For those who think that the Catholic Church is becoming saner and more liberal, have a gander at this article from the Guardian (click on screenshot to read it). I’ve reported before on the frequency of exorcisms in the Church (see here for a number of posts), and on the unofficial Vatican exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, who died two years ago claiming to have exorcised 160,000 demons.
As is clear from the article, the Vatican has neither denied the existence of demons nor distanced itself from exorcism as a way to expel them. The report deals with Father Cesar Truqui of Mexico, and the many exorcisms he’s performed. While he admits that many of them don’t involve actual demons, but still provide some psychological relief for people (I’m willing to accept that), there are some true demonic possessions:
Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, Truqui says full-on demonic possession is very rare. The vast majority of people who see him have normal problems or mental illnesses, and he says he has sent people to seek psychiatric help. But he says 2-3% show signs of demonic “vexation”.
These people, he claims, are capable of feats of superhuman strength. Sometimes their voice changes and they growl or speak in tongues. He claims to have witnessed people with vexations who can suddenly speak in Hebrew or Aramaic even though they have never studied the languages. Some are obsessive and show knowledge of what Truqui calls “secret things”, like what a person who is not present is doing or wearing, and they are sometimes overwhelmed by feelings of discomfort when they are in places of worship.
“Most of the time, the people who see me are victims,” he says.
Truqui also spoke at length about Satan, who he described as a pragmatic foe. “The devil tempts the holy man in his holiness and the sinner in his sin,” he says.
And here are some other instances of the Hornéd One’s appearance as a malefactor:
In his decade working as a Roman Catholic exorcist, expelling demons from individuals who he believes are possessed or vexed by the devil, the Mexican priest says the oddest thing he witnessed was the sudden appearance of a “satanic nail” on a tabletop.
“There had been nothing on the table and then suddenly it was there, a rusted black nail. We all saw it. I wanted to keep it but then I thought, no, it’s like keeping a radioactive thing,” he said.
And these are clearly signs of Satan’s power:
[Truqui’s] subjects, he says, have problems that cannot be explained in normal medical terms. One, who he believes may have been cursed by her mother-in-law, feels an almost constant sensation of daggers entering her legs, knitting needles in her arms, and a clenched hand at her chin. Another was so obsessed by self-gratification that he masturbated 40 times a day. “Normally speaking it is humanly impossible … so that is a satanic thing,” says Truqui.
I’m not going to pronounce on the demonic implications of a high frequency of masturbation, but clearly the Church’s belief in demons and the ability of ritual to expel them is a delusion. Again, I’m willing to admit that a ritual may help people who are anxious or have mental health issues—what better placebo is there than a caring priest and your feeling that he really can cast out demons?—but I suspect that treatment by a health care professional, who doesn’t have to decide which aberrant behavior really does result from demons, is superior.
In the meantime, it’s been reported in several places, including USA Todayand Newsweek, that this month the Vatican is holding a week-long conference in Rome to train priests how to expel demons. This is necessary not only because it takes skill to recognize and get rid of real demons, but also because private practitioners are horning in on the Vatican’s monopoly of de-demonizing. As the New York Post reports (my emphasis):
While many of the reported cases are actually related to psychological or spiritual problems, Palilla conceded, they must still be investigated.
But the church is concerned that many priests either haven’t learned or refuse to learn exorcism techniques.
“We priests, very often, do not know how to deal with the concrete cases presented to us. In the preparation of priesthood, we do not talk about these things,” Palilla said.
In France, the demand for exorcists has also soared, but independent contractors have taken up the jobs — charging $178 an hour — as the Catholic Church neglected training priests in the practice, The Economist reported.
Palilla warned against using an amateur exorcist because they “certainly make errors.”
Exorcism is recognized under the Catholic Church’s canon law and can only be performed with permission from within the church. The Vatican-backed International Association of Exorcists was founded in 1990 and has licensed some 200 members across the world.
Note that the Vatican officially backs the practice of exorcism and supports the International Association of Exorcists. It’s also well known that Pope Francis, like Antonin Scalia, believes that Satan isn’t just a metaphor but a real figure, which he says is “a personal being who assails us.”