Exorcism Thriving in U.S., Say Experts

The devil must be busier than ever in the new millennium.

Exorcism, the ancient rite of casting out Satan and his demons from the souls of the possessed, is thriving in America and was long before recent revelations that Mother Teresa underwent one and Pope John Paul II performed them.

"It is a big phenomenon," J. Gordon Melton, a Methodist minister who directs the Institute for the Study of American Religion, says of exorcisms in the United States.

"There is a lot of exorcism going on."

What many might consider an archaic and obscure rite has been front-page news this year.

Last week, the Archbishop of Calcutta, Henry Sebastian D'Souza, announced that he ordered an exorcism performed on Mother Teresa before she died in 1997.

D'Souza said he thought the Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun possibly was being attacked by the devil, and asked a priest to exorcise it.

Mother Teresa is not the only prominent Catholic figure linked to exorcism.

Italian media reported that Pope John Paul II attempted to exorcise evil spirits from a 19-year-old Italian woman last year, although the Vatican said he only blessed her.

The Roman Catholic Church's chief exorcist said the woman displayed superhuman strength, and that the pope's efforts did not rid her of the hostile spirit.

Closer to home, exorcism is increasingly widespread, experts say.

Different Denominations, Hundreds of Exorcists

"Exorcism is more readily available today in the United States than perhaps ever before," writes Michael Cuneo, a sociologist at Fordham University, in his newly published book, American Exorcism.

Cuneo suggests that though the hit book and movie The Exorcist brought the subject national attention in the 1970s, exorcism has grown more popular in the past two decades.

The Catholic Church has at least 10 official exorcists around the United States, nine more than a decade ago, Cuneo says. He found them reporting the kind of bizarre supernatural behavior featured in movies: levitation, mysterious scars and wounds that might form pictures or spell out hateful words, and more.

The church remains extremely cautious in approving the procedure. The vast majority of exorcisms today are performed by a variety of protestant religions, Cuneo and other experts say.

"By conservative estimates, there are at least five or six hundred evangelical exorcism ministries in operation today, and quite possibly two or three times this many," he writes, in addition to numerous exorcisms performed by charismatic, Pentecostal and other brands of Christianity.

From Screams and Vomit to Quiet Prayer

Some involve tying people to chairs and then trying to scream the demons out of them; others retch and curse while writhing on the floor. Some are more like therapy sessions, where counselor-exorcists discuss demons of lust and guilt along with traditional mental health concerns.

Roman Catholic exorcisms are elaborate, carefully planned rituals that take hours to complete. They can involve holy water, crucifixes, and sacred ruins, as laid out by the De Exorcismus et supplicationibus quibusdam, an updated exorcism manual approved by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

"There's an actual formula," says Father Joseph Scerbo, a Roman Catholic priest who heads the Association of Christian Therapists. Scerbo says actual demonic possession is extremely rare, and many may use the term incorrectly to apply to demonic affliction, which is less serious.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Salvager Eric Schmitt was combing through the wreckage of a convoy of Spanish ships that sank off the coast of Florida in 1715 when he discovered a missing piece from a gold Pyx.
Courtesy 1715 Fleet - Queens Jewels, LLC
Lisa Kudrow
Seth Poppel/Yearbook Library | Getty Images
PHOTO: In this April 26, 2013 photo, a large home intended for the family of Warren Jeffs is seen in Hildale, Utah.
Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune/AP
PHOTO: Zac Efron seen at BBC Radio One, April 24, 2014, in London.
Neil P. Mockford/GC Images/Getty Images