoke of “the smoke of Satan.” Not a simple “privatio bonis,” the privation of good as described by philosophy, but rather an evil that is effective and operative. We are talking here about the presence of an evil being. Only faith, not science, can tell us what this evil being is. The Christian faith tells us of the existence of spiritual beings: the good ones are angels, and the bad ones are demons.
Isn’t it a bit hard to accept the existence of evil as a being that physically possesses a person?
Yes, that’s true, because normally in our daily lives we don’t have any experiences of this kind. But because of the ministry that I’ve been carrying out for so many years, I’ve had the opportunity of meeting these people, and for me it is easier to believe that certain phenomena exist.
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How did you start?
It was divine providence. When I was ordained to the priesthood 12 years ago, I participated in a course with priests who were exorcists, such as Fathers Bamonte and Amorth. As it happened, the case of a 40-year-old French man was presented. He was possessed by Satan and needed an exorcist, but Bamonte spoke neither English nor French. So, they asked me to help with the preliminary dialogue.
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How does it feel to find yourself facing the manifestation of evil?
Your feelings change over time. During the first exorcism sessions in which I participated, what struck me most was the tangible confirmation that the Gospel which I had read and meditated on was true. In the Gospel, Jesus fought against demons that called themselves by various names: “My name is Legion,” “My name is Satan.” In the Old Testament, in the Book of Tobit, there is a demon named Asmodeus. I’ve heard demons pronounce these names in various exorcism sessions.
On a spiritual level, it has been a very rich experience, because it has allowed me to experience in my own flesh, through my senses, the reality that Jesus spoke of.
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In the case of the French man in the first exorcism I participated in, I remember that, when the demon manifested itself, I had the impression of being surrounded by pride, as if it were smoke or fog. It’s hard to explain, but pride seemed like something you could touch; it filled the room. The exorcist asked him for his name, and he responded, “I am rex.” There is no demon named rex, king. The exorcist insisted, “Tell me your name,” and finally he responded, “I am Satan, the prince of this world.”
Why do you ask for the demon’s name?
The Ritual requires it, for a specific purpose. Naming something, or knowing its name, means having power over that thing. In fact, God gives Adam the power to name things. At the instant that the demon reveals his name, it shows that he has been weakened; if he doesn’t say it, he is still strong.
Are there typical signs of possession?
Those listed in the Ritual. There are four: aversion towards sacred things; speaking in unknown or dead languages; having extraordinary strength that goes beyond the person’s nature; knowledge of concealed or hidden things.
Can people put themselves in danger?
Yes. By getting involved with anything that has to do with magic, the occult, witchcraft, or cartomancy. If it helps us to grow in sanctity when we go to Mass, pray, go to confession, or draw near to God, in the same way, black masses, satanic rites, movies and music of that kind have the effect of bringing us closer to the devil.
I dealt with the case of a woman who began reading Tarot cards, as many do, for fun. Except that in her case, she truly divined people’s past and present, and in some cases, their future. And naturally, she was a great success. At a certain moment, she understood on whom her success depended, and she stopped doing it, but it was too late: she was possessed.
How is it possible to curse someone?
Just as I could give someone the task of killing someone, I could ask a demon to do harm. But keep in mind: the great majority of rites realized by supposed witches or warlocks are fraudulent, without any effect.
Is one exorcism enough to free a possessed person?
It’s extremely difficult. Usually, many exorcisms are needed.
Does it work like therapy?
Yes. Exorcism is a sacramental, not a sacrament. A sacrament is effective in and of itself. If I give someone absolution in confession, at that moment, truly, his or her sins are forgiven. Exorcism, on the contrary, is efficient to the extent of the holiness of the priest, of the faith of the person being exorcised, and that of the whole Church.
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What is the difference between exorcism and prayers of liberation?
