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Demonic Possession & Oppression; Exorcism

Roman Catholic beliefs & practices

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Roman Catholic beliefs and practices about exorcism:

In the past, the church's beliefs about the nature of women and of human sexuality led to the belief that every newborn was possessed by an indwelling demon because of its intimate contact with its mother's birth canal. The church routinely exorcised each newborn at the time of baptism with the following ritual:

"I exorcise you unclean spirit in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Come out and leave this servant of God [infant's name]. Accursed and damned spirit, hear the command of God himself,  he who walked upon the sea and extended his right hand to Peter as he was sinking. Therefore, accursed devil, acknowledge your condemnation... and depart from this servant of God [infant's name]...Never dare, accursed devil, to violate the sign of the holy cross which we place upon his/her forehead. Through Christ our Lord."

"Lesser" exorcisms at baptisms, at blessings of holy water, blessings of a home or other location etc. are still performed. 1

Throughout the church's history, it has identified evil spirits in demon-possessed individuals and treated them by full exorcisms. The practice has been strictly controlled in modern times. Church canon law now requires that an exorcism be performed only upon a direct order "of the bishop, after two careful investigations, based on positive indications that possession is in fact present." 2

The church teaches that demons can interfere in one of two ways with their victims:

  • They can cause an obsession, in which the demon fills the mind of its victim with evil thoughts.
  • They can resort to actual possession in which the demon physically takes over the human body.

Various signs of demonic possession are: errors in belief, deceptions, falsehoods, lies, and confusion, "speaking with a great number of words from unknown languages, or understanding  them, making known things either distant or hidden, showing  strength beyond one's situation, together with vehement aversion towards God, Our Lady, the Cross and holy pictures" 3

On 1999-JAN-26, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, introduced an updated exorcism ritual for the church. 3 The previous major update had been issued as the Rituale Romanum during the reign of Pope Paul V in 1614 CE. The new ritual is described in a 84 page, bound in a red leather book. The text was originally available only in Latin; it has since been translated into other languages

The exorcism ritual includes: "prayers, the blessing and sprinkling of holy water, the laying of hands on the possessed and making the sign of the cross, appeals to Christ, the Holy Spirit and the saints of the church." 4 Next comes the imploring formula: the evils of Satan are listed and God is asked to free the victim from possession. Next comes the imperative formula in which the priest orders the devil to leave the person. It concludes with "Therefore, go back Satan."

The Vatican guidelines stress that most behaviors that appear to be caused by demonic possession are actually triggered by psychiatric illness. 5 Monsignor Corrado Balducci, the Vatican's previous chief exorcist, estimated that only five or six out of every thousand people who seek help from an exorcist are really possessed by evil spirits. The remainder are:

"in need of psychiatric help." 5 "...priests conducting exorcisms should deal with evil as a force 'lurking within all individuals' rather than as a force, traditionally embodied as Satan, threatening human beings from without...Vatican officials say that under the new rituals, priests will be encouraged not to refer any longer to the Prince of Darkness, the Accursed Dragon, the Foul Spirit, the Satanic Power or the Master of Deceit. Instead, the formulas refer more vaguely to 'the cause of evil.' They also introduce for the first time an appeal to the Virgin Mary to help combat evil in an 'afflicted individual', a reflection of Pope John Paul II's personal commitment to" the Virgin Mary. 5

However the church is not going soft on belief in Satan and his demons. Vatican spokesman, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, stressed that: "The existence of the devil isn't an opinion, something to take or leave as you wish. Anyone who says he doesn't exist wouldn't have the fullness of the Catholic faith.'' He said that the devil's presence is seen in the widespread acceptance of "lies and deceit ... the idolatry of money ... the idolatry of sex..."The presence of the devil...explains the dramatic condition of the world, which languishes under the power of the malign one''

According to the memoirs of Cardinal Jacques Martin, a former prefect of the pontifical household, Pope John Paul II successfully exorcised a woman in 1982. She was brought to him writhing on the ground. 6 Father Gabriele Amorth told La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, that the Pope has carried out three exorcisms during his 23 year pontificate. Amorth said:

"He carried out these exorcisms because he wanted to give a powerful example. He wanted to give the message that we must once again start exorcising those who are possessed by demons... I have seen many strange things [during exorcisms]...objects such as nails spat out. The devil told a woman that he would make her spit out a transistor radio and lo and behold she started spitting out bits and pieces of a radio transistor...I have seen levitations, and a force that needed six or eight men to hold the person still. Such things are rare, but they happen." 7

Fr. Gary Thomas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, CA, was interviewed briefly on the ABC program Good Morning America for 2006-MAY-16. He said that the Vatican is asking each diocese to have a trained exorcist on staff. 8

In early 2010, Father Gabriele Amorth, 85,stated that he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession in his 25 years service as the Vatican's chief exorcist. He said that there are power struggles in the Vatican as well as "cardinals who do not believe in Jesus and bishops who are linked to the Demon." He claimed that another example of satanic behavior was the Vatican cover-up of the deaths in 1999 of Alois Estermann -- then the commander of the Swiss Guard -- his wife and Corporal Cedric Tornay, a Swiss Guard. All were found shot dead. He said: "They covered up everything immediately. Here one sees the rot". He also cites the widespread sexual abuse of children, the attempted murder of Pope John Paul II in 1981 and the attack by a mentally ill woman of Pope Benedict XVI at 2009 Christmas time as satanically inspired events. 9

Fr. Amorth has written:

"How can we defend ourselves from all these evils? A strict interpretation of the Ritual confines the use of exorcisms only to instances of true possession. However, as I stated before, the current Ritual fails to address many occasions in which an exorcist diagnoses an evil influence. In all cases when there is no possession, the usual means to obtain grace should be sufficient. These means are prayer; the sacraments; almsgiving; leading a Christian life; pardoning offenses; and soliciting the aid of our Lord, Mary, the saints, and the angels."

"I will now say a few words about the angels. I gladly end this chapter on the devil, Christ's adversary, by speaking about the angels. They are our great allies. We owe them a great debt, and it is a mistake to mention them as rarely as we do. Every one of us has a guardian angel, most faithful of friends twenty-four hours a day, from conception to death. He unceasingly protects us, body and soul, while we, for the most part, never think about him. We also know that each nation has its particular guardian angel and, probably, every community and family, although we are not certain on the two last points. We know, however, that the angels are a multitude, and their desire to help us is much greater than Satan's desire to destroy us." 9

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. R.C. Brodeick, "The Catholic Encyclopedia," Thomas Nelson (1987), Page   207.
  2. Fr. J. Mahoney, "Cast Out What?", at http://www.jmahoney.com/
  3. Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina, presentation of the new guidelines is available in Latin at:  http://www.vatican.va/
  4. "New rules set to purge Satan: first update to exorcism ritual since 1614," Associated Press - Reuters, Toronto Star, Toronto ON, 1999-JAN-27, Page A1
  5. Richard Owen, "Satan gets a facelift," http://www.theaustralian.com.au/, The Australian, 1999-JAN-26
  6. Cardinal Jacques Martin, "My Six Popes."
  7. "Pope has performed 3 exorcisms to ward off devil," Reuters, 2002-FEB-18, at: http://in.news.yahoo.com/
  8. "Exorcisms become big business in Arizona," ReligionNewsBlog, 2006-NOV-27, at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
  9. Richard Owen, "Chief exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth says Devil is in the Vatican," Times Online, 2010-MAR-11, at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-MAR-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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