Exorcists and Exorcisms

The most frightening movie I have ever watched was released in 1973, when I believed myself a wise and committed atheist. I thought I did not believe in God, ghosts or demons. The Exorcist proved me wrong, though for years I continued to deny their existence. The movie created in me a fear such as I had never experienced – a fear the vestiges of which remain to this day.

As a born-again Christian, I now know that God and Satan are real. I also know that Satan has no power to harm me spiritually, though I do not doubt that he can tempt or injure me physically through his agents. While I do believe demonic possession is a reality, I do not believe that demons can take possession of true believers, for we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit

In that movie, two Catholic priests, played by Jason Miller and Max Von Sydow, struggled to free Linda Blair's character from demonic possession. In the process, the demon fired volleys of pea-soup vomit and the priests countered with torrents of holy water. I don't know who won, because I have never seen the picture's final scenes.

Maybe I'll see the ending, if I can screw up the courage. The movie was re-released a few years ago, according to a newspaper article. The same article included a report that the Archdiocese of Chicago had appointed its very first full-time exorcist.

For the first time in its 160-year history, the Archdiocese of Chicago has appointed a full-time exorcist, who said his task is to "heal those afflicted by the Evil One."

The archdiocesan priest, whose identity was withheld by the Roman Catholic archdiocese to protect his privacy, was appointed without fanfare nearly a year ago by Cardinal Francis George at the encouragement of a French cardinal. -- Ernest Tucker, Archdiocese gets exorcist, Chicago Sun-Times, September 19 2000

A spokesman for the archdiocese said that the exorcist, an experienced priest, had not performed any public exorcisms in this country, but was involved in nine during the years he was in Rome. When the article was published, the priest reportedly was meeting with twelve people who sought his help.

According to another priest, Robert Barron, a theologian and spokesman on exorcism, most who seek help from an exorcist really need some other kind of help.

"I've heard that about 95 percent of those who present themselves for exorcisms are not really subjects. They are very rare." -- Ibid.

From medieval times until the mid-1960's, exorcisms were commonplace in the Roman Catholic Church. Every priest was an exorcist and exorcism was a part of the ceremony of baptism..

The minor order of Exorcist was one of the levels candidates passed through on their way to the priesthood, though the duties were to assist the priest, not to conduct the actual exorcism.. The number of steps on the ladder to priestly power varied with the times and with the church.

The Council of Trent (Sess. XXIII, can. 3) defined that, besides the priesthood, there are in the Church other orders, both major and minor (q.v.). Though nothing has been defined with regard to the number of orders it is usually given as seven: priests, deacons, subdeacons, acolytes, exorcists, readers, and doorkeepers. The priesthood is thus counted as including bishops; if the latter be numbered separately we have eight; and if we add first tonsure, which was at one time regarded as an order, we have nine. We meet with different numberings in different Churches, and it would seem that mystical reasons influenced them to some extent… The "Statuta ecclesiæ antiqua" enumerate nine orders, adding psalmists and counting bishops and priests separately. Others enumerate eight orders, the latter not counting bishops, and adding cantor. Innocent III…counts six orders, as do also the Irish canons, where acolytes were unknown. Besides the psalmista or cantor, several other functionaries seem to have been recognized as holding orders, e.g., fossarii (fossores) grave diggers, hermeneutoe (interpreters), custodes martyrum etc. Some consider them to have been real orders…but it is more probable that they were merely offices, generally committed to clerics. --H. Ahaus, Holy Orders, "The Catholic Encyclopedia", Volume XI, Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company, Online Edition Copyright © 2007 by Kevin Knight

Seminarians today still go through steps, but there are not so many and what ones there are usually are confirmed all on the same day. Among the changes as the RCC moves ever closer to the New Roman World Order, have been the elimination of such minor orders as Porter and Exorcist. Under the new rules, there still are exorcists, at least one in every diocese, but it is a duty assigned to a priest, not a novice rank.

In these days of laid-back Catholicism, I imagine the rites of exorcism have been radically-changed from the way they were under the old Rituale Romanum. Rome's media darling exorcist, Archbishop Immanuel Milingo, was a popular guy in Italy and was often a guest on radio and TV talk shows. He traveled around the country, celebrating monthly "healing Masses" with an average attendance of about 5,000 people.

A few years ago, Archbishop Milingo was ed by a Danish Catholic theologian. The interviewer asked: "How do you perform the exorcisms? There appear to be many forms of exorcisms, and every exorcist uses his own method." Archbishop Milingo responded:

"First, we have at this particular moment one exorcism prayer that I have found extremely powerful. It is a prayer, promulgated by Pope Leo XIII, directed to Saint Michael, the leader of the Heavenly Host. This prayer, which can be said by every believer, incorporates most of human needs in the defense against evil of every kind—protection against diseases as well as against Satan and all satanic sects. Before the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's this prayer was said after every Catholic mass. Secondly it is very important to use the authority of Jesus. When we exorcists pray, we say "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the powerful intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary, of the angels and saints, in the blood of Jesus, evil spirits—we cast you away!" We cast them away!

"We use both fighting prayers as they come to us spontaneously, and then in certain cases we use the old Roman Ritual, which is in Latin. At certain moments there are resisting spirits. There are different hierarchies of evil spirits, just as there are different hierarchies of angels. Some of them go easily—some really tell you "We are going away!" -- Niels Christian Hvidt, Interview with Archbishop Immanuel Milingo, 14 February 1998)

After 20 years of bureaucratic puttering around, a commission of Vatican theologians and liturgists came up with a new manual of exorcism ritual. This new 90-page set of instructions, De Exorcismus et Supplicantionibus Quibustam, replaces the old procedures established 'way back in 1614 by Pope Paul V. I haven't had an opportunity to read the new manual – it is in the process of being translated into the vernacular for distribution to bishops and exorcists everywhere. I have been given to understand that the new manual retains a lot of the ancient language and symbolism, but has adopted a milder tone for cursing Satan. Also, priests are urged to spend more time praying with the person they are helping.

