Pre-Meeting Agenda: Exorcisms

Bishop Paprocki from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois appeared on Good Morning America this morning to discuss the conference on Exorcisms. I haven’t heard too much about the agenda, but from my experience of the past few years peoples’ interests about this ritual are rising. This isn’t a topic that comes up too often in grad school. I wonder if we’ll get a report or update of what was discussed?

What are your thoughts about this ritual?


  1. Sorry – given the tremendous number of issues we face both in the church and in our society in terms of “preferential option for the poor”; consistent ethic of life (which does not solely mean abortion), etc. this appears to be another way to avoid what really needs to be focused on.

    Why not take a re-look at the US pastoral on the economy (now almost 25 years old) and commissioning a task force to produce a new pastoral on this difficult, complex challenge.

    This might actually accomplish real exorcisms.

    1. I read Matt Baglio’s The Rite (soon to be a major motion picture!) a little over a year ago. It offers a very nice portrait of modern exorcism — makes it seem downright dull at times! From this layman’s perspective it’sa good read for anyone looking for a clear treatment of the subject from a Catholic perspective.

    2. Bill;

      If there is really a prominent school of thought that would believe that economic justice is a more pressing issue for the Church than spiritual warfare, then I would cite that as perhaps the most compelling evidence that the issue of combatting actual material evil needs to be more closely attended to. Those are great issue for perhaps the UN to take up, and it’s likely that the results would be pretty much the same. But the UN can’t really take up the issue of exorcism, can it? That is where the church comes in…

    3. Why not take a re-look at the US pastoral on the economy

      Perhaps because there are few clergy with anything useful to say on economic matters per se, and perhaps also because doing so pertains to the lay vocation whose separate dignity should not be encroached upon.

      1. The popes are clergymen and they’ve been commenting on economic matters at least since Leo XIII. Do you mean them? Are the popes supposed stop encroaching upon the lay vocation? Please clarify.

      2. When popes and the other bishops speak about economics or politics, they do so as advocates for justice. The Church is competent to address broad questions of justice, including class relations and the just rights of the powerless. Her particular solicitude for the poor derives from their vulnerability to injustice, not from favoritism or from a conviction that social differences are an objective moral evil. Similarly, the Church’s difficulties with capitalism and socialism derive not from ideology but because they promote a lie, a materialist image of man.

        When the bishops of the United States recommend agencies such as CCHD for our support, it’s for the utopian goal of “reducing poverty” – not that of aiding the poor, which is something quite different. Assisting the poor is a moral imperative; it’s a personal act carried out for love of Christ. Reducing poverty is a political project because it represents a view that great social differences are something to be eliminated as inherently undesirable. The Church has no business meddling in the secular sphere under cover of a spurious moral mandate.

      3. Ramirez – This is so wrong, so misinformed, I honestly don’t know where to begin. Where on earth are you getting your information from? I would encourage you to study the papal documents, the documents of the Synod of Bishops, and collect a list of every passage which contradicts what you say. Of course Christians want to reduce poverty.

        It is depressing to me that conservatives (to sully a noble term) promote such ideological and misinformed views.


      4. Of course Christians want to reduce poverty.

        Father, how does this apply to you and the rule of your order?

        When you and I speak of poverty, are we thinking of the same thing? Poverty and destitution are different conditions.

      5. Benedictines don’t take a vow of poverty – it’s not in our Rule. Our 3 vows are Obedience, Stability, Conversatio (roughly = life of conversion). Vows as renunciation came in much later – with the mendicant orders.

        You seem to make distinctions such that others don’t speak the same language as you. But really, I don’t think this is that difficult conceptually. Material destitution or material poverty or whatever you want to call it are things Christians try to ameliorate. CCHD has had the support of 100% of our bishops for decades; only recently have a very few raised questions but the vast majority support the work of improving the material condition of people in need.


  2. Bill – how does this issue exclude the others? Why do you worry about the revisions to the missal when there is social justice work left unfinished? I don’t understnad your response – or could it be that you don;t really believe in demonic possession requirring exorcism? If not, it would be better just to say it.

    1. Ceile – fyi my comments were about the USCCB and what in my opinion is a better way to spend their time, resources, etc. We have and are facing both in the US and worldwide an economic situation that cries out – not since the 1930’s have we seen such disparity between the haves and have nots. Yet, we hear all but nothing from our bishops. Why? What is the moral imperative here? To use time addressing exorcisms? As Vincent dePaul said well at the height of the 17th century religious wars and directed primarily to bishops and royalty – “What must be done?”

