So You Want to Perform an Exorcism: Here Is What it Takes
The International Association of Exorcists meets only once
every one or two years--in secrecy. To join, you must be a
Roman Catholic priest and have permission from your bishop.
Father Gabriele Amorth, the official exorcist of Vatican
City in the Diocese of Rome and, perhaps, the most experienced
exorcist of our time, formed the organization in 1993 to increase
the number of official exorcists worldwide.
Since he first became an exorcist in 1986, he's personally
carried out over 30,000 exorcisms. He even reportedly believes
that notorious evil-doers like Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin
may have been influenced by demonic spirits.
The Catholic Church is currently the only one with
an official Rite of Exorcism.
When "The Exorcist" movie originally came out over
30 year ago, exorcisms became widely known as violent, spine-chilling
events involving projectile vomiting and satanic voices. Today,
Roman Catholic priests can sign up to learn how to cast away
evil spirits from the possessed at the prestigious, Vatican-backed
college, the Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome.
A two-month course for emerging exorcists is being offered
there that teaches the "spiritual, liturgical and pastoral
work involved in being an exorcist."
What does it take to become an exorcist,
and what would you need to learn? Says Father Giulio
Savoldi, who has been Milan's official exorcist for more than
"I would include the supernatural force--the presence
of God--and then suggest that the man picked to do this
kind of work be wise and that he should know how to gather
strength not just from within himself but from God. Because
each case of possession is different, each person possessed
is different. Those studying to become exorcists should
also study psychology and know how to distinguish between
a mental illness and a possession. And--finally--they need
to be very patient."
A Shortage of Exorcists?
"I speak with the devil every day," says
Father Gabriele Amorth, Rome's official exorcist. "I
talk to him in Latin. He answers in Italian. I have
been wrestling with him, day in day out, for 14 years."
There are apparently not enough official exorcists around
to help all those who believe they are possessed by evil.
In Italy, a surge in official exorcists over the past 20 years
has raised the number to between 300 and 400, but in the United
States there are not as many.
There are about 10 full-time Roman Catholic exorcists in
the United States--nine more than there were 10 years ago.
There are also an unknown number of "spiritual-cleansing
ceremonies" performed by priests who have not been sanctioned
by the church.
However, only a small percentage of those who believe they're
possessed actually need a real exorcism. Determining which
cases these are is one of the most difficult tasks that new
"When you're dealing with a reality like the devil,
you can't just learn the theoretical. You need the pragmatic
experience ... It's such uncharted territory," said
Father Clement Machado of Canada,
Demonic Possession or Mental Illness?
Distinguishing who is really in need of an exorcism was also
a focal point of the Roman Catholic's new Exorcism Rite, which
was updated in 1999 for the first time since 1614. Although
the text remained largely unchanged, the Rite now warns exorcists
to rule out possible mental illness before performing an exorcism.
The rules say, ""The exorcist will decide [to perform
an exorcism] with prudence," only after consulting with
spiritual experts and "if considered opportune, with
experts in medical and psychiatric science."
Said Rev. Robert Barron, a Chicago archdiocese theologian
and spokesman on exorcisms, "It might be harmful to do
an exorcism prematurely. You always exhaust the medical, physiological,
psychological, psychiatric possibilities and only at the very
limit of that process would you entertain the possibility
of doing an exorcism."
Other new additions to the Rite include some new formulas
to read during an exorcism ritual along with a ban on media
coverage of exorcisms.
The devil may, in fact, be present if a person begins speaking
unknown languages, has an utter revulsion to holy symbols
such as a crucifix or baptismal oils, or displays super-human
Still, the components of an actual exorcism remain intact.
They include, according to the Rite:
Exorcism in Hollywood
Of course, here in the United States when you hear the term
"exorcism," your mind probably jumps to the original
movie and the image of the little girl's head spinning in
a 360-degree circle. If you want to see more of Hollywood's
version of exorcisms, or are looking for a little pre-Halloween
fun, check out these four movies to get your fill:
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