In the July 8 issue of ‘Catholic San Francisco’ (hey, last one out, turn off the lights) covered the 2009 book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, by Matt Baglio. The Rite, describes the training and practice of San Francisco-born Father Gary Thomas, a contemporary Bay Area exorcist. In 2005, Father Thomas was sent by San Jose Bishop Patrick McGrath to study in Rome under master exorcist Capuchin Father Carmine De Filippis. Father Thomas observed 80 exorcisms as Fr. De Filippis apprentice. I can’t recommend the book enough, as it really sets the Rite in a contemporary understanding, and dispels a lot of the nonsense that most folks have about what it is, and what it is not. It also opens the door onto the a plane of spiritual combat that we often disregard as stories meant to scare us into being good. Father Gary started off as a skeptic in the whole idea of the melodramatic battle for our souls. What he saw turned him into an exoricst-evangelist.
From the Catholic San Francisco, article: “What sets exorcists apart from priests who are skeptical of the ministry may be their biblical belief in the physical reality of evil and the power of prayer and the sacraments to vanquish it.”
The skeptical attitude is not unique to the United States. On July 15, 2009, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, archbishop of Mexico City, addressed a conference of exorcists. The cardinal warned that the existence of the devil must be taken as fact, without either exaggerating or minimizing his actions out of skepticism or credulity taken to the extreme.
Since his return to the United States, Father Thomas has prayed the rite in five cases, two of which are ongoing. Before the Church will authorize an exorcism, there is a period of discernment, where other possible causes of the victim’s suffering must be excluded. Father Thomas’ team includes a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a physician, as well as a second priest. After the period of discernment, says another trained exorcist, Father Tom Euteneuer of Human Life International, “A report is made to the diocese, and then the bishop must authorize a solemn exorcism.”
Both priests agree that for demonic possession to take place “a door must be opened.” This opening can be involuntary. Such doors include the use of ouija boards and other occult practices. Both also agree that abuse, violence, and the use of pornography can cause spiritual wounds through which something other than the physical can enter. Father Thomas says:
“People think that Ouija boards are harmless. They are not, because what people do is they begin tapping into a realm that’s beyond science, that’s beyond the physical nature of human existence.”
For Father Euteneuer, some consequences are apparent. He considers a demonic presence in the abortion industry to be obvious.
“Abortion is a demonic industry,” he told the Philadelphia Bulletin. “Abortion is blood sacrifice of innocent blood to the devil. The clinics are like temples, the doctors are like priests, the medical table is like their altar. It’s a ritualized sacrifice. They have a dogma called choice, a hierarchy called Planned Parenthood, and guardian angels in the form of police guards that will arrest you if you try to stop them.”
Both priests caution against pop-cultural misunderstandings of the rite. “The devil doesn’t have the power you see in the movies,” Father Euteneuer says. “He cannot hold onto a state of possession for a given length of time. The movies glorify his power. They do a good job in showing the priest coming to care for these people, but the priest carefully binds that devil, and he is a prisoner in that person.”
Father Thomas says: “I’m always telling people if you have a prayer life and you are in close to the Lord, you have nothing to worry about. That doesn’t mean there are not other levels of temptations.”
“Exorcism is a pastoral ministry of the Church, and it’s an important ministry,” said Fr. Euteneuer. “But confession is a much more important ministry, because it pulls out the sins which are the conditions for a possession.”