Do we need more exorcists? Senior Catholics think so

Anthony Hopkins in The Rite

Senior Catholics are organising a six day conference to train more than 200 priests from 30 countries in the practice and techniques of exorcism.

The organisers of the conference believe that the increasing decline of religious belief and the rise of secularism in some parts of the world has "opened the window" to black magic, Satanism, and the occult.

The conference, entitled "Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation" will also be attended by sociologists, psychiatrists, doctors, and criminologists, in an attempt to examine the phenomenon of demonic possession in a "multi-disciplinary" form.

Giuseppe Ferrari of GRIS, a Catholic group involved with the study of cults which organised the conference, said that the state of modern society often encourages people to dabble in the black arts.

Mr Ferrari was quoted in the Telegraph as saying: "We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out, the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality."

Mr Ferrari believes that the rise of secularism "inevitably leads people to ask questions about the existence of evil and its origins".

Demand for exorcisms remains considerable. Father Cesar Truqui, a Catholic priest and trained exorcist from Switzerland, said to Vatican Radio: "Just in the dioceses of Rome, around a third of calls that are received are requests for the services of an exorcist."

There are not official Catholic statistics on the number of exorcisims performed, however in 2011, it was estimated by American Bishop Thomas John Paprocki that the US had only 30 priests who were officially trained in exorcism, but that they were under strain following an increasingly large number of requests.

While the Catholic Church seeks to play down some of the more colourful and dramatic images of exorcism that exist in the popular imagination from films and television programs, they do not want to downplay the reality of the devil.

Father Thomas, pastor of the Sacred Heart Parish in Saratoga, California, told the Atlantic that most possessions and exorcisms are not nearly as spectacular as their cinema representations: "The worst people do is growl or make noise, although I had one client who repeated the first three lines of 'Hickory Dickory Dock' over and over again - and that drove me crazy."

Father Truqui said: "Exploring the theme of demonic possession does not mean causing general paranoia, but creating awareness of the existence of the Devil and of the possibility of possession."

Pope Francis has taken the opportunity of his various sermons and homilies to remind people of the existence of the Devil. Earlier this week he linked the persecution of the early church to the devil, and that the "struggle between God and the Devil" was ongoing.