One of the Catholic Church’s spokesmen, Father Gabriele Amorth, correctly summed up the exorcist shortage when he said that people have had to “hunt high and low for a properly trained exorcist.”
As of December 2007, that’s changed. Pope Benedict XVI ordered all Catholic bishops to set up “exorcism squads.” Every diocese will have trained priests who can perform exorcisms.
Technically, any priest can perform an exorcism. Canon Law established that in the early 12th century. However, finding a priest with the confidence to deal with demonic possession… that’s been a challenge.
Will this change be helpful to people living fearfully in haunted homes? I’m not so sure.
Father Amorth is the founder of the Association of Exorcists. He’s described as the Pope’s “caster out of demons” and “exorcist-in-charge.” By Fr. Amorth’s own count, he’s performed over 30,000 exorcisms, perhaps as many as 50,000. (However, he says that he’s witnessed only about a hundred actual demonic possessions. I’m wondering how he explains the other 29,900+ exorcisms that he’s conducted.)
The priest seems to cast a wide net. He’s said that Hitler, Stalin and all Nazis were possessed. On Vatican Radio, Father Amorth stated, “Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil.” The priest has also said, “When magic works, it is always the work of the demon.”
So, what about the presence of dark or confused spirits that attempt to inhabit the body of someone who’s alive?
In June 2002, Fr. Amorth said, “Evil spells are by far the most frequent causes of possessions,” and estimates that 90% of possessions can be traced back to “evil procured through the demon.”
Fr. Amorth described the only four situations in which demonic attacks can occur: “One can be subjected to the attacks of the demon in four cases. Either because it constitutes a blessing for the person and such is the case with many of the saints, or because of irreversible persistence in sin, or because one is the victim of a curse uttered in the name of the demon, or else when one gives oneself up to practices of occultism.”
In Fr. Amorth’s two books on exorcism, he lists reasons why someone might be under a demonic curse, including “membership in the Freemasonry.”
And, on page 30 of his book, An Exorcist Tells His Story, Father Amorth says that the concept of ghosts or a “wandering soul” is purely an invention of spiritists. He states “The souls of the dead who are present during seances … are none other than demons.”
Whether you agree with Father Amorth or not, it remains to be seen if his attitudes will filter down to parish priests.
While we applaud the increased availability of exorcists for those who need them, we’ll probably continue to refer people to John Zaffis. John is a personal friend and, though I was skeptical when I first met him, his level-headed approach and experience with hauntings changed my mind.