Father James LeBar, exorcist for the Archdiocese of New York, said he has seen a "large explosion" in cases since 1990.
"Ten years ago I had no cases and now I have 300," said Father James LeBar, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of New York.
Most of his cases, he said, don't need an exorcist. They have "unusual things happening — things moving around the house or people claiming to have seen or heard the evil one. Some people suffer the phenomena without actually being possessed. An exorcism is primarily used for people who are possessed by the devil, whose wills have been overtaken by Satan." Father John Hampsch, a psychologist, has also seen more reports of demonic interference.
"I have seen a dramatic rise in cases. In the past three hours before you phoned me, I have had three cases of people suffering serious contamination with the forces of evil. I am dealing with 10 to 15 cases a week."
A popular author and speaker on many areas of faith and spirituality, the Claretian Missionary Father says the demonic takes up much of his time.
"A large amount do not require formal exorcism — they are not cases of possession. They are cases of demonic oppression, obsession, depression infestation ... very painful and very distressing."
Father Hampsch told the Register that today's culture has many "gateways" to the demonic world that usually stop short of full-scale "possession."
"The most obvious way we let Satan into our lives is through sin. Serious
and habitual sin can be a gateway. An innocent person can be affected
by hexes or curses but I would say most cases of possession needing serious
deliverance come about through involvement in the occult, with practices
such as Ouija board or tarot cards or some kind of New Age practice. The
other form is through some kind of sin addiction such as alcohol, drugs
or pornography. A case I was dealing with recently was addicted to pornography
and he suffered from demonic manifestations."
The ouija board
For one victim, Dermot (not his real name), a Ouija board caused problems that culminated three years ago.
The father of two in his mid-50s told the Register that when he came to Britain from Galway, Ireland, to work on a building site as a young man, he joined in a group session with the popular board game for a laugh.
Afterward, he used the board again and again, and felt the after-effects for years. "I had all kinds of troubles down the years and I could never understand the terrible blasphemous thoughts that came into my head."
Three years ago, he found himself having to be held down by four priests while a prayer for deliverance was said over his struggling, screaming body.
"I don't know where [that] strength came from as it happened but I do know I felt a new man afterwards" he told the Register.
Cases like his have become much more common in England over the past decade.
Father Jeremy Davies, exorcist for London's Westminster Archdiocese, granted a rare interview to the London-based Catholic Herald April 28 to warn about the dangers of dabbling in the occult.
"There have been more exorcisms, undoubtedly. There are more people in need and the Church is dealing with the problem more effectively," he was quoted saying.
Father Davies, 65, is a former medical doctor and one of six priests who founded the International Association of Exorcists seven years ago. The association now has 200 members.
He stressed that the Church urges great caution in matters involving exorcism.
The 1984 document Ab Aliquot Annis (On The Current Norms Governing Exorcisms), by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, cites canon law, which states: "no one may licitly perform exorcisms on those who are possessed unless he has obtained particular and express permission from the local ordinary, and it decrees that this permission is to be granted by the ordinary only to priests who are outstanding in piety, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life. Bishops are therefore strongly urged to enforce the observance of these prescriptions" (Canon 1172).
Cardinal Ratizinger wrote: "It follows also from these same prescriptions that Christ's faithful may not employ the formula of exorcism against Satan and the fallen angels which is excerpted from that formula made official by order of the Supreme Pontiff Leo XIII, and certainly may not use the entire text of that exorcism. Let all bishops take care to admonish the faithful about this matter whenever such instruction is required."
"Finally, for the same reasons, bishops are asked to guard lest those who lack the required power attempt to lead assemblies in which prayers are employed to obtain liberation from demons, and in the course of which the demons are directly disturbed and an attempt is made to determine their identity. This applies even to cases which, although they do not involve true diabolical possession, nevertheless are seen in some way to manifest diabolical influence" (No. 2-3).
