Roughly 200 would-be exorcists arrived in Rome on Monday for a week-long course on casting out demons, and one teacher even gave advice about performing an exorcism over the phone.
The week-long training will feature lectures and talks on a range of topics, from witchcraft in Africa, to tips on discerning between demon possession and mental illness, to exorcism by cellphone.
“They call me and we speak and that’s how I do it,” 89-year-old Cardinal Ernest Simoni of Albania, a cellphone exorcist, told Reuters after he led the first session. Simoni explained that, after taking care of the preliminaries, he would launch into the lengthy Latin rite over the cellphone, casting out demons remotely. Simoni explained that this kind of wireless exorcism, following the text of the rite over the cellphone as if it were being done in person, worked over the airwaves.
While the Roman Catholic Church has not kept official numbers of exorcisms — over the cellphone or otherwise — officials say the number of demonic possessions is on the rise.
“The number of exorcisms has definitely increased over the years, as the requests to carry out exorcisms has increased,” Professor Giuseppe Ferrari told Reuters. Ferrari organizes the “Course on Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation” at the Vatican-approved Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University in Rome.
Ferrari defended the course, saying it “prepares the priests who carry out exorcisms to have a complete vision, a multi-disciplined view of the situation.”
Father Benigno Palilla, an exorcist in Palermo, Italy, reported in February that he had performed about 50 exorcisms in the past two-and-a-half years. He said the demand for the practice in Italy alone reached 500,000 each year.
Teachers at the Vatican training summit will include theologians, psychologists, medical doctors, criminologists, Church historians, and licensed exorcists. Students, including several dozen women, will receive a certificate, but that would not entitle them to perform the rite of exorcism.
Only ordained Roman Catholics — men who have taken the sacrament of Holy Orders — can perform an exorcism, although lay Catholics, including women, can assist. These helpers, who take the course for “auxiliary exorcists,” can be present at the rite, pray, and give moral support to the priest who casts out the demon.
The Roman Catholic Church has stringent rules on when to carry out an exorcism. Priests must first check with doctors to make sure medical science cannot explain the allegedly demonic behavior.
“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,” Rev. Andrew Menke, executive director of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, said. “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 told PJ Media.
While many Americans and Westerners rightly view exorcism with suspicion — many have sanctioned torture, abuse, and even killing in the name of casting out demons — the practice has the highest support possible in a Christian context. Jesus Christ Himself carried out at least seven exorcisms, sent His disciples out to perform exorcisms, and even sanctioned someone who was not His disciple casting out demons in His name.
“Christ was the first exorcist,” Mexican priest Father Cesar Truqui, one of the instructors for the Vatican exorcism course, said earlier this month. “The power of casting out demons was one of the first signs that Christianity was a true religion.”
While exorcism may have the support of Jesus Christ Himself, exorcism by cellphone seems rather new. Before launching into the rite, exorcists like the Albanian Cardinal Ernest Simoni must still do their due diligence to check with medical authorities, although there is no reason why that too cannot take place over cellphone.
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