Satanic cults are on the rise in an unexpected location - Rome, says a Catholic priest.
"There is a greater openness towards the devil," said Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's Chief Exorcist, to the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Father Pedro Barrajon, a Catholic priest in Rome, stated, "Satanism and the occult are in fashion."
The overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation of Italy has an estimated 800 satanic cults, with more than 600,000 followers. But Rome, home to Vatican City and the pope, is where the fiercest spiritual battle is taking place.
Last year, the Vatican started to offer courses to bishops on how to perform exorcisms - freeing a person of evil spirits.
When Father Amorth, 81, performs an exorcism, he uses oil for mass or baptism, and the cross.
"If a person is not violent I let them sit in this armchair, and I do the exorcism here," said Amorth, showing CBN the small room that he uses. "If they are violent I lay them down and if necessary I also tie them down."
The priest commented that medicine and science cannot solve all illnesses, but some are resolved by exorcism.
In recent years, gruesome murders have been linked to devil worship in Italy including a case several years ago involving members of a heavy metal band named the Beasts of Satan. Band members stabbed, clubbed and buried alive two teenagers in northwest Milan.
One of the victims was allegedly killed because she resembled the Virgin Mary.
Then there is Marco Dimiti, who heads the Children of Satan, which reportedly has more than 1,000 members.
In 1996, Dimiti was accused of raping a 2-year-old boy and a teenage girl in satanic rituals in 1996. He was jailed for 14 months before being pardoned by the Italian courts.
"True Satanism puts man at the centre of the universe - and is a noble expression," Dimitri said. "I want to say to Father Amorth what I say to all exorcists. Leave people in peace!"
Vatican priests are now working with Italian authorities to confront the increase in satanic crimes.
"We invite the police to sit-in on the exorcism classes so that they can understand the spiritual and theological dimensions of this phenomenon," said Father Barrajón.
Barrajon has trained 300 priests in exorcism, and says that he teaches them how to distinguish between psychiatric problems and satanic possession.
"This is the key but I can tell you that those who perform exorcisms, they just have this sense, they just know," he said. "Sometimes they look for signs like if the person is afraid of the cross or baptismal water or pictures of Christ. They shake a lot or start screaming and they may possess extraordinary strength. The priests know what to look for."
Barrajon encourages Italians to pray more, attend church, and be conscious that the devil is very real.
"The actions of the devil are not just limited to here in Italy - his evil spirit is roaming the earth, tempting people," he said. "We are trying to educate the society and families about the dangers of his influence."
Satanic cults in fashion in Rome, warns Vatican exorcist
Published 25 April 2008