Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has reportedly defended exorcisms as helpful when it comes to healing people who suffer from various mental health problems.
Trained psychiatrists often come up against cases of mental illness which are impossible to explain from a scientific point of view, Kirill is reported to have said during his visit to a convent in Veliki Novgorod.
The driving out of demons might help in cases where psychological professionals fail, he said, according to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti and a report offering a translation in The Moscow Times.
Kirill rejected the arguments of those who call the Church's tradition of driving out demons as 'unscientific,' stressing that 'demonic power is real and anyone can fall victim unless protected by the Church'.
He added: 'Everyone who has ever attended an exorcism has witnessed how priests often defeat those terrible forces of evil.'
The Patriarch's comments come after Christian mental health experts last week warned of an 'astonishing' rise in exorcisms, which 'are now a booming industry in the UK' according to an extensive new report on Christianity and mental health.
The report by the think-tank Theos described 'the burgeoning exorcism scene in the UK' and said that 'there is a danger of what one interviewee (a Christian psychiatrist) referred to as "Christian over-spiritualising", by which he meant a tendency to ascribe anything and everything to spiritual causes when other medical ones may exist'.
The research instead suggested that mental health problems are medical and found that interviewees, including mental health chaplains, said that 'in the vast majority of cases, the person in question was suffering with mental health issues which required psychiatric assistance'.
The report added that 'if Christians start treating people with mental health issues as if they are possessed when they are not, they run the risk of doing very serious harm...exorcisms are now a booming industry in the UK, with a number of interviewees noting the astonishing increase in demand – often, as one noted, in defiance of any actual rules or procedures put in place by any church'.