The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench


On exorcism: “We deal with angels and demons”

posted by jmcgee

The-Exorcist.jpg
Exorcism is getting renewed attention by the Church — and even the New York Times is taking notice:

The rite of exorcism, rendered gory by Hollywood and ridiculed by many modern believers, has largely fallen out of favor in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists, but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil.

Now, American bishops are holding a conference on Friday and Saturday to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy members learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.

“But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary,” he said. “But we have to be prepared.”

The closed-door conference is being held in Baltimore before the annual fall meeting of the nation’s bishops. Some Catholic commentators said they were puzzled why the bishops would bother with exorcisms in a year when they are facing a full plate of crises — from parish and school closings, to polls showing the loss of one of every three white baptized members, to the sexual abuse scandal flaring up again.

But to R. Scott Appleby, a professor of American Catholic history at the University of Notre Dame, the bishops’ timing makes perfect sense.

“What they’re trying to do in restoring exorcisms,” said Dr. Appleby, a longtime observer of the bishops, “is to strengthen and enhance what seems to be lost in the church, which is the sense that the church is not like any other institution. It is supernatural, and the key players in that are the hierarchy and the priests who can be given the faculties of exorcism.

“It’s a strategy for saying: ‘We are not the Federal Reserve, and we are not the World Council of Churches. We deal with angels and demons.’ ”

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Ed Schneider

posted November 13, 2010 at 8:46 am


I have to wonder if there is such a thing as involuntary possession. The Devil cannot do anything to us without our total cooperation. The only power he has over us is the power we give him.



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RichardP

posted November 13, 2010 at 1:13 pm


Satan asked God for permission to bother Job. When granted permission by God, Satan proceeded. Job’s permission was not sought by either God or Satan. This puts the lie to Ed’s claim that “the Devil cannot do anything to us without our total cooperation”. And “the only power he has over us in the power we give him”. Job disagrees vehemently.



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RA Price

posted November 13, 2010 at 1:17 pm


I don’t recall Job giving Satan permission to do anything. I don’t recall any NT reference to “be sure you don’t give permission for demons to possess you.”
Satan and his demons have power because they are greater than us. They are equals with angels, being angels themselves. They live according to different limitations.
We give them power when we don’t believe they are real. They are essentially given carte blanche access when we disavow knowledge of their involvement in human affairs.
According to both scripture and tradition, demons can afflict the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual levels of any individual, including believers.



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kenneth

posted November 13, 2010 at 2:28 pm


What they’re trying to do is restore the medieval beliefs and authority of the Church. It’s part of the ascendancy of conservative extremists within the Church who frame everything, including civil policy debates, in terms of “spiritual warfare.”
Does anyone seriously believe that a few weekends or even a few months of training will enable priests to effectively diagnose and treat psychiatric/medical issues or to “recognize” when is “supernatural”? Are there any mainstream legitimate medical professionals who are really in the business of referring patients for exorcism whenever they have a difficult patient whose diagnosis doesn’t happen to neatly fit the DSM categories of mental illness?



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anthony

posted November 13, 2010 at 4:10 pm


So let me see if I have this right (this is a Catholic blog?). Catholics believe in a God who allows evil spirits, who are more intelligent, devious and evil than men or women to possess and take control of them against their will? He allows them to be innocent victims of these evil powers? To obtain salvation there must be an act of one’s free will, but to be subjected to evil, it can just happen with no consent by the person? That is the God Catholics believe is revealed in scriptures?
The most obvious example of demonic activity would seem to be within the Church as exposed in the sexual depravity and systemic cover up in the church. Just look at the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, decades of moral depravity with young boys, at least two hidden families, incest with his sons, stealing funds and he was able to get away with this for over 40 years. Why is no exorcism used in these cases? If one wants to consistent with the Catholic view?
Just wondering…..



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Rick

posted November 13, 2010 at 4:33 pm


Anthony, The only comment I see about involuntary possession comes from the first commenter, who is wondering if it can happen.I don’t see where the article says that that Catholic Church teaches that God allows a demon to possess innocent and unwilling victims. I’ve heard the opposite: that victims of possession have in some way opened themselves to demons. Where are you getting your information and is it a reputable source?



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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted November 13, 2010 at 4:40 pm


There’s an interesting overview of exorcism from CNS at this link. Most people forget that it is a part of the baptism ritual.
Dcn. G.



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anthony

posted November 13, 2010 at 5:02 pm


Rick i am just extrapolating from the above comments on Job, perhaps you could tell me what the teaching is regarding free will and possession from a Catholic view point. my example of the sexual depravity in the clergy and the example with the Legionaries is well known and I am curious if it is an example of demonic possession? especially the case of Marcial (the founder), 40 years of such depraved behavior by a priest and the ability to keep the deception going for 40 years seems more than a mere mortal could pull off? any feed back would be appreciated.



