Nick Squires, The Telegraph, October 25, 2021
Requests for exorcisms have boomed during the pandemic as people around the world fell into poverty and the grip of “malign forces”, an international conference of exorcist priests was told in Rome.
While it may conjure up images of swiveling heads and horror films for sceptics, the Catholic Church insists that there really is such a thing as being possessed by the devil and that the only way to combat the phenomenon is by carrying out exorcisms.
Victims of demonic possession vomit nails and shards of glass, levitate from the ground and speak in ancient languages such as Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin, said one of the speakers at the event.
Such claims may strain the credulity of non-believers, but they go unquestioned by the more than 100 priests and bishops from around the world who gathered in Rome to attend the world’s only recognised course on exorcism.
The six-day event, which will include lectures on “Exorcism in the context of Afro-Brazilian magical rites” and “The symbolism of satanic and occult rituals”, is being held at a Vatican-affiliated university called the Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum.
“We have seen an increase in the request for exorcisms because the pandemic has made people more vulnerable to the idea that Satan or some evil entity has taken over their lives,” said Father Gian Matteo Roggio, an Italian priest who was one of the speakers at the week-long conference.
“People have fallen into poverty, they found themselves suffering from anxiety and depression. They feel that their lives are no longer in their own hands but in the hands of a malign force. It’s a big crisis,” he told The Telegraph.
Priests are able to evaluate whether people are suffering from commonplace psychiatric disorders or whether they really are possessed by the forces of evil, he insisted.
The effects of so-called possession are dramatic, it was claimed.
“People speak languages they have never spoken before, even ancient tongues like Aramaic, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. They’re able to levitate off the ground or they vomit objects like nails and pieces of glass. There are people whose voices change completely – a woman might start speaking like a man. Some develop superhuman strength and it takes four or five people to restrain them,” said Father Roggio.
The conference teaches priests from Catholic countries across the globe how to carry out the rite of exorcism – a set process involving prayers and gestures.
A crucifix must be present, along with a bowl of holy water, and an image or statuette of the Virgin Mary is also recommended.
“During the pandemic, priests around the world have had more requests for psychiatric help from parishioners,” said Father Luis Ramirez, one of the organisers of the conference. “There is more awareness of exorcists and exorcisms among Catholics in general.”
That awareness has grown in part because of the annual exorcism course, which is now in its 15th year, and in part because Pope Francis regularly refers to Satan – not as a vague metaphor for evil but as a concrete concept.
“The fact that Pope Francis talks about the devil has certainly had an impact,” said Father Pedro Barrajon, a Spanish professor of theology and a key participant at the course.
Speakers also blamed films and the internet for allegedly encouraging an interest in the occult.
“Young people are being attracted to exploring witchcraft, vampirism, black magic and the occult by the mass media,” said Prof Giuseppe Ferrari, one of the organisers. “It’s a phenomenon that is growing and it is really worrying.”
The subject of Catholic priests sexually abusing children and the evil effects of such behaviour were notably absent from the first day of the conference.
Instead, participants will concern themselves with seminars such as “Demonic subjugation”, “Angels and demons in Holy Scripture” and “Historical sources for the rite of exorcism”.