      I believe in evil. Whether that is an actual person – the devil? Not sure. My opinion is not about the existence of evil or even the “devil” – it is about misplaced priorities and a body of bishops who are stuck on one note.

      Discussing exorcisms at this time feels like “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”

  3. Cathleen Kaveny over at Commonweal blog has raised some very interesting legal questions in Exorcism and the Law, such as how does one give “informed consent” to exorcism?

    Mental illness is often difficult to diagnose. Frequently persons with mental illness self medicate which brings an overlay of alcohol and drug problems. There are also some relatively rare physical conditions that can go undetected without a very good physical examination. Now in the midst of that, how does one sort out the rare person who has none of those problems but is possessed?

    Often people with mental illness, alcohol and drug problems, and even physical illnesses may have a lot of motivation to conceal their illness, and often do a very good job of looking well when people are investigating. So just not finding much evidence of any of these illnesses, doesn’t mean they are not present.

    The chances certainly seem high that many people who are exorcised actually have a mental illness, alcohol, drug or even physical problem. Doesn’t that create a lot of liability for the exorcist, and the bishop who I guess has to authorize the exorcism?

    1. Jack, you bring up some interesting legal questions I had not thought about. This is probably why an exorcist must be appointed and authorized only by the local bishop, who must be sure to choose someone with very keen discernment to sort out the very issues you bring up, especially sorting out mental illness and substance abuse from possession. That is probably merely the first level of discernment, since demonic possession is probably not the first diagnosis for a person with problems. In our therapeutic-phile culture, I would think an exorcist would the last of a dozen different specialists, from doctors to psychologists to social workers, a family would turn to for help, and then only as a last resort if at all. I just pray that all priests can have enough discernment to take seriously any likely possession cases and refer them to the exorcist and not just brush it off as Bill deHaas seems to do above.

      Exorcism was a huge part of the ministry of Jesus himself, recounted by the evangelists in some of the most dramatic and moving stories in the gospels, probably resulting in hundreds of conversions. Thinking that we are beyond such “fairy stories” in the 21st century is tantamount to denying Jesus’ promise in John’s gospel: “he that believes in me, the works that I do, he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do.”

      1. Ben, all the illnesses that Jesus cured were real illnesses, whether today some might classify them as physical, mental, or spiritual (e.g. possession).

        The evidence is that physical and mental illnesses vary considerably around the world in their prevalence and their cultural manifestations. Maybe spiritual illnesses vary in the same manner. Certainly some cultures have greater beliefs in the power of the devil than others.

        Many physical as well as mental illnesses were not recognized at the time of Jesus. Perhaps he cured some people of manic-depression. The manic-depressive might have thought he was under the control of an evil spirit. A common theme among saints who have been exorcists seems to be to convince people that the power the Satan is not as great as they think, i.e. they do not have to collaborate with Satan.

        When planning for emergency mental hospitalization, I asked an expert how many beds to plan for. His response was, however many beds you build are what you will fill. Half the people in the US believe in the existence of the devil, but we don’t have a culture that believes demon possession is common. If we encourage more exorcists, we will likely have increased reporting (some real but some not). More people may come to believe in Satan’s power, and decide to collaborate, so we might create an upward spiral of possession (some real, some not).

    2. Jack;

      There are criteria for possession that pretty much exclude addicts and alcoholics. Mental illness in some forms can be more difficult to deal with, although there remain some significant excluding factors.

      The character of the exorcist is so shaped by popular culture and horror movies that the reality might seem dull by comparison as said elsewhere in this discussion. I would urge you to do some reading on the topic and be prepared to be conflicted. A good starter is Fr. Fortea’s book on exorcism (sort of a Q&A format) or the two volume set by Fr. Gabriele Amorth. You will have to conclude that either a) both of these men, reputable priests, are creating enormous lies or b) there are very real evil beings that we have to deal with almost daily in our lives. It doesn’t take long for economic justice to rather pale by comparison…

      1. Jeffrey,

        Sorry, I am greatly skeptical of professional exorcists and those who believe that demon possession is a greater problem than economic injustice. “Witch hunts” has not become a part of our language for nothing.

        Actually I have little interest in exorcism, and don’t think the bishops should have much either.

        However as a psychologist and sociologist interested in mental health, I have done a great deal of reading and thinking about the biological, psychological, social and spiritual dimensions of illnesses.

