Exorcism Today: An Interview
Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with an exorcist. The conversational style has been retained throughout.
In many countries, more people believe that Satan is superior to God. Could this increased belief in Satan be a way to get people back to God?
To me, this phenomenon suggests that most people are desensitized about Satan, and treat him as a fairy tale evil spirit. This has been promoted by Halloween celebrations as well as Harry Potter movies. There is a sick fascination for Satan, in the exact proportion as the Catholic religion is losing ground unfortunately.
In the course of the exorcisms which you have performed, how could you recognized the presence of Satan?
I think that his personal characters are hatred, the fake and the ugly, typically the opposite of the Christian disciple who is enamored of charity, the true and the beautiful. In all the exorcisms I have performed, there is this terrifying abominable side of Satan who hates souls, whose aim is to deter them from their eternal destiny and, to reach his goal, will use all types of lies and disgusting behavior.
Have you experienced something comparable to the session in the movie The Exorcist?
Yes, I was in the Philippines and, accompanied by a doctor, we assisted a lady, whose past had been involved with a sorcerer who finally cast a spell on her. She is Catholic and suffers much from being possessed. During confession and communion, she falls into a trance. But, I must let the doctor describe the session: “What I witnessed was the first part of the movie The Exorcist. Plunged into a state of catalepsy, two demons with different tones of voice spoke through her mouth. We were in extreme conditions. What took place then is beyond any medical concept. The symptoms of this kind lady, who explains her case with her soft voice, refer to no classification or clinical graphic ever described in medical literature.” The bishop of the place had already imposed hands on this lady but without success. What was needed was to practice the Great Exorcism with the necessary authorizations. Her husband, Mike, dedicated to the work of Tradition, told me: “It does not happen when she goes to the Novus Ordo!”
Have you not thought that, among those who approach you for an exorcism, they would be better off seeing a doctor?
It is often difficult to discern psychological illness from possession. In a society where people have lost their bearings and their roots along with their faith, mental unbalance is on the increase. Yet, there are still real cases of diabolical activity. One might say that, of all those who approach the Church, just a few would do well to undergo an exorcism, whereas most would be treated by medicine and another large number by prayers and frequent sacramental practice.
Am I to understand that the Church gives a warning of prudence to the priest?
Indeed, and to prove it, let me simply quote one of the guidelines before the great exorcism given from the Church ritual: “Especially, he [the exorcist] should not believe too readily that a person is possessed by an evil spirit; but he ought to ascertain the signs by which a person possessed can be distinguished from one who is suffering from melancholy or some other illness.”
Are there any sure signs of possession?
Again, the ritual gives some sure signs: “ability to speak with some facility in a strange tongue or to understand it when spoken by another; display of powers which are beyond the subject’s age and natural condition; and various other indications which, when taken together as a whole, pile up the evidence.”
How does the devil manifest unusual activity on people?
We often speak of possession, which is the taking control of the body by the demon. But there are also less radical influences. The lighter ones are called infestations, limited to a place or an object, of which St. John Vianney suffered much during the nights in his rectory of Ars. Then, you have corporal obsessions where the demon attacks directly persons with exterior visions, as those mentioned by St. Teresa of Avila. Finally, you have the interior obsessions which affect the mental faculties with either drowsiness or, on the contrary, excitation of the imagination, or unusual temptations against faith, purity or life.
Are these troubled souls the initiators or the victims of their sorry lot?
Well! Satan is not the god of Evil. He can act only in as much as God allows him to. So, usually, he cannot reach someone unless he is allowed to come in, like a dog on leash is dangerous only to those who approach him. And, so, a Catholic assiduous to sacraments will have little to fear from Satan. Obviously, he will be subject to temptations, but he will be protected from extraordinary evil force. On the other hand, he who does not practice his religion is an easy prey for Satan. And it is noticeable that possessions and suchlike are often the results of sins of explicit superstition invoking evils spirits. You call them, and they come in force! Sometimes, however, it comes from an outsider: magic, incantations and spells cast by sorcerers on the victim.
Isn’t the priest as a man in a lesser position against the angelic adversary?
The priest as a man is obviously limited. But, in as much as he is acting as God’s representative, under proper obedience to his superiors’ command and after due inquiry of the case, he has a divine mandate. He is also equipped with formidable prayers from the ritual. And, as the ritual indicates, “He will bid the unclean spirit keep silence and answer only when asked. Let him pronounce the exorcisms in a commanding and authoritative voice, and at the same time with great confidence, humility and fervor; and when he sees that the spirit is sorely vexed, then he oppresses and threatens all the more.” That is why it is important for him to use the Church prayers, speaking properly the Latin he uses. We had cases in which the evil one mocked the sloppy pronunciation of the priest’s prayers, but also, I said the Hail Mary in English with no effect whereas the devil was really upset when I pronounced it in Latin!
Have these exorcisms helped souls to progress spiritually?
Absolutely! It is wonderful to see the power of the Church manifested through the exorcisms, because, once more, this is a struggle between the Church and Satan. That is why the Church sets strict laws to the “wrestling match” so to speak. The priest is God’s athlete who must firstly go to confession, fast and say his Mass before affronting the evil one. Moreover, he is to stick to the text of the ritual. And, as long as he remains within the obedience of the Church, he has nothing to fear. In these rites and prayers, it is easy to notice the power of the dogma of the Holy Trinity which Satan cannot bear... or of the Blessed Virgin, “powerful as an army in battle array,” against whom Satan can only lament and hide. I have often witnessed that those victims of possession, once delivered, made a true conversion to God. They naturally feel gratitude towards the Church who liberated them from the devil’s clutches, and much confidence in the Blessed Virgin who has great power over him too.
Do you not think that this apostolate is an anachronism in the 21st century?
Not at all. If it will raise some smile from some who are skeptical about Satan’s influence, this priestly power given has a place and time for its exercise. We often sense the struggle with the evil spirit simply by hearing long lines of confessions and teaching the faith to catechumens. In other words, beyond the exorcism proper, there is always the eternal struggle between God and Satan about taking possession of the human soul. In this, there is no anachronism to speak of casting out devils. But, getting back to this specific apostolate, renowned exorcists usually compare the battle going on against the devil to the dual between the exorcist and the sorcerer, whose arena is the possessed body, whose weapons are the sorcerer’s spell and, for the exorcist, the rites of the Church, the sacramentals, the penances and prayer.
So, to conclude, in this day and age, can we say that there is more work than ever for exorcists?
I would not dare give a straight answer to this quibble. But I would say the following: what is clear is that Satan is running a race against the clock and he knows that in the end, he won’t be able to harm souls. And that is why he is multiplying his influence today. On the other hand, that is why it is our duty as priests to use this religious priesthood and our faith to give souls to God and God to souls, knowing that our heavenly Father will ensure our protection.