STEFANO M. PACI
"Catholic hierarchy should
say a fervent mea culpa. For, it is also their fault if devil
worship and esoteric practices are becoming more widespread"
What's happening? Is Italy, home to the capital of Christianity, suddenly falling foul of a fatal attraction for the prince of darkness? I put this question to the man who, by profession, engages the Evil One in combat every day. He is Father Gabriele Amorth, 70, who has been the official exorcist of the diocese of Rome for the past ten years, appointed by the then Cardinal Vicar of Rome Ugo Poletti. He points out that Canon 1172 of the Code of Canon Law states that no one can legitimately exorcise the possessed unless his bishop has issued him a special license to do so. There is nothing about Father Amorth to suggest the anguished image of the exorcist we have come to know through movies and ill-informed newspaper reports and books. A native of the Emilia region of North Italy, Father Amorth is witty and entertaining and he even manages to joke about his work: "You want to know if I'm afraid of the Devil? That beast should be afraid of me because I have the power to cast him out in Christ's name".
You are in a unique position to form a general opinion of the whole question and you have direct-experience. Is it true that more people today are "associating" with the Devil?
GABRIELE AMORTH: Unfortunately, it is. In these past ten years of exorcisms I have witnessed a progressive increase in the number of people coming to me. Of course, more information circulates today. In the past, a lot of people who might have needed the help of an exorcist wouldn't have known how to go about finding one and may not even have known that they exist. But I think this increase is owing to an explosion proper of maleficence and evil and this is the Devil's work.
What are the causes?
Who else is to blame?
What are the evils and maleficence you mentioned earlier?
AMORTH: There are two types: demonic infestation and demonic possession. Infestation is provoked by a demon 'outside' the person and every now and then it assails the person causing physical and mental disturbances totally immune to medical treatment. Possession, which is very rare, happens 'inside' the person who is penetrated by a demon which sometimes acts using the person's own faculties. I would stress that cases of authentic demonic possession are very rare and cannot be compared with the cases of people in need of psychiatric help, which are 999 out of a thousand. The majority of cases I treat are cases of demonic infestation.
What is the cause of either of these conditions?
AMORTH: There are four causes. Firstly, seances and membership of Satanic sects. These practices, which expose people to maleficence and evils and even possession, are booming today, playing into the Devil's hands. Today, people no longer go to seances conducted by mediums who enter into a trance and claim to conjure up the dead - the truth is that if someone does intervene it is the Devil because the dead are in Paradise, Hell or Purgatory. They put questions to a 'spirit' and received the answers by placing a glass in a circle made of letters of the alphabet, or else they leave a tape recorder on in an empty room to record messages. Some thoughtless priests have been known to suggest this particular practice to parents who have lost children so that they can enter into contact with them. In short, seances are 'played' as if they were a game. According to one reliable survey, 36 per cent of schoolchildren have held seances of this type.
What else is behind the phenomenon?
AMORTH: The second cause is that some forms of grave sins are being persistently committed and so they become more rooted. The third cause is Evil itself. 'Evil' is a general word meaning something bad done to another person through the Devil. The victim is innocent but God allows it because he respects man's freedom. Just as someone might pay to have another person killed, people go to witches in association with Satan to have something evil done against another person. Evil can be done in various ways - the evil eye, curses or by Macumba or Voodoo rites. These rites, in my experience, are the hardest to combat. But if the person to whom the evil is done lives in the grace of God, if he is 'armed' by a normal life of prayer and communion with the Lord, the evil rarely sticks or else it sticks in a weaker form. The fourth cause is an assault by the Devil himself which, in defiance of human explanation, makes a person a victim of maleficent evil. And God allows this. In the Bible and history of the Church there are many such cases - Job, Saint Angela da Foligno, the Cure of Ars. More recent cases include the Blessed John Calabria and Saint John Bosco who was tormented with the Devil's afflictions for two years. Saint Paul, too, tells us that he was tormented by a messenger of Satan. It clearly transpires from his Letters that he was suffering from a physical ill of maleficent origin and it stayed with him until he died. He writes: 'So that I should not get above myself, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to batter me'.
What is an exorcism?
