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Exorcism (from Late Latin exorcismus, from Greek exorkizein - to adjure) is the practice of evicting demons or other evil spiritual entities from a person or place which they are believed to have possessed (taken control of). The practice is quite ancient and part of the belief system of many religions.

The person performing the exorcism, known as an exorcist, is often a member of the clergy, or an individual thought to be graced with special powers or skills. The exorcist may use prayers, and religious material, such as set formulas, gestures, symbols, icons, amulets, etc.. The exorcist invokes God, Jesus and/or several different angels and archangels to intervene with the exorcism.

In general, possessed persons are not regarded as evil in themselves, nor wholly responsible for their actions. Therefore practitioners regard exorcism more as a cure than as a punishment. The mainstream rituals usually take this into account, making sure that there is no violence to the possessed, only that they be tied down if there is potential for violence

The concept of possession by evil spirits and the practice of exorcism are very ancient and were widespread, and may have originated in prehistoric Shamanistic beliefs.

The Christian New Testament includes exorcism among the miracles performed by Jesus. Because of this precedent, demonic possession was part of the belief system of Christianity since its beginning, and exorcism is still a recognized practice of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant sects. The Church of England also has an official exorcist in each diocese.
After the enlightenment, the practice of exorcism has diminished in its importance to most religious groups and its use has decreased, especially in western society. Generally, in the 20th century its use was found mainly in Eastern Europe and Africa, with some cases gaining media coverage; Anneliese Michel is perhaps the most recent of these. This is due mainly to the study of psychology and the functioning and structure of the human mind. Many of the cases that in the past which were candidates for exorcism are often explained to be the products of mental illness, and are handled as such.

However in 1973 the movie The Exorcist came out, and the idea of Exorcisms became thrust into the limelight. After its release a very large response came from the public in the United States and Europe, and belief in Demon Possession and Exorcisms found a place in contemporary society. Belief in the validity of the practice became less of a radical idea, and more widespread.

Roman Catholicism

The belief in Roman Catholicism is that unlike Baptism or Confession, Exorcism is one ritual that isn't a sacrament. Unlike a sacrament, exorcism's "integrity and efficacy do not depend ... on the rigid use of an unchanging formula or on the ordered sequence of prescribed actions. Its efficacy depends on two elements: authorization from valid and licit Church authorities, and the faith of the exorcist."That being said, Catholic Exorcism is still one of the most rigid and organized of all existing exorcism rituals. Solemn exorcisms, according to the Canon law of the church, can be exercised only by an ordained priest (or higher prelate), with the express permission of the local bishop, and only after a careful medical examination to exclude the possibility of mental illness. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) enjoined: "Superstition ought not to be confounded with religion, however much their history may be interwoven, nor magic, however white it may be, with a legitimate religious rite." Things listed in the Roman Ritual as being indicators of possible demonic possession include: speaking foreign or ancient languages of which the possessed has no prior knowledge; supernatural abilities and strength; knowledge of hidden or remote things which the possessed has no way of knowing, an aversion to anything holy, profuse blasphemy, or sacrilege.

The Catholic Church revised the Rite of Exorcism in January 1999, although the traditional Rite of Exorcism in Latin is allowed as an option. The act of exorcism is considered to be an incredibly dangerous spiritual task; the ritual assumes that possessed persons retain their free-will, though the demon may hold control over their physical body, and involves prayers, blessings, and invocations with the use of the document Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications. Other formulas may have been used in the past, such as the Benedictine Vade retro satana. In the modern era, the Catholic Church authorizes exorcism rarely, approaching would-be cases with the presumption that mental or physical illness is in play. In mild cases the Chaplet of Saint Michael should be used.


In 1974, the Church of England set up the "Deliverance Ministry". As part of its creation every diocese in the country was equipped a team trained in both exorcism and psychiatry. According to its representatives most cases brought before it have conventional explanations and actual exorcisms are quite rare, though sometimes blessings are given to people for psychological reasons.

In The Episcopal Church the Book of Occasional Services discusses provision for exorcism; but it does not indicate any specific rite, nor does it establish an office of "exorcist".Diocesan exorcists usually continue in their role when they have retired from all other church duties. Anglican priests may not perform an exorcism without permission from the Diocesan bishop. Is not usually performed unless the bishop and his team of specialists (including a psychiatrist and physician) have approved it.

