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The Pope and the Devil

Is Pope Francis an exorcist? This is the question many are asking after Francis blessed a man in a wheelchair after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. While the pope put his hands on the man’s head and prayed over him, the man heaved deeply, shook, then slumped in his chair.

Exorcists who were surveyed by the television station of the Italian bishops’ conference said there is “no doubt” that the pope either performed an exorcism or a prayer to free the man from Satan.

The Vatican said Francis “didn’t intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone who was suffering who was presented to him.”

News reports have focused on Francis’ apparent interest in demonic activity. This is from the AP:

Fueling the speculation is Francis’ obsession with Satan, a frequent subject of his homilies, and an apparent surge in demand for exorcisms among the faithful despite the irreverent treatment the rite often receives from Hollywood.

Who can forget the green vomit and the spinning head of the possessed girl in the 1973 cult classic “The Exorcist”?

In his very first homily as pope on March 14, Francis warned cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel the day after he was elected that “he who doesn’t pray to the Lord prays to the devil.”

He has since mentioned the devil on a handful of occasions, most recently in a May 4 homily when in his morning Mass in the Vatican hotel chapel he spoke of the need for dialogue — except with Satan.

“With the prince of this world you can’t have dialogue: Let this be clear!” he warned.

Experts said Francis’ frequent invocation of the devil is a reflection both of his Jesuit spirituality and his Latin American roots, as well as a reflection of a Catholic Church weakened by secularization.

“The devil’s influence and presence in the world seems to fluctuate in quantity inversely proportionate to the presence of Christian faith,” said the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University. “So, one would expect an upswing in his malicious activity in the wake of de-Christianization and secularization” in the world and a surge in things like drug use, pornography and superstition.

In recent years, Rome’s pontifical universities have hosted several courses for would-be exorcists on the rite, updated in 1998 and contained in a little red leather-bound booklet. The rite is relatively brief, consisting of blessings with holy water, prayers and an interrogation of the devil in which the exorcist demands to know the devil’s name and when it will leave the possessed person.

Only a priest authorized by a bishop can perform an exorcism, and canon law specifies that the exorcist must be “endowed with piety, knowledge, prudence and integrity of life.”

While belief in the devil is consistent with church teaching, the Holy See does urge prudence, particularly to ensure that the afflicted person isn’t merely psychologically ill.

The Rev. Giulio Maspero, a Rome-based systematic theologian who has witnessed or participated in more than a dozen exorcisms, says he’s fairly certain that Francis’ prayer on Sunday was either a full-fledged exorcism or a more simple prayer to “liberate” the young man from demonic possession.

So, what do you think? Was Francis performing an exorcism? Do you even believe in exorcisms? Do you agree with the 70 percent of Americans who believe in the devil? Or are you a skeptic who chalks this up to medieval superstition?

  1. Byron Horatio

    Humans are evil enough without intercession from any princes of darkness.  For what mischief Satan did in the Bible, surely he would blush and resign at how mankind has surpassed anything in his imagination. 

  2. Nanda Panjandrum

    Doesn’t the secular press have anything better to do than dig up William Peter Blatty? Sheesh!  (I guess this answers DocJay’s earlier question: the pope is – apparently – an exorcist.)

  3. doc molloy

    No. I saw the movie and it was nothing like that.. The pope said a prayer for the man to release him from his suffering. A little bit of assurance is a powerful thing.

    Hebrews 10:20

    Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty  conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

  4. Old Buckeye

    There’s a whole rite for exorcism that is a lot more involved than placing hands on someone’s head, so whatever he did wasn’t an exorcism in the technical sense.

  5. Measure for Measure

    Even the first Pope Peter’s shadow was enough to heal the sick (so I have to disagree with Old Buckeye). And, contra doc molloy, that sure didn’t look like “a little bit of assurance” to me.  And, Byron, the question isn’t whether man can do enough evil on their own but whether the Devil works through men. It sure looks like an exorcism to me. And, I think it’s interesting that the Vatican downplayed it, but did not deny it.

  6. doc molloy

    Jesus and his apostles healed through laying on of hands. (Matt. 9:18; Mark 5:23, 6:5, 8:22-25; Luke 4:40, 13:13; Acts 28… etc etc etc

  7. Old Buckeye

    I believe he might have healed the guy, but I don’t think he placed his hands on him thinking “this guy’s possessed and I’ll call out the demon.”  Since he was in a wheelchair, wouldn’t it make more sense that he’d just pray for healing, not exorcism?

  8. KC Mulville

    It’s not that big a deal. 

    As some of you might know, the Catholic church has the sacrament of Orders. The holy orders are bishop, priest, and deacon.

    But there are other orders, most notably the four minor orders, that of acolyte, exorcist, lector, and porter. If you don’t know the names, they basically translate into the modern world as “altar server,” -exorcist-, “reader,” and what we now call “ushers.”

    In the early days of the church, they were much more important than they are now. For instance, our mass has two combined services, the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. If you weren’t baptized, you weren’t allowed to attend the liturgy of the Eucharist … and so, someone had to throw you out. That was the porter’s job, i.e., the doorkeeper. Back then, it was a big job; you had to know everyone in the community. 

    When I was in the Jesuits, I received the minor ones. Yes, I was an exorcist.

    The movie made exorcism a big deal (it featured Jesuits, of course). But it really isn’t a big deal. Reality is more than the movie.