AMORTH: It is a 'sacramental'. Canon 1166 of the Code of Canon Law defines sacramentals as sacred signs by which, in imitation of the sacraments, come the principally spiritual effects obtained by the supplication of the Church. Whereas the sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ and are the same gestures as Jesus Christ performed, the sacramentals are proposed by the Church. The Church instituted the sacramental of exorcism to make the power, conferred by Christ to all believers, more effective. In fact, every believer or community can offer prayers of deliverance following the example of Christ's teaching reported in the 16th chapter of the Gospel of Mark: 'Whoever believes,.. in my name will cast out devils.' But only bishops and priests - never the laity - who have received an express license from a bishop may perform an exorcism. This is established by Canon 1167 of the Code stating that exorcisms must be performed in strict observance of the rites and formulas approved by the Church.
Was this rite also reformed after the Second Vatican Council?
AMORTH: You must be joking. It is the only text of all the texts due to be published after the last Council that has still to come out, even though 30 years have passed since Vatican II closed. The book of exorcisms currently in use is still the Roman Rite version dated 1614. This is another sign of the remarkable disinterest within the Catholic Church towards the Devil's concrete actions. In contrast to the Orthodox Church and to many Protestant confessions, the Catholic Church has almost abandoned the use of exorcisms, retaining this practice to be a throwback to the 'dark ages.' Catholic hierarchy must say a fervent mea culpa for it is also their fault if esoteric practices and Satanic sects are more widespread. All too often, the Church has been guilty of omission in its teaching on the Devil and in providing remedies for the faithful under attack by him. The Congregation of Divine Worship once formed an ad hoc commission to draft the new rite for exorcisms. But the temporary rite they recently drafted reflects a total lack of preparation on the part of the commission's members. They were liturgists who had never performed or seen exorcisms and who hadn't the slightest idea how they took place. We protested and the new rite has now been shelved [see 2002 POSTSCRIPT below - Ed.]. It's better for us to keep to the Roman Rite of over three centuries ago.
Has the Italian Episcopal Conference improved matters by appointing exorcists to the various dioceses, as the press often reports?
AMORTH: When they intervene in this field, bishops often say the wrong things. This is seriously counter-productive. It all depends on the awareness and goodwill of local bishops. Some bishops realize that they have more need today of exorcists on hand in their dioceses and so they appoint them. This is also a reflection of growing express demand from faithful with the increase in witches, card-readers, Satanic sects and spiritists. Some bishops are excessive. Tarcisio Carboni, Bishop of Macerata, was killed in a car accident recently on his way to the Italian Church convention in Palermo. He had just appointed 22 exorcists all in one go. Other dioceses have none at all, their bishops refusing to appoint any.
Acknowledgements to 30 Days
Blunting the Sword of Exorcism
AS Harry Potter trivialises the occult on the outside, Father Gabriele Amorth, Founder and Honorary President of the International Association of Exorcists, complains of Vatican efforts to stymie the power of exorcists on the inside. In a recent interview published in the Italian monthly 30 Days [No. 6, 2001], he spoke out about the new rite of exorcism being developed by the Congregation of Divine Worship:
"All of us exorcists in trying out the prayers of the new ad interim Rite have proved that they are totally ineffective. But then again, the rite of baptism of children came off worse too. It was totally re-worked so that exorcism against Satan has been all but eliminated... Their intention was to arm us with a blunt sword. Some effective prayers were cancelled, prayers with 12 centuries of history. New ineffective prayers were written in."
His only lifeline, he explained, was that permission can still be obtained to use the traditional rite. He further bitterly complained that 150 trained and canonically appointed exorcists were "barred from taking part in a public Papal Audience in Saint Peter's Square. (This) says much of how the exorcists of the Church are obstructed in their ministry, how much they are frowned upon by so many of the ecclesiastical authorities."
Asked: "You are locked in daily battle with the Devil. What do you see as Satan's greatest success?" the highly respected cleric replied:
Commenting on the above exclusion of the 150 exorcists, he added:
"The smoke of Satan gets in everywhere, everywhere. Perhaps we were kept out of the Papal audience because they were afraid that all those exorcists might have cast out the legions of demons that have installed themselves in the Vatican."
"You're joking aren't you?" returned the startled interviewer, to which Father Amorth replied:
"It might sound like it, but I don't think that it is a joke. I have no doubt whatever the Devil is tempting the upper levels of the Church, above all, just as he tempts every upper level."
* * * * *
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church
2851. Evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who 'throws himself across' God's plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ.
1673. When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms (Mark 1: 25) and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcising. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called 'a major exorcism', can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.
2116. All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honour, respect and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
2117. All practices of magic or sorcery by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magic practices: the Church for her part warns the faithful against it.