Exorcism on the rise in Europe

MSNBC reports that exorcism – the church rite of expelling evil spirits from tortured souls – is making a comeback in Catholic regions of Europe. Last July, more than 300 exorcists gathered in Cezestochowa, Poland for the fourth International Congress of Exorcists.

Polish Reverend Andrzej Trojanowski is currently planning the development of Europe’s only centre dedicated to exorcism. Trojanowski says that with the blessing of the local Catholic archbishop and the theological support from the Vatican, “the center will aid a growing number of Poles possessed by evil forces or the devil himself”.

The number of trained exorcist priests in Poland has nearly doubled over the past 5 years to about 70. There are approximately 300 active exorcists in Italy.

Reverend Gabriele Amorth, dean of European exorcists, says that “People don’t pray anymore, they don’t go to church, they don’t go to confession. The devil has an easy time of it.” He goes on to say that “There’s a lot more devil worship, people interested in satanic things and seances, and less in Jesus.”

Amorth and other priests have said that the exorcist resurgence has been encouraged by the Vatican, “which in 1999 formally revised and upheld the rite for the first time in almost 400 years.”

“Although a Vatican official denied reports in December of a campaign to train more exorcists, supporters said informal efforts began under Pope John Paul II — himself an occasional demon chaser — and have accelerated under Pope Benedict XVI. A Catholic university in Rome began offering courses in exorcism in 2005 and has drawn students from around the globe.”

Rev. Wieslaw Jankowski, a priest with the Institute for Studies on the Family, a counseling centre outside Warsaw, Poland, said priests at the institute realized that an exorcist was needed in order to counter an increase in people plagued by evil.

“Typical cases, he said, include people who turn away from the church and embrace New Age therapies, alternative religions or the occult. Internet addicts and yoga devotees are also at risk, he said.

Some tough cases
Jankowski cited the case of a woman who asked for a divorce days after renewing her wedding vows as part of a marriage counseling program. What was suspicious, he said, was how the wife suddenly developed a passionate hatred for her husband.

“”According to what I could perceive, the devil was present and acting in an obvious way,” he said. “How else can you explain how a wife, in the space of a couple of weeks, could come to hate her own husband, a man who is a good person?”

Jankowski said that an archbishop granted him the authority last October to perform exorcisms and that he’s been busy ever since. As for the afflicted wife? “We’re still working with her,” he said.”

“Exorcists said the people they help can be in the grip of evil to varying degrees. Only a small fraction, they said, are completely possessed by demons — which can cause them to display inhuman strength, speak in exotic tongues, recoil in the presence of sacred objects or overpower others with a stench.

In those cases, the exorcists must confront the devil directly, using the power of the church to order it to abandon its host. More often, however, priests perform what some of them refer to as “soft exorcisms,” using prayer to rid people of evil influences that control their lives.”

MSNBC reviews some exorcism horror stories and a priest’s description of exorcism’s relationship to standard Western medical treatment of psychiatric ailments:

“More recent horror stories have also taken their toll. In Germany, memories are still fresh of a 23-year-old Bavarian woman who died of starvation in 1976 after two priests — thinking she was possessed — subjected her to more than 60 exorcisms. In 2002, a German bishop resigned after a woman accused him of sexually abusing her during an exorcism.

Exorcists said they are careful not to treat people suffering from mental illness, and that they regularly consult with psychologists and physicians. At the same time, they said, conventional medical therapy often neglects spiritual ailments.

“My remedy is based on spiritual means, which cannot be replaced by any pharmaceutical remedies,” said Trojanowski, the priest who is overseeing plans for the new exorcism center. “I do not stop at the level of just treating symptoms. I’m very much interested in the soul of a person. As a priest, I keep asking questions a doctor will never ask.””

It looks like David Colquhoun, Orac, and others may have another brand of alternative medicine to critique.

Hat Tip: Clarington Durham Region Humanists
 

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Comments
16 Responses to “Exorcism on the rise in Europe”
  1. Eddie says:

    Wow! And people accuse Europe of being a bastion of enlightenment and godlessness! It is a great marking ploy though. All the stuff about who is at risk (people away from the church) and the who stuff about “soft exorcism” sound like a good design to compete with Scientology’s banishing spirit’s.

    Thanks for the laugh!

  2. This Busy Monster says:

    This episode of 20/20 was good entertainment back in the early 90’s. I remember the priest saying something like, if she (the possessed girl) wasn’t strapped to the chair, the demon would levitate her up to the ceiling in an attempt to escape the exorcism. I thought “Cool, show me that on camera and then I’ll believe she’s possessed for real.

    Sadly, it didn’t happen, the straps were never removed and she stayed on the ground throughout.