Protestant denominations

Some Protestant denominations also recognize possession and exorcism, although the practice is generally less formalized than it is in the Catholic Church. The Methodist Church also has appointed people in place for use in such circumstances While some denominations perform exorcism very sparingly and cautiously, some may perform it almost routinely, as part of regular religious services (especially Pentecostal denominations).

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck researched exorcisms (initially in an effort to disprove demonic possession), and claims to have conducted two himself. He concluded that the Christian concept of possession was a genuine phenomenon. He derived diagnostic criteria somewhat different from those used by the Roman Catholic Church. He also claimed to see differences in exorcism procedures and progression. After his experiences and in an attempt to get his research validated he has attempted to get the psychiatric community to add the definition of "Evil" to the DSMIV


In the less formalized sections of Protestant denominations the ritual can take many forms and belief structures, especially in Charismatic movement. The most common of these is the Deliverance ceremony. This differs from the exorcism ceremony by the fact that the Devil may have gotten a foothold, into a persons life rather than gaining complete control if complete control has been gained a full fledged exorcism is necessary. However a "spirit filled Christian" can not be possessed based on their beliefs. Within this belief structure the reasons for the devil to get a foothold are usually explained to be some sort of deviation from theological doctrine or because of pre-conversion activities (like dealing with the occult)

The method for determining if a person needs a Deliverance is done by having someone present who has the gift of Discernments of Spirits. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit from Cor. 1:12 that allows a person to "sense" in some way an evil presence While the initial diagnosis is usually uncontested by the congregation, when many people are endowed with this gift in a single congregation results may vary.

Fr. Gabriele Amorth references these people calling them "seers and Sensitives" and uses them on many occasions. they have the ability to detect an evil presence. He notes however that "They are not always right: their "feelings" must be checked out." In his examples they are able to detect the events that caused the Demon to enter, or are able to discover the evil object that has cursed the individual. He notes that "they are always Humble."

Exorcism in Christianity


In Christianity, Exorcisms are performed using the "power of Christ" or "In the name of Jesus." This is founded in the belief that Jesus commanded his followers to expel evil spirits in his name(Matthew 10:1,Matthew 10:8; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:110:17),(Mark 16:17). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Exorcism: Jesus cast out demons as a sign of his Messiahship and empowered his disciples to do the same

The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Jesus stated that Jesus "was devoted especially to casting out demons" and also believed that he passed this on to his followers, however he was superior to them in the Exorcisms."
In the time of Jesus, non-New Testament Jewish sources report of exorcisms done by administering drugs with poisonous root extracts or other by making sacrifices. (Josephus, "B. J." vii. 6, § 3; Sanh. 65b). They do not report of Jesus being an exorcist, but do mention that exorcisms were done by the Essene branch of Judaism (Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran).

In kabbalah and European Jewish folklore (which does not believe in possession by demons), possession takes on a different (and often much more positive) context. A person may be possessed by a spirit called a dybbuk — which is believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person, returned from Gehenna (a Hebrew term for the in between world or purgatory that all spirits go to before entering heaven. It literally refers to the valley outside Jeruselem where the city's garbage and dead bodies were burned. The word later came to mean "the valley of dead", and became very loosely translated as "hell" by later Christian researchers). According to those beliefs, on rare occasions a soul which has not been able to fulfill its function in its lifetime is given another opportunity to do so in the form of a dybbuk. The soul then seeks out and "attaches" itself to a living person who is going through things or in a similar "life position" to what the soul was in during its lifetime.

It is believed there are good dybbuks and bad, with a good dybbuk's "attachment" performing more the role of a "spiritual guide" there to help the person through their current trials and tribulations that the soul was attracted to. These "good" possessions are usually referred to as a 'sod ha'ibbur.

In the case of a negative dybbuk, the spirit is not there to help as much as cause the same mistakes and chaos that it originally experienced during its own lifetime.

In the case of exorcism, there are generally two types - though both take on a much less negative confrontational manner than in the Christian context.

Briefly, the first involves a non-invasive approach (which generally is applied to the non-negative type of attachment but can be used in both) and involves treating the person and attached entity as a whole. Helping "him" to identify his goal or path in life (his true identity and purpose) and guiding them along it. In the case of a positive attachment, the spirit will leave when the "path" or purpose is significantly engrained and pursued. In the case of a negative, the pursuant of the "path" keeps it in check and eventually causes it to lose its connection (sometimes referred to as the "void" in the host) thereby forcing it to move on.

