There is a way to identify whether a person is being possessed by a demon or suffering from illness and it is important to make the distinction between the two cases, said a long-time exorcist from Italy.
According to Father Cipriano de Meo, who has been an exorcist since 1952, prayer is an important tool in differentiating whether a person is possessed or is fraught by mental illness.
"The exorcist will typically say (a) prolonged prayer to the point where if the Adversary is present, there's a reaction. A possessed person has various general attitudes towards an exorcist, who is seen by the Adversary as an enemy ready to fight him," he explained in a Catholic News Agency interview.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is important to understand the difference between possession, which deals with the presence of the Evil One, and mental illness because the former is spiritual in nature and is part of the authority of the Church. The latter however is dealt with through medical science.
Because the lines are sometimes blurred between the two cases, the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy and the Sacerdos Institute hosted a seminar at Rome's Regina Apostolorum University for priests and lay people about it to ensure that proper remedy is given to the afflicted.
Father de Meo, for his part said that he has been leading a school of exorcists for the past 13 years to address the need but his endeavour comes with the blessing of his bishop as handling cases of demonic possession is very sensitive.
Still, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure and so he advises that to protect oneself from demonic possession, the best and safest way is to refrain from engaging in occult practices which he feels have grown at an alarming rate in the past years and resulted in a "pastoral emergency."
"While people often seek radical answers or signs, the best defense against demonic possession is a simple and sacramental life of prayer. It's absolutely fundamental to get rid of sin and live in the grace of God," he said.