Both have the same objective: they seek the liberation of the person from the influence of evil or from possession. Exorcism is actually a ministry within the Church which the bishop confers on some priests. It can only be exercised by priests, not by lay people, and only by those who have the explicit permission of the bishop. A prayer of liberation, on the contrary, can be done by anyone, man or woman, layman or priest, by virtue of being Christian, because Christ said, “Anyone who believes in me shall cast out demons.”
An exorcism is also a direct order given to the devil, whereas a prayer of liberation is a supplication to God or the Virgin Mary for them to intervene.
How many of the people who have turned to you were really possessed?
Very, very few.
So why are people so afraid?
Among the people who come to me, I can distinguish three kinds of cases: those truly possessed, those not possessed, and problematic cases. The first and the second are the easiest: you know that you are dealing with someone who is truly possessed because they manifest the four signs, and because when you say the prayers the person goes into a trance and reacts in a way that the exorcist recognizes. This can be faked, but it is very difficult.
In the second case, with experience as a priest and confessor, you understand when there are spiritual or psychological problems, and when you can exclude demonic influence.
The problem is when you find someone who seems truly possessed—because of deep traumas accompanied by risky behaviors, such as spiritualistic sessions or going to a tarot card reader—but isn’t actually possessed.
I met a young woman who was raped by a supposed Latin American warlock whose eye she had caught. One day he gave her a drugged cup of coffee and raped her; she was conscious, but unable to react. This terrible trauma made her think she was possessed by the devil through the drugs and the violence she had suffered.
I believed that she was truly possessed. However, when I prayed and imposed my hands on her during the exorcism, she never went into a trance, and there was no sign of other phenomena. I understood, therefore, that the cause lay elsewhere. This is why some of the medical and and psychological profiles that could be in play in these situations are explained during the course for exorcists.
How do people who are truly possessed live?
Actually, they live normal lives. The devil doesn’t act through them all the time. Allow me to use a paradoxical comparison to try to explain it: If a person buys a car, that car is at that person’s disposition to use whenever he or she wants to. They may use it to go to the office, and then have to park it. The same thing happens with a possessed person. There are moments when the demon acts: he gets in the car and drives as he likes; at other times, he doesn’t. The car has an owner, but the owner doesn’t always use it.
When is it necessary to go to an exorcist?
When what happens to you goes beyond what is normal. There was a woman I met in Rome who was an atheist: a Catholic who had only been baptized, who didn’t believe in anything. She ended up possessed, although I don’t remember the circumstances. She began to hear voices constantly, which tried to convince her to kill her husband and her son and commit suicide.
She thought she was mentally ill, and went to a psychiatrist, but the doctor found her to be a very intelligent and coherent person with very clear ideas. The psychiatrist couldn’t cure her. One day, moths ate all the woman’s clothes, without touching her husband’s things — which were in the same closet — nor those of her son. And there were no moths in the house. It was inexplicable.
One of her friends recommended that she go to Fr. Amorth, and he discovered that she was possessed. And yet, she didn’t believe in angels or in demons. Now, she has become a practicing Christian. Why does God allow things like this? For the person’s own good.
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Have you been able to ask any of them what they felt during the exorcism?
I asked that French gentleman that we’ve been talking about what he felt during the exorcism, and he explained to me that he had felt as if there were a battleground inside him. On one hand, he felt the demons running around desperately and talking among themselves; on the other, when the priest prayed, he felt that God’s light cast them out, only for them to come back.
What story has impressed you the most?
The experience of a mute demon. Jesus talks about that in the Gospel, and says that they are the most difficult to cast out, and that they only leave with prayer and fasting. A mute demon is very rare. In 12 years of exorcisms, I’ve only come across it once.
Are you ever afraid?
I was at first, but then you get used to certain manifestations and it doesn’t surprise you anymore to hear someone’s voice change: a woman starts to talk with a weak voice, which then changes to a cavernous tone. You have to be attentive not to become obsessed with the evil one. An exorcist knows that the devil exists, but he’s not everywhere.
Above all, I’ve come to understand that exorcism is a ministry of mercy: an act of love for a person who is suffering. That is all.
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[Translated from Aleteia Spanish by Matthew Green]