The second approach is a little more confrontational, but still far less than those commonly seen in Christian rites. It involves 10 people (including the rabbi) who surround the possessed individual. Each person (including the rabbi leading the ritual) represents the 10 kabbalistic sephirot. The rabbi that leads the ceremony also requires a shofar, which is interestingly used in a manner similar to the bell in Buddhist and other east Asian meditative practices. The group repeatedly recites Psalm 91 and then the rabbi proceeds to blow the shofar in a specific pattern. This "shocks" both the possessed and the possessor, causing a loosening between the two enabling the addressing of each individually. The rabbi then enters in to dialogue with the spirit to find its purpose, and the group proceeds to heal it through dialogue and prayer meant to have it feel it has accomplished its goal. This is also done for the possessed. As Rabbi Gershon Winkler puts it: "We don't drive anything out of anybody. What we want to do is to heal the soul that's possessing and heal the person. It's all about healing -- we do the ceremony on behalf of both people."

Beliefs and practices pertaining to the practice of exorcism are prominently connected with the ancient Dravidians in south. Of the four Vedas (holy books of the Hindus), the Atharva Veda is said to contain the secrets related to magic and medicine. Many of the spells described in this book are for casting out demons and evil spirits. These beliefs are particularly strong and practiced in West Bengal, Orissa and southern states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Basic means of exorcism are mantra and yajna used in both Vedic and Tantric traditions.

Vaishnava traditions also employ a recitation of names of Narasimha and reading scriptures (notably Bhagavata Purana) aloud. According to Gita Mahatmya of Padma Purana reading of 3rd, 7th and 8th chapter of Bhagavad Gita and mentally offering the result to departed persons helps them to get released from their ghostly situation. Kirtan, continuous playing of mantras, keeping scriptures and holy pictures (esp. of Narasimha) in the house, burning incense offered during a puja, sprinkling water of holy rivers and blowing conches used in puja are other effective practices.

Main Vedic resource on ghost- and death-related information is Garuda Purana.

Exorcism in Scientology

Scientology believes that foreign beings known as Body Thetans have clustered themselves around a person and cause them confusion. It is the goal of Scientology to remove these beings from a person.

On Scientology advanced level "OT3," "body thetans" are exorcised using a complicated technique. Body thetan exorcism, with a simpler technique, is revisited on advanced level "OT5," also known as "New Era Dianetics for Operating Thetans." after these levels (which are used to accomplish other goals as well, not just an "exorcism" for Body Thetans) you are supposed to be free from the BT's influence.

Exorcism in Islam

Possession by jinn or the Devil (Shaitan) and exorcism of those who are wicked at heart is warned about in Islam since its beginning.

It is believed that jinn can gain control only over those who do not hold true to God. According to Islamic scholars, "The Jinn enters the one seized by fits and causes him to speak incomprehensible words, unknown to himself; if the one seized by fits is struck a blow sufficient to kill a camel, he does not feel it." (ibn Taymiyyah, Majmoo al-Fatawa.)

Islamic clergy caution against the overuse of exorcism, citing that most cases are due to psychological and physical causes mistaken for possession. Real cases of possession are very rare and the faithful are warned to watch out for exorcists who encourage a diagnosis of possession too quickly, as they may merely be seeking profit.

Islamic authorities also deny the possibility of possession by souls of deceased persons, and warn that evil spirits may make this claim in order to encourage sinful behavior among the living.

Some cite this verse as proof against Muslims who deny the possibility of jinn possession.

There are also Sunnah (traditional statements that are not part of the Qur'an) about the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers expelling evil beings from the bodies of believers by using verses from the Qur'an and supplications to Allah.

On the nature of jinn

In Islamic belief, jinn are intelligent creatures. Much like human beings, they have free will to choose between right and wrong. While a jinni may possess a human for pure wickedness, it may also do it for other reasons. Shaikh al-Islam ibn Taymiyyah suggests that a jinni may do it in order to experience the physical world, for reasons of desire or love. In this case, a jinni may not have a malicious intent, or may be unaware of the harm it is causing. A jinni might also use possession for revenge. Jinn are said to be quick to anger, especially when they believe themselves to have been purposely harmed (since jinn are usually invisible to humans, a person can accidentally injure a jinni).

