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"One of the two women, a very religious person who always had a rosary in her hand, was flung to the ground," Fr. Perea said. "The evil one began to speak, I could see the eyes full of hatred. This woman wanted to jump at me to catch my throat, asking me why have you come here, telling me to go back to Bombay. I began to pray in tongues. Suddenly, her face changed, it became an angelic face. Her hands, which had been like claws wanting to hurt me, were now raised in praise."

Fr. Planchak said witnessing such an exorcism can cure theological skepticism. "Once you have seen it with your own eyes, you will never be the same," he said.

Despite the conceptual gulf that sometimes separates exorcists from other constituencies in the church, there is at least one point of common ground: occasional frustration with bishops perceived as unsupportive.

"Jesus gave a very precise mandate to the apostles: Preach the Gospel, cast out demons, and heal the sick. Every bishop has the responsibility to do these three things," Fr. Amorth said. "If they don't do it, they betray the Gospel."

Fr. Amorth has also blamed Western theologians for a decline in exorcism. Yet several leading American Catholic theologians said they take the idea seriously.

"There is such a growing awareness of the spiritual among ordinary folk, belief in angels, miracles, and so on, that believing that evil can be incarnated or possess someone is not wholly unthinkable," said Capuchin Father Ed Foley of Chicago's Catholic Theological Union.

Jesuit Father Tom Reese, editor of America magazine, seemed to sum up the dominant reaction. "I am not into exorcisms or evil spirits," he said, "but I also recall Shakespeare: 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'""

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