Blunting the Sword of Exorcism

With Pope John Paul II opening Lent with a sermon alerting the faithful to the power of the Devil, and news reports in the international media that the Holy Father has personally conducted three exorcisms in Rome, an interview given last year by Italy's top exorcist, Fr. Gabriel Amorth to '30 Days' magazine provides a startling and even scary picture of the intense spiritual warfare about which the Pope is warning.

In the wide-ranging interview, conducted by Maria Paci, Fr. Amorth said how "badly" Church leaders treat exorcists; how an international gathering of 150 exorcists meeting in Rome was denied a request to attend papal audience; that many bishops, upon assuming office, will withdraw faculties from priests working as exorcists; that "many" bishops no longer believe in the Devil.

The occasion of the interview was the publication of the Holy See's new Rite of Exorcisms. Introducing her interview, Paci warned readers: "You will discover that the war which has been going on for thousands of years is raging more strongly than ever, that the battle has moved on and is now being waged inside the very house of the Lord. And this smoke ... is spreading into some quite unsuspected quarters."

Amorth charged that he and most other exorcists opposed the process that led to a new ritual, that the suggestions of exorcists were rejected by the committee charged with producing a revised ritual, and that they were unable to influence the project in any way.

"But wasn't the new ritual put together by specialists?" asked Paci.

"Commissions worked on the ritual; one which was made up of cardinals and which was responsible for the praenotanda, that is to say the initial provisions, and the other which was responsible for the prayers.

"I can affirm with certainty that none of the members of these commissions, had ever performed an exorcism, had ever been present at an exorcism and ever possessed the slightest idea of what an exorcism is.... Not one of those who collaborated on it was an exorcism specialist....

"We exorcists were never consulted. And what is more, any suggestions that we were able to make were unfavorably received by the commissions....

"The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship at the time, Cardinal Antonio Maria Javierre Ortas, had asked the episcopal conferences to send in, over the following two years, 'any advice and suggestions made by priests who would make use of it'. We got down to work. I brought together 18 exorcists, chosen from among the most expert on the planet. We examined the text with great attention. We used it. We immediately commended the first part in which the evangelical foundations of exorcism were summarized.... But when we came to examine the practical part that demands a specific knowledge of the subject, the total inexperience of the writers really showed through. We made numerous observations, article by article, and we sent these on to all interested parties: the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the episcopal conferences".

Nevertheless, the recommendations of the exorcists were rejected.

"Does this mean then that, for you, the new rite is unusable in the struggle against the demon?" asked Paci.

"Yes," replied Amorth. "They were looking to give us a blunt weapon. Efficacious prayers, prayers that had been in existence for 12 centuries, were suppressed and replaced by new ineffective prayers. But, as luck would have it, they threw us a lifeline at the last moment.

"What was that?"

"The new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Jorge Cardinal Medina Estevez, attached to the ritual a notification in which he specified that exorcists were not obliged to use this ritual and that, if they wished, they could ask their bishop for authorization to use the old one. The bishops must in their turn ask for authorization from the congregation which, as the cardinal writes, 'willingly accords it'."

That concession, Amorth continued, came "from an attempt made by Cardinal Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and by Cardinal Medina Estevez to introduce into the ritual an article - it was article 38 at that time - which would authorize exorcists to use the previous ritual. It was undoubtedly a maneuver in extremis to fend off on our behalf the grave errors found in the definitive ritual. But the two cardinals failed in their attempt. Then Cardinal Medina Estevez, who had understood what was at stake in this matter, decided to grant us this lifeline anyway and he added a separate note."

On the matter of the refusal of the request to attend the papal audience, Amorth said: "Unbelievable: 150 exorcists from five continents, men appointed by their bishops in accordance with the rules of canon law which requires that they be men of prayer, knowledge and good reputation - and thus in some way the cream of the clergy - ask to take part in a public audience with the Pope and are shown the door.

"Msgr. Nicolo told me, 'I promise to immediately send you a letter explaining the situation. Five years have passed and I am still waiting for this letter. It [was] certainly not John Paul II who excluded us. But the fact that 150 priests should be forbidden to take part in a public audience with the Pope in St. Peter's shows what kind of obstacles exorcists encounter even within their own Church and to what extent they are frowned upon by a great number of ecclesiastical authorities."

The Devil's greatest success is persuading people he does not exist, and Amorth observed how successful he has been.

"We have a clergy and an episcopate who no longer believe in the Devil, in exorcisms, in the extraordinary evil that the Devil can cause, nor in the power that Jesus has given us to drive out demons.

"For three centuries, the Latin Church - in contrast with the Orthodox Church and various Protestant confessions - has almost entirely abandoned the ministry of exorcism. As the clergy no longer practice exorcisms, as they no longer study them and have never seen them, they no longer believe in them. And nor do they believe in the Devil either. We have entire episcopates who are hostile to exorcisms. There are countries in which there is not a single exorcist, as for example Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. A terrifying deficiency. . . . Out of 100 French exorcists, there are but five who believe in the Devil and carry out exorcisms. All the rest send those who contact them to the psychiatrist.

"And the bishops are the main victims of this situation of the Catholic Church in which belief in the existence of the demon is in the process of disappearing. Before this new manual appeared, the German episcopate sent a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger in which they declared that there was no need to create a new ritual because exorcisms should no longer be performed."

On the matter of bishops who no longer believe in the Devil, Amorth said: "I could mention a great number of bishops and cardinals who, as soon as they had been appointed to a diocese, withdrew from all exorcists the faculty of exercising their powers. Or of bishops who openly maintain: 'For myself, I do not believe in the things. They are beliefs of the past. Why is this? Because unfortunately there has been an extremely pernicious influence exerted by certain biblical experts, and I could mention the names of some very well-known people. We who every day come into close contact with the world beyond, we know that this influence has had a hand in many of the liturgical reforms.

"Vatican Council II had asked for certain texts to be revised. But this order was disobeyed, as there was a desire to rewrite them from scratch. No thought was given to the possibility of making things worse rather than better. And many rites were spoiled by this mania for jettisoning everything from the past and of rebuilding everything from top to bottom as though the Church had, until day, hoodwinked and misled and as though there had now finally arrived a time of great geniuses, of super-theologians, of super-biblicists, of super-liturgists, who knew how to give the Church what was sound.

"It is all a lie: the last council simply asked for these texts to revised, not to be destroyed."

After mentioning that Pope Paul VI opposed the initial versions the new Ritual of Exorcism because it downplayed the power and even existence of Satan, Amorth commented on the 'Book of Blessings'.

"We find the same degeneration of the rite in the new beneditionary," he said. "I have read its 1,200 pages minutely. Well any reference to the fact the Lord must protect us against Satan, that the angels protect us from the attacks of the demon, has been systematically suppressed. All the prayers for the blessing of homes and schools have been suppressed. Everything should be blessed and protected, but today there is no longer any protection against the demon. There no longer exists a defense or any prayers against him.

"This same Jesus had taught us a prayer for liberation in the Our Father: 'Deliver us from the Evil One. Deliver us from the Person Satan.' This prayer has been mis-translated and today people pray saying, 'Deliver us from evil.' One speaks of a general evil whose origin is essentially: unknown. But the evil against which our Lord Jesus taught us to fight us, on the contrary a concrete, person. It is Satan". [The Wanderer.]