Notable exorcisms

Salvador Dali is reputed to have received an exorcism from Italian friar, Gabriele Maria Berardi, while he was in France in 1947.Dali created a sculpture of Christ on the cross which he gave the friar in thanks.

According to a New York Post article of 19 February 2002, John Paul II personally performed three exorcisms during his tenure as pope. The first exorcism was performed on a woman in 1982. His second was in September 2000 when he performed the rite on a 19-year-old woman who had become enraged in St Peter's Square. A year later, in September 2001, he performed an exorcism on a 20-year-old woman.

Anneliese Michel was a Catholic woman from Germany who was said to be possessed by six or more demons and subsequently underwent an exorcism in 1975. Two motion pictures, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Requiem are loosely based on Anneliese's story.

A boy identified by the pseudonym "Roland Doe" was the subject of an exorcism in 1949, which became the subject of The Exorcist, a horror novel and later film written by William Peter Blatty. Blatty heard about the case while he was a student in the class of 1950 at Georgetown University. The exorcism was partially performed in both Cottage City, Maryland and Bel-Nor, Missouri by Father William S. Bowdern, S.J. and a then Jesuit scholastic Fr. Walter Halloran, S.J.

If you've seen the 1973 movie "The Exorcist," you at least have some idea of what exorcism is about. It has to do with ridding a human being of diabolic possession, it's typically associated with Roman Catholic beliefs, and if the movie is any indication, it's very, very scary. You may remember with a shudder the teenage girl whose head spun around, her body in convulsions, her voice that of a demon spewing curses and obscenities while the battered priest of "The Exorcist" fought the devil to save her soul.

This Hollywood version of an exorcism is supposedly based on a real-life exorcism performed on a Maryland boy in 1949. Priests are still performing exorcisms today.

Is exorcism real, or are the subject and the exorcist unconsciously acting out roles from a popular movie? Are there other explanations for what some people call "possession"? In this article, we'll focus on the Roman Catholic exorcism rite because of its tremendous presence in popular culture thanks to "The Exorcist" and its successors. We'll learn why a priest might perform an exorcism, find out what the ritual involves, take a look at a real-life exorcism and discuss the controversy surrounding the practice.

What is Exorcism?
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines exorcism as "the act of driving out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, or things, which are believed to be possessed or infested by them, or are liable to become victims or instruments of their malice." In short, it is a ritual performed by a Catholic priest to expel the devil from a person, place or thing.

There are several types of exorcism in the Roman Catholic Church:

* Baptismal exorcism - blessing an infant prior to baptism to cleanse it of evil resulting from original sin
* Simple exorcism - blessing a place or thing to rid it of evil influence
* Real exorcism - performing the Rite of Exorcism to rid a human being of diabolical possession

A "real exorcism" is what most of us think of when we think of exorcism. In this case, the priest-exorcist is dealing with a human being who is possessed by the devil -- the devil is inhabiting this person's body.

According to the Church, telltale signs of demonic possession include [ref]:

* Speaking or understanding languages which the person has never learned (different from "speaking in tongues," which is considered a sign of religious ecstasy, not possession)
* Knowing (and revealing) things the person has no earthly way of knowing
* Physical strength beyond the person's natural physical makeup
* A violent aversion to God, the Virgin Mary, the cross and other images of Catholic faith

If you do a Google search for the word "exorcism," you'll find ads for exorcists -- Wanda Pratnicka, for example, has "30 years experience with 25,000 successfully performed exorcisms." This makes demonic possession seem like a pretty common occurrence. But to the Roman Catholic Church, it's rare: It only finds true demonic possession in about one out of every 5,000 reported cases [ref]. So what does it take for the Church to send in an exorcist?

Exorcism in Other Religions
Exorcism is not unique to Roman Catholicism. Other Christian sects, other religions and cultures around the world all have their own way of "casting out the devil." Here are just a few examples:

* Judaism: Jewish folklore and Kabbalah teachings tell of a malevolent spirit called a dybbuk. This spirit is the soul of a dead person that has come back to address unfinished business, and it inhabits the body of a living person in order to carry out its goals. The dybbuk can be expelled through a rite of exorcism and leaves the body through the toe.

* Islam: Islamic belief tells of a jinn -- an evil spirit and servant of Satan -- that can invade the human body and cause illness, pain, torment and evil thoughts. This jinn can be expelled by the possessed person by reciting particular passages of the Qur'an.