  9. Scott Wilmot

    I find it refreshing that Pope Francis preaches on Satan and evil. And I find it lovely that he takes time personally to bless and pray over people in his public appearances. He is fulfilling his mission to lead us to Christ.

    If it was an exorcism and the young man was liberated from evil – thanks be to God.

  10. KC Mulville

    By the way, we used to laugh; why didn’t anyone make a movie out of being lector, or porter, or altar boy? 

  11. Fricosis Guy

    It is a bigger deal that that, though. Let’s not confuse the minor order with the sacramental itself and who is allowed to perform it.

    Many dioceses now have again appointed priests to the function of Exorcist. This happened only after JP II and Benedict reaffirmed the necessity of the practice.

    BTW, it isn’t just a Roman Catholic practice, of course. A LCMS pastor has a forthcoming book on exorcisms in Africa which have been performed by the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Madagascar).

    KC Mulville: It’s not that big a deal. 

    As some of you might know, the Catholic church has the sacrament of Orders. The holy orders are bishop, priest, and deacon.

    But there are other orders, most notably the four minor orders, that of acolyte, exorcist, lector, and porter. . 

    When I was in the Jesuits, I received the minor ones. Yes, I was an exorcist.

  12. Stephen Hall
    Umbra Fractus: I don’t believe in possession. Satan is more subtle than that. · 9 hours ago

    Satan is as (un)subtle as he needs to be in the circumstances confronting him.

  13. Western Chauvinist

    I’ve had several experiences since roughly 2007 (election 2008) that make me believe in demon possession. Ahem. Even the devil quotes Sacred Scripture, although usually out of context and in some way disordered.

    Seriously, has anyone made it to the age of 50 without running into someone you felt was possessed by evil? I’ve had an up-close experience of mundane, but obviously disordered demon-like possession (I’m not claiming the charism of discernment of spirits; I have no intention of messing with this stuff.)  And once, literally, I experienced a drive-by encounter with someone I thought was demon possessed (a face and expression not entirely human).

    There’s a powerful story of a missionary priest in Vietnam(?) who exorcised an illiterate little peasant girl able to speak to him in Latin and several other languages. If someone else knows the story, please tell it. I won’t do it justice.

    As to Pope Francis? I take him at his word. One of the things I heartily approve of about our new pope is that he speaks frequently of evil and Satan. Denial of evil is one of the relativistic West’s (Left’s) worst features.

  14. Fake John Galt

    I think the altar boy one will be coming soon.

  15. Pseudodionysius

    In a few weeks I will be reading a book that Pope Francis has read: Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson. I recommend the Baronius Press edition:

    Lord of the World was described by no less an authority than Fulton Sheen as one of the three greatest depictions of the advent of the demonic in modern literature – the others being The Brothers Karamazov and Solovyov’s Three Coversations. In some respects Lord of the World represents a departure for Benson, whose religious novels are almost evenly divided between historical and contemporary studies: Lord of the World is a futuristic fantasy—but it is science fiction with a twist, for it is about the coming of Antichrist.

    The novel is set in the twenty-first century, mostly in England. The West has succumbed to a sort of international socialism. The forces of secular materialism, relativism and state control are everywhere triumphant. ….Euthanasia has become an instrument of the state, Esperanto the universal second language. Nevertheless, although organised religion has largely collapsed in the face of institutional secularism, a vague, humanistic religiosity—militantly hostile to the exclusive and supernatural claims of the Church—is everywhere present.

    Nothing to see here.

  16. Skyler

    The man said he didn’t.  Why wouldn’t you believe him?  It’s not like the Pope wouldn’t believe in exorcism.

  17. Western Chauvinist

    deleted double post…. ooooeeeeeooooo

  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Evil has an eerie tendency to take on a life of its own, and Satan personifies this.

    My favorite description of Satan is that he’s God’s prosecuting attorney, but drunk with power, he entraps as well as prosecutes. Anyone who’s had to deal with out-of-control prosecutors can appreciate their Satanic qualities.

    I guess that makes Satan the cosmic equivalent  of Eliot Spitzer.

  19. KC Mulville
    Denise McAllister: 

    “With the prince of this world you can’t have dialogue: Let this be clear!” he warned.

    Experts said Francis’ frequent invocation of the devil is a reflection both of his Jesuit spirituality and his Latin American roots, as well as a reflection of a Catholic Church weakened by secularization.

    I will testify to the idea that the notion of the Evil One and the prince of this world is part of Jesuit spirituality.

    I just went through a book by the great theologian Karl Rahner reflecting on St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises (called, of all things, Spiritual Exercises.) It’s a book I recommend; I’ve read it a handful of times, and each time, I discover something new and useful.

    Throughout Ignatius’ Exercises, The Enemy plays an important role. So much of Ignatian spirituality is based on the believer’s role in the world, and the world’s role in the believer’s soul. That’s a highly dynamic relationship, and the devil’s role in trying to unravel that dynamic is worth reflection.

    [Note: Francois Guy's comment in #11 is much appreciated.]

  20. Basil Fawlty
    Joe Escalante

    With respect to Hollywood, I think they have treated the rite with respect. Green puke shows how tough it is to go through spiritual battles like this. It’s the news media that treats the rite poorly. They sensationalize rogue exorcisms that go bad. · 10 hours ago

    Agreed.  The Exorcist may have been many things, but “irreverent” wasn’t one of them.