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Rick

posted November 13, 2010 at 5:20 pm


Anthony, I’ve never heard that the Church teaches that a demon can possess a person against his or her will. I’ve only heard of one instance where demonic possession occurs: by opening one’s self to it.
Some saints, the Cure of Ars and apparently Mother Theresa, were tormented by demons. Mother Theresa did receive an exorcism. But I do not know whether she was possessed or whether she was the victim of “external attacks”.
Marcial’s behavior is probably the result of sin–not necessary demonic possession. Generally the signs of possesion are behaviors that cannot be explained by medical or psychiatric professionals. Usually there is some type of extradordinary physical manifestation like sustained unusual strength or speaking in languages one has never been taught.
By the way I am not a reputable source–just an average Catholic layman in Illinois.



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Robert C

posted November 13, 2010 at 11:57 pm


If all cases of ‘sexual depravity’ required an exorcism then they could keep an army of exorcists busy in Washington DC alone. They would need one assigned to the white house full time.



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Goodguyex

posted November 13, 2010 at 11:59 pm


If you use the exegesis of the New Testiment, there are several levels of possession. The totally autonomous possession such as “Legion”, and the “strong man” which is more like something that is part of the person possessed but that is out of control.
This “strong man” is bound by the exorcists or put into remission, whereas the “Legion” is cast out (into the swine herd) totally. “Binding of the strong man” is more like psychiatry practice in a sense. The “demon” stays but is just driven into remisson. And this has sometimes has to be repeated.
Jesus was the greatest exorcists who ever lived. However, it occurs to me that all of His exorcisms did not hold completely, because of his words about a spirit being driven out and if the person free does not adjust the demon returns with more demons and the person becomes worse off.



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Goodguyex

posted November 14, 2010 at 12:05 am


Deacon Greg, is not “exorcist” one of the ranks of classical Ordination?
I think in the first centuries there were numerous exorcists. I think it worked more on charisma, or who was good at it more that a level of ordination.
Can a Deacon (transition or permanent) be an approved “ordained” Exorcists.
[Interesting question, Goodguy. Yes, exorcist was originally one of the “minor” orders — along with porter, lector and acolyte — but, like those other orders, it was supressed around the time of Vatican II. The duties of exorcist are now filled exclusively by priests, and I’m not aware of deacons having the faculty to “exorcise” (except as it’s done during baptism). Dcn. G.]



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Goodguyex

posted November 14, 2010 at 12:22 am


Kenneth asks “Does anyone seriously believe that a few weekends or even a few months of training will enable priests to effectively diagnose and treat psychiatric/medical issues or to “recognize” when is “supernatural”?”
I think the way to respond to this question is to say that the right person can be trained to know whether an exorcism will likely be beneficial or not.
The new body of exorcists, have the knowledge of modern medical history with issues such as Tourette’s syndrone and the hallucinatory effects of rye ergote poisoning (root cause of much of the German witch craze of the 1600’s). They also have the leadership and lheritage of Fr Amorth and with roots and lessons learned of 20th century classical exorcists of the likes of Fr. Theophilus Reisinger and Fr. Dominic Syzmanski (companion of St. Maximillian Kolbe). Also, the fact of the matter is that the name of Jesus Christ is a powerful force in exorcism, being more effective than its Jewish or Islamic counterparts.
This is one powerful body of talent and history. They almost do not miss anymore as to whether an exorcism will be beneficial. The craziness of the past is over in this area.



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lisa48

posted November 14, 2010 at 9:13 am


To Rick,
I do not know what scripture you read. I am aware that the roman catholic bible is different from the one used by the non-catholics; one area is the ten commandments. The second commandment on not making idols is deleted from the rc commandments.
So on your posting on speaking in unknown tongues being demonic, I refer you to 1Corinthians 14:2; it tells you that one who speaks in an unknown tongue speaks unto God, for no one understands him; because in the spirit he speaks mysteries. This passage refers to the gift of speaking in tongues which was given to the first Christians after the Lord rose, and should have continued to the present day without restriction in believers. Jesus said that when He, the Holy Spirit came on the people, they would be endowed with power and would be ministers unto Him. (Acts 1:8). In the book of Acts the coming of the Holy Spirit on people was characterized by the speaking in unknown languages.
Can satan imitate such a gift? yes, but the Lord assures us that His sheep hear His voice, and the voice of a stranger they will not follow. I have heard the demonic languages but I do not discount the Truth of the Lord’s gift in speaking in tongues.