  3. Believer says:

    This stuff is real. Most non-believers are too busy with their lives to think about this subject. Everyone has bills to pay, mortagages, kids to take care of, work, etc. This subject is usually pushed aside as being something from our medieval past and has its roots from a time when education was not a priority. With the advent of science and medicine, we no longer believe in evil spirits as being the cause of mental disturbances (which is true in most cases). But once in awhile, there are cases that no scientific or medical mind can explain. It is in these rare instances that intervention by a priest miraculously cures the individual that is suffering from an unknown affliction. This affliction comes with be able to speak other languages (other than the ones they speak), intimate knowledge of the people that are present during the exorcism, knowledge of things that have not come to pass, etc. All I’m saying is that one should always keep an open mind. This world has lots of crazy and weird things that have no basis in logic.

  4. ronbrown says:

    There is open-mindedness, and then there is having a mind that is so open that your brain falls out.

    Yes, people are ridiculously distracted in their modern lives.

    I’ve heard allusions to people speaking languages they’ve never heard before all of a sudden. If you have links that you can share, that would be much appreciated.

    However, I remain highly skeptical of the validity of exorcism and of the reality of spirits. And even if people are found to all of a sudden speak languages they’ve never learned—a truly extraordinary claim which would demand extraordinary evidence—this is no grounds to believe that Priests or Catholicism are special or have some extra keen grasp on reality than any other religious or secular point of view. What is the success rate of Priests in curing these problems? Could many or all of these problems be simply attributed to issues such as schizophrenia or other types of not-necessarily-spiritually-induced cognitive anomalies? And could these problems have been successfully addressed via alternative means? Further, could the effects of exorcism be reducible to placebo?

  5. Believer says:

    Ron,

    Perfectly legitimate questions. Sadly, there is no scientific evidence that I or anyone else (that I am aware of) could provide to bolster the claim that demonic possession exists. Additionally, I do believe that the vast majority of cases can be explained by mental disorders like schizophrenia. In fact, church leaders will tell you themselves that most cases end up being nothing more than a medical condition. Personally, I believe demonic possession is possible due to personal conversations with priests that have participated in exorcisms (yes, I know, this is hardly evidence and the source is highly biased, to boot). I’m naturally a “doubting Thomas”, but everytime I speak with a priest about this particular subject, his absolute conviction is so strong that doubt seems to not be possible. It is important to note that in many exorcism cases, it is common practice that the subject undergo a series of medical examinations before anything is done. If the examinations show the subject is normal, then the priest (I’m only referring to Catholic procedure here) needs to receive permission from the Bishop. During the exorcism, the priest will have assistants with him, and many times an unbiased medical doctor will be present during the procedure. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church does not allow for exorcisms to be taped, so consquenrly no one that I am aware of can respond to your request to provide links to websites that clearly illustrating even a smidgen of evidence of this phenomena. And that is why I think the Church is failing to convince people.

    I agree with your point that if, by some miracle, the act of casting out devils can be proven as real, then it still would be no grounds for the assertion that Catholic priests have an edge over other clergy in knowing what reality is.

    My point is simply this: Since I am Christian, I believe that evil spirits exist and that they are led by what we know as Lucifer. I believe that he and his host influence mankind in nefarious ways. I believe his ultimate goal is to keep mankind from achieving oneness with God. However, I can’t prove it! Lame? Maybe. But that depends on who is reading this comment. As I’ve become older, my spirituality is growing (I’m in my early 40s). I try to view this subject with a scientific point of view, but the more I speak with individuals (not all Catholic by the way) about this, I become more convinced that it must be real.

    Sorry for the long diatribe and my apologies for not providing any evidence to back up my claim.

  6. thisbusymonster says:

    Since I am Christian, I believe that evil spirits exist and that they are led by what we know as Lucifer.

    The problem with “spirits” is that they only work in story books and the movies. Spirits are supposed to be immaterial, able to completely violate the laws of physics, and yet we ascribe them a position, time, and perspective. etc. The whole concept is irrational BS. If it weren’t, it would be and actual physical / biochemical ailment and it would be treated with normal scientific methods.

    Christianity and spirituality is too often used as a license to profess BS beliefs and get away with it because people are too polite to look you in the eyes and let you know you are insane. If an exorcism helps, it’s because there wasn’t really a problem in the first place, much like all alternative treatments. But, that’s a whole other discussion.

  7. Stoobs says:

    I had an anthropology teacher who had a student fail because he had been “cursed by a witch.” His life was made miserable by the curse, until eventually he had it lifted. I had a friend who was convinced that she was under attack by demons. After trying to reason for a while, I did a bit of reading, and then performed an ‘exorcism’ for her. She was fine after that. In South America, anthropologists have recorded people dying from having sorcerers place death curses on them. They simply stop eating, stop sleeping, and waste away. The same death curse placed on a Christian missionary, or an atheist, has no effect whatsoever.

