Is it dangerous for non-Catholics to attempt exorcism?

“Well, I would say this: I think God respects the authority of churches that use the name of Jesus Christ. However, we have a protocol, and we do a lot of discernment.

I’ve been getting, on occasion, calls or emails form other traditions, because demonic activity is happening more and more now within other denominations, not just amongst Catholics—and they don’t know what to do. They’re worse off than we are. They really don’t know what to do because exorcism is not even a part of their theology.

I would say that in some other traditions, I think there’s a danger to assume that many manifestations that look otherworldly are not, necessarily, whereas I think in our tradition we clearly involve the social sciences, experts medicine, and religious folks who are trained, who discern carefully and most judiciously whether or not something demonic is going on in a person’s life.

So we’re very, very cautious about using the solemn rite of exorcism. We use deliverance prayer a lot. Those are considered minor exorcisms. But what people are always hung up on is the solemn rite of exorcism which you see in the movies. We use that very sparingly, only when it’s not only clear, but when all other means of casting out the demonic have not been successful. Whereas in other movements, I’m not sure how discerning they are. I mean, I have to be careful because I don’t want to make generalizations. It’s in the foreword to the rite of exorcism—you move at a very, very conservative pace, and you involve a lot of other people, and that’s why when I teach at the school—there’s a school of exorcism in Chicago that the church has set up—I’m emphatic about exorcism being intrinsically collaborative. You cannot do this by yourself. Because it’s too dangerous, and you have to involve other experts in this. You can’t do this by yourself. You have to rule out the natural before you can move to the preternatural.

Sometimes, I’ve disappointed people when they get their mind figured that they’ve got the answer to their dilemma, and they don’t. Other times, they’re relieved. But sometimes they’re just downright disappointed and upset and angry that somehow I’ve disproved them. What should it matter about disproving you? I cannot go and do an exorcism when that’s not what’s required. I could do more harm than good.

I think what’s fair to say, I get lots of desperate people, and they’re suffering, every one of them suffering, and it’s a matter of ‘what’s the cause of the suffering’. That’s my role—what’s the root cause of their suffering? It’s not like giving them the penicillin shot in the ER because, you know, that’s going to make them feel better. I get lots of requests for exorcism. I say that I don’t do them on demand. It doesn’t work that way.”

I think it important here that Fr. Thomas spoke of discernment. As he said, some Christian movements tend to focus only on the spiritual when signs present themselves, but there could be any number of naturalistic maladies at play—mental illness, physical problems, etc. Ignoring these could have devastating consequences for the sufferer. So, again, discernment is key—we must not be too quick to see the demonic in everything. They don’t hold that much power.

“You occupy a unique place as a Vatican-trained exorcist who has worked as an advisor to Hollywood. What do you think of movies and literature that depict exorcism, and do you think it’s useful for art to bring us face-to-face with personified evil?”

I don’t know how carefully Hollywood consults experts in the field when they are doing a movie in the area of personified evil. I don’t know how well they are bringing in consultants like how I was brought in on ‘The Rite’. I don’t know if they do that or if they just look at what other movies have done and duplicate certain things with their storylines. I just know in my case they brought me in as a consultant because they wanted accuracy, which I think they needed to have.

However, I will say this; at one point, they weren’t going to bring me in at all, and I said, ‘How do you expect Anthony Hopkins to know what he’s supposed to do?’ I remember that the initial response was ‘I think we’ve got it covered’. And I said that he does not have the first, foggiest idea of what to do, because he doesn’t know what it means to be an exorcist. I do. If you think he can just wing this, you’ll be very disappointed. He’s a superb actor; he’s one of the few greats in Hollywood. However, he doesn’t know what it means to be an exorcist, which is what I came on set to do with him, to talk about my experiences and how to really feel the role.