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Rick

posted November 14, 2010 at 10:00 am


You’re right, Lisa. There are tongues that come from the Spirit and tongues that come from the Devil. I am saying that both exist. The Holy Spirit gives the Church the ability to discern between the two.
Rick



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RichardP

posted November 14, 2010 at 3:58 pm


We cannot do justice to this topic in a forum of this sort. In acknowledging this, hopefully you can see that the following questions are serious, not flippant – even though we can’t examine all the relevant detail here.
Stipulation: Jesus comes from God; God does not come from Jesus. God revealed Himself, his creation, and His interaction with His creation to the Children of Israel in the Old Testament writings. In that context, shouldn’t what God revealed in the OT trump what Jesus revealed in the NT?
In the Old Testament, Satan is mentioned only four times. In the context there, “Satan” is viewed as an office, not a person. The implication being that any angel could occupy the office. Yet the holder of the office could do nothing unless granted permission by God. (oversimplified version) The soul and body were also considered as one in the OT. Neither could exist without the other. The entire split among body, soul, and spirit came later, from the Greeks. Given what God revealed to the Children of Israel, they did not believe in such a split between body, soul, and spirit. Given this:
Q1: Are there any instances in the Old Testament where someone is unquestionably possessed by a demon? (I’m not familiar with them if there are.)
Q2: Given the OT belief systems about Satan and spirits, as revealed to them by God – are there any resources that explain how the Catholic church reconciles no demons in the OT with demons all over the place in the NT? To what does the Catholic Church attribute their appearance in the New Testament when they are absent from the Old. It seems that God did not believe in demons (or at least thought they weren’t worth mentioning)while Jesus did. Doesn’t God’s viewpoint trump Jesus’?
This is not a flippant question. I was raised to believe that people could be demon-possessed. As an adult, I wonder why God Himself didn’t mention this phenomenon in the OT if it were truly part of His created world – rather than just something the Greeks made up that influenced the writers of the New Testament.



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Steve P

posted November 15, 2010 at 12:03 am


Hi Richard,
To clarify your opening, for mainstream Christian belief, Jesus is God, not just someone sent by God as a messenger or delegate or subordinate. Look into the Arian heresy and the roots of the Christological controversy in the early Church to learn more about this.
So if Jesus is God (i.e. God had come to earth as a human being), it makes sense that Satan and his demons would be doing all in their power to thwart whatever it was that God had in mind for the salvation of human beings. Satan thought things were already won with the Fall, that he was indeed the ruler of this world. This goes a long way to explaining the relative absence of demons and demonic possession in the OT. The Chosen People were already doing a good job of keeping things off track without much overt demonic influence.



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RichardP

posted November 15, 2010 at 4:22 am


Thanks Steve P. I have a passing aquaintence with the heresies and the arguments. I’m not trying to get into that here. I understand the Trinity. But Jesus himself acknowledged a superordinate / subordinate relationship with his comments “please don’t make me do this”, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done”, and “why have you forsaken me” – even as He said “I and the Father are one” and “I don’t know but my Father in heaven knows”. I assume that whomever Jesus was addressing with these comments was the one who revealed part of Himself on Mt. Sinai. And that the one who revealed part of himself at Mt. Sinai had a control on things / over things that Jesus did not have. I assume it was the one who revealed Himself at Mt. Sinai that Satan came before in the heavenlies, and who required Satan to ask permission before he could do certain things, like bother Job. I assume that, in the NT, Jesus would not contradict or contravene the one whom Jesus admitted knew more than Jesus. If God put Satan on a leash in the OT (this far and no farther), I can’t see that Jesus would let him off the leash in the NT. Unless God told him he could. And if God did tell Jesus that it was OK for Satan and demons to run free (which they could not do in the OT), is this conversation written down anywhere?
We have neither the time nor the space to discuss my question(s) here. So I am simply asking whether the Catholic Church has any resources that address the issue of no demons in the OT and a lot of them in the NT. A corollary question is whether the Catholic Church believes that Satan is constrained in his activites by God in the NT the same way he was constrained in the OT (couldn’t do certain things without God’s permission). And are the demons so constrained in the NT? It not, why did God loose them? Links anyone?



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Steve P

posted November 15, 2010 at 2:15 pm


Hi Richard,
I think I get what you’re asking, but one of the points I’m trying to get at is that you are seeing a different setting in the Gospels than in much of the OT.
For example, if you look to the deities of the Egyptians, Canaanites and others in the OT, you find Dagon, Molek, etc. These *are*, as near as we can tell, demonic entities, and we can assume that the fruits of their worship was the evil and corruption that was evident in those cultures. This was borne out further in the evil that befell the Children of Israel when they accommodated or even turned to this pagan idolatry.
But *everything* changes with the Incarnation. Sort of like Jesus showing up and the demons saying, “What the h*ll are YOU doing here?!? This was MY domain!”
I don’t think it had to be a matter of Satan being “unleashed” or “given permission” more in one setting than in another. Manifesting in different ways, perhaps, but present throughout salvation history. And we have no reason to believe the enemy is any more or less active now than he was then. But in every case, the power of Jesus, in person, or through the Church, is available to rebuke demons, and to remind them of their place.
It’s worth looking at some of the early Church writing on demonic activity as well, such as the “Life of Antony” (of Egypt) by Athanasius. Don’t know if it is available at New Advent?



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Kandi

posted September 26, 2014 at 10:14 pm


An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a
co-worker who was conducting a little homework
on this. And he actually ordered me dinner due to the fact that I stumbled upon it for him…
lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!!

But yeah, thanx for spending the time to discuss this issue
here on your site.



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