* Hinduism: In Hinduism, the Vedas scriptures tell of an evil spirit that can not only harm humans, but can also stand in the way of the will of the gods. A traditional Hindu exorcism includes such rituals as burning pig excrement, reciting prayers and offering sweets to the Gods.

The Investigation: Possessed?
At the Highest Levels
In "My Six Popes," Cardinal Jacques Martin reports that Pope John Paul II performed an exorcism on a woman in 1982. There are also reports that Mother Teresa underwent an exorcism shortly before her death in 1997 because the Archbishop of Calcutta believed she was being assaulted by the devil.
When someone reports a possible case of possession to the Church, an investigation begins. Father Benedict Groeschel, a Franciscan priest who holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University, was the man the Archdiocese of New York called on to investigate cases of apparent possession that landed on its desk in the '70s and '80s. In "American Exorcism," he describes his experience this way (Cuneo 22):

... when cases were referred to me I usually sought the help of a laywoman in the archdiocese who possessed a gift for discerning spirits. In her view, and also mine, none of the people I brought to her were victims of possession; none of them, in other words, were in need of formal exorcism. But that doesn't mean they weren't being afflicted or oppressed in various ways by demonic presences. Demonic oppression is much less serious than full-scale possession, and it can usually be dealt with by what we refer to as a simple prayer of deliverance.

A typical investigation is essentially a process of elimination: Does the subject exhibit the telltale signs of demonic possession? Is there any other way to explain the subject's behavior besides demonic possession?

Often, the priest will consult a psychiatrist in his investigation in order to determine whether the "possessed" person's symptoms can be fully explained by mental illness. According to Michael Cuneo's "American Exorcism," there are about a dozen psychiatrists in the United States who evaluate potentially possessed subjects for the Catholic Church. The subject will also undergo a medical examination to find out if the symptoms can be attributed to a physical disorder or illness. The priest may consult a Church-approved expert on the paranormal for additional input. Another possibility the investigator must consider is plain old fraud.

If the priest is convinced of the validity of the possession and that an exorcism is the appropriate way to help this person, he will report back to his supervisor (in most cases, the diocesan bishop) that an exorcism is in order. The Church may then decide to sanction an official exorcism and appoint an exorcist to the case.

Long History
Possession and exorcism date back to ancient times, possibly beginning with early shamanistic beliefs in which spirits of the dead could do harm to the living. Shamans would enter a trance state to find the troublemaking soul and discover from it the way to end the victim's pain. In ancient Egyptian and Babylonian cultures, illnesses and other afflictions were regularly attributed to evil spirits that invaded the human body, and priest-healers carried out intricate ceremonies to cause the evil spirits to leave.

he Exorcist
Exorcism in the Movies

* The Exorcist (1973)
* The Amityville Horror (1979)
* Poltergeist (1982)
* Repossessed (1990)
* Stigmata (1999)
* Lost Souls (2000)
* The Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
* The Amityville Horror (2005)
* The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

If the Church decides it has a truly possessed individual on its hands -- one that requires an exorcism -- the next step is to appoint an exorcist to the case. This is often the same priest who performed the investigation, but not always.

Casting out the devil is not part of a typical priest's daily duties. Most priests have never performed an exorcism. But some have.

Official numbers are hard to come by, but "American Exorcism" reports that in 1996, the Catholic Church appointed 10 priests to the position of exorcist in the United States, bringing the total number to 11. Cuneo estimates the worldwide number at somewhere between 150 and 300, while other reports claim there are 300 to 400 official exorcists in Italy alone [ref]. There are also priests who are not official exorcists but claim to have permission from their local bishop to perform exorcisms at their discretion. The exorcism ritual has made a big comeback from being nearly extinct throughout most of the 20th century.

Traditionally, Catholic exorcists undergo very little specific training to aid them in their job. While they learn a great deal about the devil and the risks and manifestations of evil, exorcism itself is not a specialized area of study in seminary school. What they know, they know from their experience in the role of priest and from the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism, which is the official document detailing the prayers and steps of an exorcism. Things are starting to change, though. Official exorcists of the Catholic Church formed their own organization in 1992. The International Association of Exorcists holds biannual meetings in Rome and sends out a quarterly newsletter to its members. In the newsletter, exorcists tell of particularly difficult or interesting cases and swap "tricks of the trade" (Cuneo, 266). In addition, in 2005, Rome's Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Academy (a university connected to the Vatican) started offering a class on exorcism.

