Demonic Possession & Oppression; Exorcism
Roman Catholic beliefs & practices
In the past, the church's beliefs about the nature of women and
of human sexuality led to the belief that every newborn was possessed by an indwelling
demon because of its intimate contact with its mother's birth canal. The church routinely
exorcised each newborn at the time of baptism with the following ritual:
"I exorcise you unclean spirit in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Come out and leave this servant of God
[infant's name]. Accursed and damned spirit, hear the command of God himself, he who
walked upon the sea and extended his right hand to Peter as he was sinking. Therefore,
accursed devil, acknowledge your condemnation... and depart from this servant of God
[infant's name]...Never dare, accursed devil, to violate the sign of the holy cross which
we place upon his/her forehead. Through Christ our Lord."
"Lesser" exorcisms at baptisms, at blessings of holy
water, blessings of a home or other location etc. are still performed.
Throughout the church's history, it has identified evil spirits in demon-possessed
individuals and treated them by full exorcisms. The practice has been strictly controlled
in modern times. Church canon law now requires that an exorcism be performed
only upon a direct order "of the bishop,
after two careful investigations, based on positive indications that possession is in fact
The church teaches that demons can interfere in one of two ways with their victims:
- They can cause
an obsession, in which the demon fills the mind of its victim with evil
- They can resort to actual possession in which the demon physically takes
over the human body.
Various signs of demonic possession are: errors in belief,
deceptions, falsehoods, lies, and confusion, "speaking with a great number of
words from unknown languages, or understanding them, making known things either
distant or hidden, showing strength beyond one's situation, together with vehement
aversion towards God, Our Lady, the Cross and holy pictures"
On 1999-JAN-26, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina, prefect of the Congregation for
Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, introduced an updated exorcism
ritual for the church. 3 The previous major update
had been issued
as the Rituale Romanum during the reign of Pope Paul V in 1614
new ritual is
described in a 84 page, bound in a red leather book. The text was originally
available only in Latin; it has since been translated into other languages
exorcism ritual includes: "prayers, the blessing and sprinkling of holy water,
the laying of hands on the possessed and making the sign of the cross, appeals to Christ,
the Holy Spirit and the saints of the church." 4
Next comes the imploring formula: the evils of Satan are listed and God is asked to free
the victim from possession. Next comes the imperative formula in which the
priest orders the devil to leave the person. It concludes with "Therefore, go back Satan."
The Vatican guidelines stress that most behaviors that appear to be caused by demonic
possession are actually triggered by psychiatric illness. 5 Monsignor
Corrado Balducci, the Vatican's previous chief exorcist, estimated that only five or six out of every
thousand people who seek help from an exorcist are really possessed by evil spirits. The
"in need of psychiatric help." 5 "...priests
conducting exorcisms should deal with evil as a force 'lurking within all individuals'
rather than as a force, traditionally embodied as Satan, threatening human beings from
without...Vatican officials say that under the new rituals, priests will be
encouraged not to refer any longer to the Prince of Darkness, the Accursed Dragon, the
Foul Spirit, the Satanic Power or the Master of Deceit. Instead, the formulas refer
more vaguely to 'the cause of evil.' They also introduce for the first time an appeal to
the Virgin Mary to help combat evil in an 'afflicted individual', a reflection of Pope
John Paul II's personal commitment to" the Virgin Mary. 5
However the church is not going soft on belief in Satan and his demons.
Vatican spokesman, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, stressed that: "The existence
of the devil isn't an opinion, something to take or leave as you wish. Anyone who says he
doesn't exist wouldn't have the fullness of the Catholic faith.'' He said that the
devil's presence is seen in the widespread acceptance of "lies and deceit ... the
idolatry of money ... the idolatry of sex..."The presence of the
devil...explains the dramatic condition of the world, which languishes under the power of
the malign one''
According to the memoirs of Cardinal Jacques Martin, a former prefect of the
pontifical household, Pope John Paul II successfully exorcised a woman in 1982.
brought to him writhing on the ground. 6 Father
Gabriele Amorth told La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, that the Pope has
carried out three exorcisms during his 23 year pontificate. Amorth said:
carried out these exorcisms because he wanted to give a powerful example. He
wanted to give the message that we must once again start exorcising those who
are possessed by demons... I have seen many strange things [during
exorcisms]...objects such as nails spat out. The devil told a woman that he
would make her spit out a transistor radio and lo and behold she started
spitting out bits and pieces of a radio transistor...I have seen levitations,
and a force that needed six or eight men to hold the person still. Such things
are rare, but they happen." 7
Fr. Gary Thomas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, CA, was
interviewed briefly on the ABC program Good Morning America for 2006-MAY-16. He said that the Vatican is asking each
diocese to have a trained exorcist on staff. 8
In early 2010, Father Gabriele Amorth, 85,stated that he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession in his 25 years service as the Vatican's chief exorcist. He said that there are power struggles in the Vatican as well as "cardinals who do not believe in Jesus and bishops who are linked to the Demon." He claimed that another example of satanic behavior was the Vatican cover-up of the deaths in 1999 of Alois Estermann -- then the commander of the Swiss Guard -- his wife and Corporal Cedric Tornay, a Swiss Guard. All were found shot dead. He said: "They covered up everything immediately. Here one sees the rot". He also cites the widespread sexual abuse of children, the attempted murder of Pope John Paul II in 1981 and the attack by a mentally ill woman of Pope Benedict XVI at 2009 Christmas time as satanically inspired events. 9
Fr. Amorth has written:
"How can we defend ourselves from all these evils? A strict interpretation of the Ritual confines the use of exorcisms only to instances of true possession. However, as I stated before, the current Ritual fails to address many occasions in which an exorcist diagnoses an evil influence. In all cases when there is no possession, the usual means to obtain grace should be sufficient. These means are prayer; the sacraments; almsgiving; leading a Christian life; pardoning offenses; and soliciting the aid of our Lord, Mary, the saints, and the angels."
"I will now say a few words about the angels. I gladly end this chapter on the devil, Christ's adversary, by speaking about the angels. They are our great allies. We owe them a great debt, and it is a mistake to mention them as rarely as we do. Every one of us has a guardian angel, most faithful of friends twenty-four hours a day, from conception to death. He unceasingly protects us, body and soul, while we, for the most part, never think about him. We also know that each nation has its particular guardian angel and, probably, every community and family, although we are not certain on the two last points. We know, however, that the angels are a multitude, and their desire to help us is much greater than Satan's desire to destroy us." 9
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- R.C. Brodeick, "The Catholic Encyclopedia," Thomas Nelson (1987), Page
- Fr. J. Mahoney, "Cast Out What?", at http://www.jmahoney.com/
- Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina, presentation of the new guidelines is available in Latin
- "New rules set to purge Satan: first update to exorcism ritual since 1614,"
Associated Press - Reuters, Toronto Star, Toronto ON, 1999-JAN-27, Page A1
- Richard Owen, "Satan gets a facelift," http://www.theaustralian.com.au/,
The Australian, 1999-JAN-26
- Cardinal Jacques Martin, "My Six Popes."
- "Pope has performed 3 exorcisms to ward off devil," Reuters,
- "Exorcisms become big business in Arizona," ReligionNewsBlog, 2006-NOV-27,
- Richard Owen, "Chief exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth says Devil is in the Vatican," Times Online, 2010-MAR-11, at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
Copyright © 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-MAR-13
Author: B.A. Robinson