        This has just been an opportunity to think a little bit about exorcism in that context, considering it as a “spiritual” illness. I tend to think all illnesses (physical, mental, spiritual) have all four of the dimensions, and that societies as well as people can be said to have illnesses.

      2. Jack;

        The term “witch hunt” is not connected to exorcisms, or even to actual posession. It is about creating a diversion (a witch hunt) to deflect attention from one’s own guilty actions. To call what exorcists do a “witch hunt” is both an incorrect use of the term and a denunciation of the reality of incarnate evil. Unless of course you are implying that the attention being given to this subject is being done INTENTIONALLY to divert attention from guilty actions of Bishops and clergy. Such an accusation is unseemly given the weight of the topic.

  4. My confidence that there is sufficient expertise to distinguish among mental illness, alcohol, substance abuse, physical illness and demon possession is not increased by the recent answers of Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university to the question of anointing for mental illness

    In McNamara’s first response he resurrects the issue of physical versus mental illness, I guess because of an earlier reluctance of church authorities to anoint for mental illness. Fortunately he got some constructive letters which he shared that seemed to shift the issue to that of severity of the illness.

    He also suggested at first that the priest consult with the person’s physician, and quite properly his readers said that in today’s climate of confidentially that is not going to happen.

    His mail included instances of a food allergy being misdiagnosed as mental illness, and a mentally ill person who demanded to be exorcised.

    Interdisciplinary collaboration on complex issues is often difficult to find. Unfortunately a lot of life’s problems are complex.

  5. I’ll be surprised if the bishops aren’t taking up the subject of revoking the indult permitting communion in the hand, Mass ad orientem, and broadening the application of the pope’s motu proprio on the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Mass. Favorite topics of many traditionalists and a few in the USCCB..

  6. Saul, in Scripture, is said to suffer from “an evil spirit from the Lord”; today we can read his story in terms of mental illness.

  7. Fr. Anthony – thanks for responding to that (to use your phrase – “ignorant comment”) about who should speak to economic policy.

    Here is a link to a very good article addressing this issue, USCCB, B16’s last book, etc.:

    “Problematically, the bishops have been painted into a corner through a reductionist use of the category of “intrinsic evil,” which is applied not to the full range of intrinsic evils, but only to abortion, embryonic cell research and same sex marriage—issues of profoundly different levels of moral gravity. On these matters they do not hesitate to wade fully into the weeds of policy language, no matter how hypothetical the connection. Other epochal moral concerns—rising poverty and wealth inequality, the shifting of the tax burden to the middle class, the details of providing universal health care coverage, forthright advocacy of dismantling government domestic policy and social safety networks—are passed over as matters of prudential concern left to politicians. They are effectively ignored.”
    “This is precisely the sort of grand “service to the truth which sets us free” that Benedict outlined as the church’s social mission in Caritas in Veritate. Truth demands attention to the dignity of the human person. It also demands honest and careful constructive policies to serve the common good in a time of crisis. The latter has withered under episcopal…

  8. Ramirez – in your latest remarks you have basically undercut B16’s complete project that the church always has a duty to speak out against relativism – or to speak out against the political system if it does not encompass basic human dignity, rights, etc. In fact, B16’s whole project is to try to say that you can not just separate culture, society, politics from the church, the gospel message, etc. Your statements could easily be seen as so dialectic that you have described the world as black and white – that the church remains in one sphere and then the rest of us live in the other sphere. Through the centuries, this type of dialectic has been condemned.

    1. Mr. DeHaas, you have misread me — or else you’ve given yourself to a set of unwarranted assumptions. Specifically, when I speak critically of clergy speaking to economic and political matters beyond their competence, you interpret that as a call for indifference to basic human dignity and rights. That’s quite a leap, isn’t it? It’s no less a leap to paint me as declaring that the Gospel message has nothing to say to culture and society, or to politics (which itself is a cultural construct), when my very first remark on this thread addressed the lay vocation to live the Gospel in the secular sphere. Let’s differ if we must, but reasonably and with integrity.

      that the church remains in one sphere and then the rest of us live in the other sphere.

      There is no “rest of us”. We are all “the Church”. Isn’t it lovely?

  9. I am very supportive of the bishops paying attention to this. My ancestors were directly involved in the occult and had several of us children involved, too, so I have seen these effects first-hand.
    If one has not had reason to enter this
    sphere, one is frankly blessed. But to pit spiritual warfare against the needs of the poor is not moving us toward the gospel. Jesus clearly calls for serving the poor and expelling demons, etc.

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