    None of this proves that curses, demons, or death curses are real. It proves only that people who believe in something strongly enough can produce psychosomatic symptoms in themselves, even to the point of death. I certainly required no faith whatsoever to provide an effective exorcism – it was her faith that mattered, not mine.

    Religion is not the cure for demonic possession, it is the cause.

  8. Believer says:

    I am aware that the mind is the primary culprit in the vast majority of cases that are thought to be related to possession. Most religious institutions are aware of that as well. In fact, many priests and clergy from other religions and other Christian denominations don’t believe in evil spirits as well. Many are educated with doctoral degrees in a variety of disciplines like psychology, biology, etc. Anyway, the examples that Stoobs provides seem to fit my point that the mind is the cause of most individuals’ problems related to spiritual attacks. The story I am about to tell is similar to what Stoobs commented on.

    The closest personal experience I have regarding matters of this ilk involve my uncle (Tim) and a friend. It was the 1970s, and I was a teenager and I lived with Tim and his wife in California. They were doing very well financially. Tim’s good friend, Carl, was his businss partner and best friend at the time. Carl was, as I recall, a really good man and very business savvy. He was the type of guy that always brought excitement to a gathering and always had a great story that kept people entertained. Unfortunately, the business they had went sour after years of prosperity. My uncle and aunt could not find work and were nearly broke after an entire year with no income. In contrast, my uncle’s friend and ex-business partner seemed to be doing even better financially than when times were good with their joint venture. My uncle was happy for him.

    Tim was at the end of the rope. He had a mortgage to pay, a new wife to support, and a new baby on the way. Tim was too proud to accept money from anyone. One day, an old neighbor noticed that Tim was no longer the chatty neighbor he used to be, and he wanted to have a cup of coffee with my uncle and chat. My uncle, being a gentleman, accepted the offer and had coffee. They spoke for hours. Tim told him everything and the old man just listened. I was pretending to do yardwork and I eavesdropped on the whole thing. The neighbor suggested that Tim meet a friend of his, named James. James was a counselor and a very wise man according to the neighbor. Interestingly enough, Tim agreed.

    We discovered that James was a self-professed shaman, something like a witch-doctor. My uncle was furious and wanted nothing to do with him. James was a very articulate man and succeeded in convincing Tim that his services, free of charge, could do no harm. Tim reluctantly agreed, since he had nothing to lose and was at the end of his rope.

    After a few weeks, James returned and asked Tim and his wife to stand in a circle that he drew on the kitchen floor. I was not allowed to enter because I was younger than fifteen. So I was instructed to stay in the den, not turn the TV on, and under no circumstances, should I get near a door or a passageway leading to another room (weird). Anyway, I heard James chanting and saying unintelligible things and had candles lit all over the house. What I experienced during this ritual was frightening. During the chanting, I heard things outside the house trying to get in. I heard knocks on the doors, loud bangs against the house walls, and the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. James would yell at me to not answer the phone and to ignore the constant doorknocking. After one hour, it was over. James told Tim that someone very close to him was exceedingly jealous of his life and that he hired someone to place a hex for bad luck on the family. I immediately thought of Carl. After James left, Tim stated that he had felt stupid in agreeing to participate in such an event. I agreed.

    What was the result? Just by luck, Tim landed an excellent job at the city’s power company that paid handsomely. He was hired roughly two weeks after the supposed “cleansing”. Tim and Carl didn’t speak for years after that. Each were too busy with their lives. It was not until the mid-eighties that they had bumped into one another again. Carl had become a very religious man to everyone’s surprise. Carl also wanted to talk with Tim alone, so they agreed that they would go to dinner that night. When Tim returned, I heard him tell his wife that it was Carl that had hexed him. Carl had confessed that he was jealous of Carl’s life, his wife, and his happiness. So he had hired someone that specialized in this sort of thing. All Carl wanted was forgiveness now. Tim, angry as he was, still forgave him.

    Now, I don’t know if anything that I described means anything. I am a process engineer by training and education, and if you would have asked me 5 years ago if I believed in a spiritual world, I would have said that you were insane. In my estimation, about half of the people I work with (scientists and engineers in a variety of disciplines) do not even believe in God. But this experience has been impressed in my mind since I was a kid. Believe me, I completely understand how crazy and unscientific my belief in the spiritual world sounds. But in a nutshell, all I’m saying is that we should at the very least keep an open mind about the possibility that these type of things may exist. That’s all I have to say.