In the conclusion of the brief document, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, "Of course, the enunciation of these norms should not stop the faithful of Christ from praying, as Jesus taught us, that they may be freed from evil. Moreover, pastors should take this opportunity to remember what the tradition of the Church teaches about the function properly assigned to the intercession of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles and the saints, even in the spiritual battle of Christians against the evil spirits. "
Mother Nadine Brown said her Omaha, Neb., charismatic community Intercessors Of The Lamb confronts the demonic influence through approved prayers. She warned of the dangers of New Age spirituality and the occult but said she also sees the new interest in spirituality as an opportunity for evangelization, especially among the youth.
"They are looking for a mystical dimension to life. The Church can give it to them, and this is the challenge . ... The Church of the 21st century [must] be mystical," she said. Father Hampsch was also upbeat. "We have seen grace super-abounding ... with a whole series of divine interventions and miracles around the world.
"The growth of eucharistic adoration is a great grace. Indeed the Holy
Father has said this year should be intensely eucharistic. We have even
seen an increase in eucharistic miracles. It is certainly a case of where
sin abounds, grace super-abounds."
Beating the devil
Revised Rite of Exorcism Coming
After a 20-year process ended on Jan. 26, 1999, the Vatican has produced an updated rite of exorcism, according to the International Association of Exorcists. Translations from the Latin are currently being prepared for the world's bishops' conferences.
"We know there are Catholics who have not received good formation and doubt the existence of the devil, but this is an article of faith and part of the doctrine of the Catholic Church," said Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, in announcing the revisions. "Whoever says the devil does not exist is no longer a believer."
The new text was described as an outgrowth of the old, with more sober language and giving the priest greater flexibility in the choice of prayers to use.
Written in 1614, the previous ritual combined prayers and gestures in keeping with the Middle Ages. Certain aspects of the ritual were more dramatic than liturgical, said the association.
Although the theology of the Church on exorcism remains unaltered, what
is new is the simplification of external aspects and the presentation
of the texts, written in light of Biblical texts. The premises have also
been revised: Specific canonical norms are established to respond to any
Signs of the devil
Vatican guidelines say that some signs that a person may be possessed — when all medical explanations have been ruled out — include: "speaking in unknown languages, revealing things that are far away or hidden (or) demonstrating a physical strength not conforming to one's age or health status." At the same time, it cautioned that "these signs are only an indication" and may not be the work of the devil.
"Other manifestations, frequently of a moral and spiritual order" are often present and may include aversion to God, to the name of Jesus, of Mary and of the saints, to the Scripture, to sacramental rites and sacred images, the guidelines said.
Before using the Rite of Exorcisms, the priest must have "moral certainty" that the person involved is truly possessed or obsessed and not suffering from a psychological or physical illness.
The rite is performed in the name of Jesus and calls on the power he gave to his disciples and their successors to cast out evil spirits.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority, which Jesus entrusted to his Church."
In the ritual, the evil spirit is commanded in the name of God and of the Church to depart. The ritual also includes a sprinkling with holy water, the recitation of a litany of the saints, the Lord's Prayer and a creed, a Gospel reading and the Sign of the Cross.
A simple form of exorcism, not changed by the new ritual, is part of the Catholic Church's baptism rites; in it, the Church prays that the one about to be baptized will be protected from evil and from Satan's temptation.
In a series of 1986 audience talks about angels and the devil, Pope John Paul II said Satan has been defeated by Christ's death and resurrection, but he continues to try to win over people.
"It cannot be excluded that in certain cases the Evil Spirit tries to exercise his influence not only on material things, but also on the human body, for which one speaks of diabolical possession:" the Pope said during an audience talk. "It is not always easy to discern that which happens preternaturally in these cases, nor does the Church easily yield to or support the tendency to attribute many occurrences to the intervention of the demon," he said. At the same time, the Pope said, "one cannot deny that in his desire to harm and to lead toward evil, Satan can reach this extreme manifestation" of his power.
Paul Burnell. "Exorcisms On the Rise." National Catholic Register. (June 4-10, 2000).
Reprinted by permission of the National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.
Paul Burnell writes from Manchester, England.
Copyright © 2000 National Catholic Register