Apparently the handful of priests in the U.S. who are trained exorcists have been overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil. The NYTimes:
American bishops are holding a conference on Friday and Saturday to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy members learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care…
Some of the classic signs of possession by a demon, Bishop Paprocki said, include speaking in a language the person has never learned; extraordinary shows of strength; a sudden aversion to spiritual things like holy water or the name of God; and severe sleeplessness, lack of appetite and cutting, scratching and biting the skin.
A person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness, according to Vatican guidelines issued in 1999, which superseded the previous guidelines, issued in 1614.
Left alone since 1614, why now?
“What they’re trying to do in restoring exorcisms,” said Dr. Appleby, a longtime observer of the bishops, “is to strengthen and enhance what seems to be lost in the church, which is the sense that the church is not like any other institution. It is supernatural, and the key players in that are the hierarchy and the priests who can be given the faculties of exorcism.
“It’s a strategy for saying: ‘We are not the Federal Reserve, and we are not the World Council of Churches. We deal with angels and demons.’ ”
The training comes at a time when many American bishops and priests are trying to correct what they view as a lack of emphasis on the Catholic teaching about sin and evil after the Second Vatican Council, the series of meetings in the 1960s that enacted modernizing reforms in the church. Many in the American hierarchy, as well as Pope Benedict XVI, believe that the supernatural aspect of the church was lost in the changes, reducing it to just another institution in the world.
A renewed focus on exorcism highlights the divine element of the church and underscores the belief that evil is real.
The pedophile priest problem is evil and demonstrably real but the scale, scope and full horror of it is denied by a church that, instead, wants to train more priests to cast out angels and demons. Does anyone rally think they can prove which people need an exorcism and which need psychiatric care? Prove it to anyone outside of their church, that is.
The Catholic News Agency report on the exorcism training. And the most recent despicable evidence that the church still doesn’t get it, Belgian Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard saying that AIDS is God’s punishment for being gay. Leonard also said that seeking vengeance on pedophile priests was “inhumane,” a remark from which he later retreated. Closer to home, documents reveal the Catholic Diocese in San Diego covered up for pedophile priests.
Image via The History Cooperative, “A woodcut from 1598 shows an exorcism performed on a woman by a priest and his assistant, with a demon emerging from her mouth. In Pierre Boaistuau, et al., Histoires prodigieuses et memorables, extraictes de plusieurs fameux autheurs, Grecs, & Latins, sacrez & prophanes (Paris, 1598), vol. 1.”