Pope Francis stripped holy orders from nine monks in Ukraine, following reports that they had engaged in unapproved exorcisms and listened to a “prophetess.”
Investigators found monks violating monastic discipline and performing exorcism prayers without authorization at monasteries in Kolodiivka and Velyki Borky. Some of the monks did not follow the rules and were guided by the orders of a so-called “prophetess.”
“The priest who wants to do this should get the special permit, blessing from the local bishop. But they did not heed the comments,” Teodor Martynyuk, bishop-assistant of the Ternopil-Zborowski archdiocese, claimed after an investigation last year, Ukraine’s 112.ua news agency reported.
The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) reported the dismissals on Tuesday, but Pope Francis chose to defrock the priests last month. The church reported that the defrocked former monks are “illegally staying in the village of Posich, Ivano-Frankivsk region.”
Pope Francis’ decrees stripped the monks from the monastic state, forbade them to wear monastic clothes, and struck down the rights and duties from their monastic vows. They can no longer refer to themselves as monks. The monks also lost their fraternal names.
Father monks Antony-Gregory (born Roman Planchak) and Andrij (Mykola Kostevsky) also lost the rights to conduct any religious rites. These former monastic leaders could previously serve the Divine Liturgy, administer the Holy Mysteries, and perform other services inside or outside the temple, including prayers for the sick, exorcisms, or other practices. All of these privileges have been stricken from them.
Many of the unapproved practices — like reading exorcism prayers without permission — seem to have originated from a self-proclaimed “prophetess.”
“The people started to talk about Sister Maria Baran from the monastery in Velkyi Borky in 2004,” church leaders explained. “She seemed to hear the voice of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Sacred Virgin Mary, and some saints. Some of the messages were written down by Father Planchak. The priest confirmed their veracity and origin from God but did not have the authorities for this as the Synod of UGCC officially claimed.”
The church ordered a re-organization of the monastery thanks to the commission’s conclusions. Some of the monks refused to obey, however. They continued to violate monastic rules and illegally settled elsewhere.
“After the proper warnings, nine monks were defrocked,” a statement read. “Pope personally approved this decision.”
While the Roman Catholic Church is reportedly struggling with a high unmet demand for exorcism, the authorities have strict rules around the practice.
Last month, Sicilian Friar Beningo Palilla told Vatican Radio that there are roughly 500,000 cases requiring exorcism in Italy each year. He called for an across-the-board improvement in training, and even suggested a period of apprenticeship.
The Catholic Church’s canon law recognizes exorcism, but only when performed with high-level permission from within the church. In 2014, the Vatican backed the International Association of Exorcists, which was founded in 1990 and has licensed about 200 members on six continents.
The Vatican will launch a weeklong international course in April at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum.
Strict adherence to rules on exorcism can be extremely important. Some amateur attempts at exorcism have resulted in torture and death. The Catholic Church warns that medical explanations should be exhausted before proceeding to an exorcism. Rev. Andrew Menke, executive director of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, quoted the introduction to the rite of Exorcism in a statement to PJ Media.
“In the case of some intervention that is said to be demonic, the Exorcist should above all use the utmost circumspection and prudence as a matter of necessity,” he quoted. “First of all, he should not too easily believe that someone is possessed by a demon, when the person may be laboring under some illness, especially of a psychological nature.”
“Catholic Priests who are deputed to be exorcists regularly work with doctors and psychologists in the evaluation of the situations they encounter,” Menke concluded.
Following the official rules for exorcism is extremely important, and Pope Francis’ decision to defrock these monks makes abundant sense in this context.