How was it done in the old days?

"Exorcism, the Rite of, begins with the litany of the Saints, the Our Father secretly, two prayers for the one possessed and an admonishment of the unclean spirit; then is read one or more passages from the Gospels (from John I, Mark xvi, Luke x or xi) and the exorcist (priest or bishop) prays for the requisite power for himself; he then puts the end of his stole around the neck and his right hand on the head of the possessed and, after a short prayer invoking the name of God, pronounces "with great faith" three long exorcisms of the demon, accompanied by signs of the cross and the first two followed by prayers. These are repeated if necessary, and there are also recommended to be recited as required, the Our Father, Hail Mary, Apostles' Creed, the Magnificat, Benedictus, Athanasian Creed, and various psalms. A prayer is added that the released victim be not again afflicted. -- Donald Attwater, Ed., A Catholic Dictionary, The Macmillan Company (1942), p. 193; w/Nihil Obstat & Imprimitur)

Is the RCC adopting a softer line in its dealings with the prince of this world? According to a report in an magazine that deals with the paranormal,

The Vatican announced the need for a "more subtle and sophisticated" understanding of the nature of evil that will be better suited to the world of the 21st century. Evil should be thought of as a threatening force that dwells within every individual, the Church now advises, rather than simply an external malevolence, personified as Satan, which tempts people into sin. This new distinction comes as part of the Catholic Church's reevaluation of its official rites of exorcism, which are being substantially revised for the first time since Pope Paul V decreed them in 1614. -- D. Trull, A Kinder, Gentler Satan, © 1999 ParaScope, Inc.

A bit farther along in the article, the author raises an issue that has been voiced on this forum a number of times.

It's almost enough to make you wonder if the Catholic Church is turning away from belief in the existence of Satan – or, even more inconceivably, if it may be turning politically correct. Is this a first step toward reinventing the Great Adversary as the Non-Gender-Specific Negativity Enabler of the Ethically Challenged? -- Ibid

Not unexpectedly, Rome says she has not changed her views concerning Satan. This was made crystal clear by Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Esteves, Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Cult and the Discipline of the Sacraments – the guy who presented the new exorcism manual:

The existence of the Devil isn't an opinion, something to take or leave as you wish…Catholic doctrine teaches us that demons are fallen angels as a result of their sin, and that they are spiritual beings with great intelligence and power. The whole world moves around the Devil. --Ibid.

When Jesus cast out devils, it was a "right now" thing. No messing around. He sent them away and that was that, as this example passage clearly shows:

16 When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.
-- Matthew 8:16-17

The Gospels record that Jesus conferred that same power to cast our devils and evil spirits on some of his disciples before sending them out. When they returned, they were excited at what they had been able to do. Christ pointed out to them that their joy was inappropriate.

17 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
18 And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
19 Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
-- Luke 10:17-20

There are other accounts of Jesus and the disciples casting out malevolent spirits. We don't know how long it took for the disciples to successfully exorcise devils, but we do know that Jesus did it instantly. Given that His followers were acting in His name, I suspect that they were also able to drive out demons in short order.

That was not the case when John Paul II attempted an exorcism in the year 2000. According to reports in the news, the Pope was not the first to "exorcise" whatever demon spirit possessed the 19-year-old woman who approached him shouting curses in several languages, not all of them known.

The attempted exorcisms of the Pope and of his chief Satan-buster didn't get the job done. It did not take RCC spin doctors long to rationalize the failure of Christ's Vicar to cast out whatever spirits were afflicting the young lady. James LeBar, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of New York, explained:

There is no fixed duration of time for the healing, or any guarantee for success. As such, the reported effort by Pope John Paul II last week was not a 'failure', LeBar said, because treatments can last for decades. -- Ernest Tucker, Op. cit.

Let's see, now. Jesus exorcised devils instantly and, with the power He gave them, His closest followers were also able to drive out demons in short order. Roman Catholic exorcists, including the Pope, might require decades to get the job done and, even then, there is no guarantee of success.

Do you reckon it could be that RCC exorcists don't do such a good job at driving out demons could be because they have the wrong "sponsor?"

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." -- Matthew 12:24-28

Let's see, now. Jesus and those closest to Him successfully cast out devils.

Satan cannot cast out Satan.

Roman Catholic exorcists claim to sometimes successfully cast out devils.

Pope John Paul II failed in a semi-public attempt to cast a devil out of a young woman.

Rather gives one reason to suspect that those Catholic exorcists who can't get the job done just might be on the same team as the devil they are trying to cast out, doesn't it?

Some things to think about.

Update:

Archbishop Milonga was excommunicated from the RCC after he married a Korean acupuncturist in a New York City ceremony conducted by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Milongo later shed his wife and his excommunication was lifted. The rambunctious archbishop remained close to the Vatican power center, however, and lived almost in seclusion in a neaerby convent. Then he slipped out of the convent and once again In 2006, he popped up in Washington, D.C. and ordained four married men. He was again excommunicated, as were the men he had ordained. To learn what more this "priest forever" has been doing, just google for "Archbishop Emmanuel Milonga."

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