Once the Church appoints one of its official exorcists to perform the ritual, the next step is to get the devil to leave the person's body.

The Exorcism
I Believe!
A 2005 Gallup poll reports that 42 percent of people in the United States believe in the possibility of diabolical possession [ref].
In January 1999, the Vatican issued a revised exorcism rite to be used by Catholic priests. The directions for conducting an exorcism comprise a single section in the Roman Ritual (Rituale Romanum), one of the books describing the official rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Prior to 1999, the official exorcism rite dated back to 1614.

To perform the rite, the exorcist dresses in his surplice and purple stole. The ritual of exorcism is mostly a series of prayers, statements and appeals. These prayers are loosely broken down into the "imploring formula," in which the priest asks God to free the subject from the devil ("God, whose nature is ever merciful and forgiving, accept our prayer that this servant of yours, bound by the fetters of sin, may be pardoned by your loving kindness"), and the "imperative formula," in which the priest demands in the name of God that the devil leave the subject's body ("Depart, then, impious one, depart, accursed one, depart with all your deceits, for God has willed that man should be His temple"). To read the entire 1999 revised rite, see Catholic Doors Ministry: 1999 Rite of Exorcism.

n addition to these recitations, the priest takes certain actions at particular times during the rite: He sprinkles holy water on everyone in the room, lays his hands on the subject, makes the sign of the cross both on himself and on the subject and touches the subject with a Catholic relic (usually an object associated with a saint).

Malachi Martin, a former Jesuit priest and self-proclaimed (but not official) exorcist, offers additional information on exorcism -- information not endorsed by the Church. A controversial figure in the Catholic world, Martin reveals in the book "Hostage to the Devil" what he considers to be the typical stages of an exorcism (Cuneo 19-20):

1. Pretense - The demon is hiding its true identity.
2. Breakpoint - The demon reveals itself.
3. Clash - The exorcist and the demon fight for the soul of the possessed.
4. Expulsion - If the exorcist wins the battle, the demon leaves the body of the possessed.

"Hostage to the Devil" created quite a stir in the Church. The book details supposedly factual exorcisms that Martin claims to have performed, assisted with or witnessed. The exorcisms Martin describes are on the level with "The Exorcism" in terms of action and violence. It has been criticized by believers, who think Martin has sensationalized and therefore belittled the power of the devil. But if Martin's vivid scenes don't ring true to the Church and its supporters, what does a real exorcism look like?

A Real-life Exorcism
Free Will
According to Cardinal Medina, "[Possession] has sensational features, in which the devil in a certain way takes over the physical powers of the possessed person. However, the devil cannot control the subject's free will and thus cannot cause him to sin. Still, the physical violence the devil exerts over the [possessed] person is an inducement to sin and this is what he seeks" [ref].
In researching "American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty," Michael Cuneo, a sociology professor at Fordham University, attends all sorts of exorcisms. One official, Church-sanctioned exorcism that Cuneo sat in on involved a man he calls Warren (the possessed) and a priest-exorcist he calls Father Peter. Warren's life is painful to him -- he is a heavy drinker, regularly has sex with people he has just met and is generally depressed. He has recently begun to hear voices, see things and feel an "unbearable pressure" on his body at night. In short, Warren is tormented. His local pastor contacted Father Peter's supervisor, and with the agreement of a psychiatrist, they arranged an exorcism. The following details of a real-life, official exorcism are taken from "American Exorcism" (243-245). While Cuneo does not provide a date, this exorcism most likely took place before the 1999 revisions to the rite.

In the basement of an unremarkable building in the Midwest, Father Peter, in his surplice and purple stole, stands directly in front of Warren, who sits in a chair with his head bowed and his fists clenched. Cuneo sits off to the side. Father Peter begins the ritual:

"All-powerful God, pardon all the sins of your unworthy servant. Give me constant faith and power so that, armed with the power of Your holy strength, I can attack this cruel evil spirit in confidence and security..."

While speaking these initial words, the priest sprinkles Warren, Michael Cuneo and himself with holy water.