  9. Stoobs says:

    I have read a number of accounts by anthropologists claiming to have experienced inexplicable weirdness while dealing with shamans, witch doctors, and the like. I have heard stories of all manner of miraculous feats performed by yogis and eastern monks.

    The one thing all of these accounts have in common is that I have not experienced personally anything of this sort. In the end, all I can do is shrug and say “I don’t know.” I’m certainly an ontological agnostic. What I am not agnostic about is monotheistic religion – it is simply not remotely plausible.

  10. Bullmarket says:

    I find the defense and misbelieve of God or evil spirits quite interesting. On the one side the “believers” defend their position by attempting to state scripture, tell stories, or use religious doctrine to back up their claims. On the other side you have the “unbelievers”, those that do not believe it is possible or even probable. They defend themselves by using science or more commonly bitter criticism. I find this defense most troubling but it should also be expected.

    To attempt to understand God in terms of our common senses misrepresents our position as followers of Christ. We are not expected to know all and those that want to know all have underestimated the cost of what it would mean to have God speak directly to you. If God calls upon one directly the personal sacrifices that follow can be quite great and even costly in human eyes but spectacular in God’s.

    To prove the existence of evil is in itself very dangerous. One should be extremely thankful not to have experienced such things. Evil wants us to acknowledge it. Evil wants us to debate it and challenge its place. Most people are unprepared to handle a true demonic attack. The wise stance for most people would be to not feed or look for evil but to focus their energy on good and how to bring good to bad situations in life.

    Evoid looking to prove the existence of evil. Acceptance or non-acceptance based on ones personal believes should be enough. Look to the goodness that surrounds our lives and the goodness that you can bring to others.

  11. ronbrown says:

    Bullmarket writes: “On the other side you have the “unbelievers”, those that do not believe it is possible or even probable. They defend themselves by using science or more commonly bitter criticism.” Any rational and open-minded nonbeliever (which I believe I am) would not say that it is impossible for this or that God to be real. But we would also not disallow the possibility of an infinite array of other undisproven ideas (e.g., flying spaghetti monster). It is the infinite range of things that are possible, and the infinite range of contradictory possibilities, that warrants skepticism. The bitter criticism is often a response to frustration with people who think their beliefs are special (e.g., that they deserve special respect, or that they fall into a 3rd category outside of rational and irrational—the faith category, which is somehow not irrational) or that enter into a debate under the pretense that they plan to be rational and honest—and they surely expect the nonbeliever to be so—but they refuse to actually be rational and honest.

    Next, I’ll rewrite one of your statements in a way that might help you to see through the eyes of an atheist:

    “To attempt to understand the flying spaghetti monster in terms of our common senses misrepresents our position as followers of the FSM. We are not expected to know all and those that want to know all have underestimated the cost of what it would mean to have FSM speak directly to you. If FSM calls upon one directly the personal sacrifices that follow can be quite great and even costly in human eyes but spectacular in FSM’s.”

  12. Bullmarket says:

    Uncertainty and skepticism can definitely cloud our perception of what occurs in the events of our life. Through confusion and restatement, belief in God can be questioned. Rational thinking and free will are bestowed on most of us. How we use these talents / gifts are of our own fruition and choice (free will). Some people, like myself, have found faith in God through personal choice and this helps us clear up the confusion of life and our existence.

    ronbrown, it is not my place nor am I attempting to frustrate you or misrepresent your passionate believes. I have had the unfortunate opportunity to witness inflictions that no man should have to experience. In many ways these experience have stained me and I have questioned why I was put in the position to experience such things. Ultimately though, I do not confront and answer these challenges based upon my own self-described wisdom but through the strength and power of Jesus Christ.

  13. ronbrown says:

    Bullmarket: Worry you not. I’m not frustrated. I should point out that my passionate beliefs are fully open to discussion. Their core is rationality and intellectual honesty, so they need to be.

  14. Bullmarket says:

    ronbrown: What drives your core believes and how do you know that your are being intellectually honest?

  15. ronbrown says:

    Bullmarket: I try to keep my beliefs and confidence in those beliefs inline with the evidence, I seek out evidence against my beliefs, and I allow my beliefs to be publicly criticized by people who disagree with them.

    I am driven by a commitment to rationality and intellectual honest, and by an effort to not become personally attached to particular beliefs. I favour process orientation rather than product orientation. At a social level, I think it’s important that I be honest and rational for two reasons. Firstly, how can I expect others to be so if I’m not going to be? Secondly, I think it’s very personally and socially dangerous for people to become so wrapped up in their beliefs that they become deeply resistent to belief modification.

  16. tanyazhadan says:

    Exorcism. Download 4 documentary films for free. Healer, exorcist Nikolay Dolgorukiy (Zaporozhye, Ukraine)
    http://www.exorcism-nd.narod.ru/

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