Catholic Church training more exorcists

(AP)

A rapidly increasing number of Catholic priests are reportedly being trained in the rite of exorcism.

Dioceses in Italy, Spain, and Mexico are reporting a growing number of cases of someone being possessed by the devil or some other demonic influence.

The Diocese of Milan recently nominated seven new exorcists to combat this increase. Crescenzio Sepe, the Archbishop of Naples has appointed three in previous years, and the Catholic Church in Sardinia recently sent three priests for exorcism training in Rome out of growing concern that the Mediterranean island, particularly its mountainous, tradition-bound interior, is rife with occultism.

Archbishop of Madrid Antonio Maria Rouco Varela was quoted by The Telegraph as saying that the cases they were encountering "go beyond the competence of psychologists" and that these were occurring with "a striking frequency".

Eight priests have been specially chosen to undergo rigorous training in May to confront what the Archbishop described as "an unprecedented rise" in cases of "demonic possession".

Many in the Mexican Catholic Church there believe that the violence of the drug cartels has its roots in demonic activity. Mexican exorcists are so overwhelmed that some are refusing to take on new cases, facing new possessions daily. Speaking to the BBC, Mexico City exorcist Father Francisco Bautista said: "This didn't happen before."

The Church has been reported by the Calgary Herald to have placed the blame for this increase on the accessibility of information on occult practices on the internet. Details of things like Ouija boards, Satanic rites, black magic, and certain pagan and Wiccan activities are all readily available online.

"Diabolical possessions are on the increase as a result of people subscribing to occultism," said Francesco Bamonte, the president of the International Association for Exorcists, based in Italy. "The few exorcists that we have in the dioceses are often not able to handle the enormous number of requests for help."

In the specific case of Mexico, Father Bautista's view is that their issues have been brought about by the rising influence and membership numbers of the cult of Saint Death, or Santa Muerte. Some estimations say that the cult, whose followers worship a skull in a wedding dress carrying a scythe, has some eight million followers in Mexico and more among Mexicans living in the US and Canada.

Church authorities insist that although they are open to helping people with exorcism, it is a last resort. Father Vincenzio Taraborelli, a priest in a church which lies just a few hundred yards from the Vatican, describes the need for exorcisms as "rare, very rare".

He points out that many people coming to them are in fact dealing with mental health issues, such as depression, paranoia, or some form of multiple personality disorder. "In the cases where a mental illness is apparent," Father Taraborelli explains "we try to send them to a doctor".

It isn't just demons that the Church is fighting here. More exorcists are needed to combat the increasing trend of unofficial exorcists plying their trade in more superstitious corners of the Catholic world. John Allen, a Vatican expert from the National Catholic Reporter, is quoted in The Telegraph as saying that the growth in exorcism training is a response to public demand, but also to the need for "quality control".

"There are all these guys, some of them priests, who have set themselves up as exorcists. A lot of it is fairly dodgy theologically — they are self-appointed exorcists running around purporting to be acting on behalf of the Church," he said.

"Now there is an attempt to ensure that all this is done in accordance with the Church's official teaching. The hierarchy don't want it going on outside the official channels."

This is partly fuelled by a misunderstanding about exactly what possession is and how it can best be dealt with. Sardinia based priest Don Gianni Sini is quoted on Breitbart talking about the problems of people not knowing about exorcism.

"People come to me thinking that with an exorcism they can resolve all the problems they have in their lives. A child is doing badly at school? With an exorcism we can make him study… Out of 100 people that I receive, there will be one who has need of me as an exorcist."

The norm was that elite Catholic society tends not to openly discuss exorcism significantly, but these recent trends have eroded these practices and the expectations that went with them.

"After the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, there was a great deal of embarrassment among 'enlightened' Catholics about exorcisms and other aspects of the supernatural," said Mr Allen.

"It was seen as a medieval anachronism."

"But at the grassroots level there has always been a very strong streak of popular religion, a fascination with the occult and the powers of the Devil."

Pope Francis has not explicitly commented on the practice of exorcism, but it is clear from the references and content of his homilies that he believes in the devil to be a figure with real power.

Claims that he performed an exorcism in St Peter's square in May of 2013 have been denied by Church authorities. Pictures from TV2000, the channel owned by the Italian Bishops Conference, show the Pope laying hands on a wheelchair bound man who went into convulsions at his touch, before slumping back into his chair with his mouth open.

Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, later dismissed the claims, saying Pope Francis "did not intend" to perform an exorcism.

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