Father Peter moves closer to Warren, makes the sign of the cross and lays his palm on Warren's forehead. Warren sits perfectly still while Father Peter recites the prayers of the exorcism ritual. Father Peter appeals to Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints to aid him in his endeavor to save Warren's soul. Warren remains silent.

"I exorcise you, Most Unclean Spirit! All Spirits! Every one of you! In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Be uprooted and expelled from this Creature of God..."

Father Peter makes the sign of the cross on Warren's forehead, presses a relic against his chest and ultimately finishes the exorcism with:

"Go away, Seducer! The desert is your home. The serpent is your dwelling. Be humiliated and cast down. For even though you have deceived men, you cannot make a mockery of God ... He has prepared Hell for you and your angels."

Father Peter then leads Warren in a few closing prayers and additional readings. He asks Warren how he feels. Cuneo relays Warren's answer: "Peaceful, Warren said, but also a bit confused. He thought he'd felt something leaving him during the exorcism, but he wasn't sure."

It's not exactly "The Exorcist," but then, that's a pretty tough act to follow. Was Warren possessed? Did Father Peter get the devil to leave Warren's body? There are those who believe, and there are those who don't. But no one got hurt, and it may just be that Warren is better off having undergone the exorcism. So some might wonder, what's the problem?
The Controversy
Before Blaming
the Devil
Sources report that the motto of Father Pater Davide, official exorcist of the Vatican, is "seek fault in yourself" [ref].
The battle surrounding exorcisms exists mainly on two related fronts: the huge "exorcism for profit" ministries that have sprung up in the last couple of decades; and the "psychology vs. religion" debate that sprang up with the advent of psychiatry in the 1800s.

Exorcism for Profit
As soon as money enters the picture, the skeptics are going to win some ground. The rise of money-making "exorcism ministries" around the world leads many people who might otherwise reserve judgment to outright reject the validity of the Catholic view of possession and exorcism, even though the exorcisms performed by these unofficial exorcists are not in any way connected to the Catholic Church.

A particularly popular exorcism ministry in the United States, Bob Larson Ministries, televises its weekly conferences. In these mass exorcisms, for which large groups can receive a "family rate" on tickets, Mr. Larson exorcises the demons of an auditorium full of people. Financial donations on top of the ticket price are not required for his services, but they are welcome.

There are always people who will point to profit as evidence of an ulterior motive, especially when you mix profit with the paranormal.

Psychology vs. Religion
Where one person sees possession and pulls out his rite of exorcism, another sees mental illness and pulls out the DSM IV. This is probably the greatest debate surrounding the practice of exorcism: there may be earthly explanations for behavior the Church considers evidence of diabolical possession.

Several psychological disorders, including Tourette syndrome and schizophrenia, can produce the types of effects seen in "possessed" people. People with epilepsy can suddenly go into convulsions when having a seizure; Tourette syndrome causes involuntary movements and vocal outbursts; schizophrenia involves auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia, delusions and sometimes violent behavior. Psychological issues like low self-esteem and narcissism can cause a person to act out the role of "possessed person" in order to gain attention. In a case where the subject is in fact suffering from mental illness, the Church is doing harm by labeling the person possessed if this prevents the person from seeking out the medical treatment he or she requires.

Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, introducing the New Rite for Exorcisms to the press in 1999, responds to the conflict this way [ref]:

... exorcism is one thing, and psychoanalysis is another. If the exorcist has any doubt about the mental health of the possessed, he should consult an expert ... It often happens that simple people confuse somatic problems with diabolical influence, but not everything can be attributed to the devil.

The ultimate question remains, "Does exorcism help people or harm people?" It is difficult to come by documentation of any outcomes of official Roman Catholic exorcisms, harmful or beneficial. This is by design: According to the official rite, exorcisms are supposed to be low-key -- not necessarily secret, but not performed in public or in front of press representatives -- so that the ritual does not become a "show." Results are not to be published, whether the exorcism is a success or a failure.

There is considerable documentation, however, of the harmful outcomes of exorcisms performed outside the Catholic Church. One widely reported incident took place in June 2005 in Tanacu, Romania. A priest and several nuns in a Romanian Orthodox convent believed that Maricia Irina Cornici, a 23-year-old nun who lived in the convent, was possessed. So they carried out an exorcism ritual: They tied her to a cross, pushed a towel into her mouth and left her alone without food and water. The intent was to drive out the demon inhabiting her body. Cornici died after three days. Officials believe the young woman had schizophrenia.