Did Pope Francis Perform An Exorcism? (And Does It Matter?)

Stories were flying all over the Internet last week alleging that Pope Francis may have performed an exorcism on a wheelchair-bound man — said to be a 43-year-old Mexican pilgrim called Angelo — in St. Peter’s Square, following the Mass for Pentecost.

Even better, the moment was caught on video: after a few words from a priest accompanying the young man, the pontiff placed his hands prayerfully upon Angelo’s head, a gesture commentators have declared “a real act of exorcism.” Some have said the Pope wore a grim expression as he approached the task, though the low-quality video makes it difficult to be sure. Under the Pope’s prayerful touch, Angelo convulses and slumps in his chair. The Pope moves on to greet the next child, but not before Angelo’s priest hands over a file folder, taken by a member of the Pope’s suit-wearing security team.

(They look suspiciously like the Men in Black. What are we not being told? Is the Pope, in fact, an extraterrestrial?)

It makes sense that the global media would run with the exorcism story rather than the alien-conspiracy angle. After all, the pontiff has developed a bit of a reputation for emphasizing the demonic in his remarks; clearly the devil is a central adversary in his cosmology. It seems like an exorcism would follow logically.

The Vatican is remaining cagey on the subject, insisting that Pope Francis “simply intended to pray for a person who was presented to him.” But Father Gabriele Amorth, famous professional exorcist and media darling, countered that it was indeed a deliberate act of exorcism, and that Angelo was possessed by four demons. (One wonders where Amorth gets his information.)  In Amorth’s own words,

It was a real exorcism. If the Vatican has denied this, it shows that they understand nothing… We live in an age in which God has been forgotten. And wherever God is not present, the Devil reigns. Those who don’t believe should read the Gospels. Jesus continually performed exorcisms. Today, unfortunately, bishops appoint too few exorcists. We need many more.

Of course, it’s not hard to see that Amorth has a stake in the exorcism story. He didn’t become the media’s favorite Vatican exorcist by insisting that the procedure is rare, undramatic, and unnecessary.

Likewise, a papal blessing doesn’t make headlines or generate web hits. A papal exorcism, on the other hand… now that could be newsworthy. Especially if the Vatican is trying to cover it up.

In fact, the formal Catholic Rite of Exorcism involves an extremely long session of prayer over the possessed individual and may require more than one session to chase the demon(s) away. It’s possible that the Pope performed a “simple exorcism,” a short prayer or blessing to drive away evil, but that’s virtually indistinguishable from the kind of everyday blessing the pontiff would offer the average pilgrim.

The pontiff’s alleged grim expression and Angelo’s slumping and convulsing could easily be explained by whatever serious medical condition left Angelo confined to a wheelchair. It’s not hard to imagine that the priest was confiding the nature of Angelo’s condition to Pope Francis, which might easily cause the Pope to adopt a somber expression as he delivered his blessing. The file folder is a bit unusual, but can certainly be explained without resorting to demonology. (Though, for curiosity’s sake, I still wouldn’t turn down five minutes alone with its contents.)

Of course, whether it was intended as an exorcism or a mere blessing is irrelevant to those who believe in neither God nor demons. We already know that Francis accepts the literal truth of the devil and treats spiritual warfare as a reality in the world. The specifics of this incident can’t tell us anything new… but it may perhaps serve as a reminder that, in a twenty-four-hour-news-media universe, credulity has the advantage of making for more exciting stories.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • Baby_Raptor

    In unrelated, but unarguably good, news, Michele Bachmann has announced that she is not seeking re-election! (At 2Am her time, when nobody was listening, natch.)


    • Spazticus

      Thank you for that. She may not be going away any time soon, but at least she won’t have the political power to back up her insanity.

    • Space Cadet

      God told her to do it at 2 AM. Mysterious ways, and all that.

      • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

        It has nothing to do with the impending federal case against her for election campaign fraud. (She used campaign money to pay for a bunch of stuff she wasn’t supposed to. The biggest problem is that one of her campaign staff was an elected Iowan official. Under state law, elected officials can’t work as paid employee of another persons campaign. So she funneled money to a third party to pay this campaign worker.)

    • CultOfReason

      Bachman not seeking reelection? How will I get my daily entertainment now, particularly during re-run season.

      • JET

        She is retiring, but I’m sure her mouth is not. No worries!

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        Surely you don’t think she’s going away. Not having to deal with that pesky job in Congress will give her even more time to spout her nonsense.

    • Mr. Pantaloons

      how is that unrelated? The pope performs an exorcism – he just missed his initial target and Bachmann fled from Congress instead. XD

      • The Other Weirdo

        So, it’s like the relationship between the Doctor and the Tardis? It doesn’t take him where he wants to go, but instead where he needs to go. So it is with this. Papa, you may think your magic powers are being directed at the sick man in front of you, but God has magically redirected the Invisible Bolt of Cure™ to smite one of his crazy followers because that’s where it was needed?

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          It’s like the Avalon skiff from “Gargoyles”, really…

          • The Other Weirdo

            I don’t get that reference.

            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

              The Avalon skiff

              Took ‘em where they needed to be, whether they wanted to go there or not.

              Edit: Whoops. Borked my link. Fixed now.

  • Timmah

    *sigh* What did I JUST say yesterday about “YOU CANNOT CAST HOLY SPELLS!”

    I want to see at least 3 of his security detail thrown out a window in the process or I call shenanigans.

    • Jayn

      But then what will we do when the zombies come for our brains?

      • Baby_Raptor

        Pipe bombs and molotovs. Has nobody learned anything from L4D? *sigh*

        • ShoeUnited

          I’ve learned that you never quite have the ammo you need when you need it.

      • The Other Weirdo

        We point the Christians toward the approaching wave of zombies and shout, “The Rapture is that way and we’re totally with you.” Then we run away.

  • Some guy

    Nothing happens in that video. I was expecting more. A chiropractor once told me that he could cause a person to collapse by applying the proper pressure to their forehead just like benny hinn. That’s all that looks like to me.

    • Space Cadet

      Not only did nothing happen (Francis didn’t do anything to the “possessed” person that he didn’t do to/for the person right at the beginning of the clip, he was just more serious the second time) but after Francis puts two hands on the persons head you can see the priest pull back on the persons shoulders and the person responds by slumping back into a more relaxed, or deflated even, position.


    • The Other Weirdo

      Umm, did you ever ask this chiropractor to prove it to you?

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    You would think that if he had the power to kick out the prince of darkness, the father of lies and the lord of the flies, he would have enough mojo to rewire a few nerve cells.

  • The Other Weirdo

    He’s probably handing him a filefolder full of new names of priests caught molesting children.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    In this case, the exorcism did not work. 1) The pope failed to roll a twenty and therefor demon countered with the spell of infinite bullshit. 2) Real medical conditions are strangely immune to imaginary cures.

    • ShoeUnited

      Well, it says the man had four demons. One of which has a 15/Energy resistance. That’s what was in the file folder. Even though the Pope is a 20th level cleric, his domains are Trickery and Law. As such when leveling he didn’t add more points to stats affecting Rebuke Undead.

      So that’s why it didn’t work.

  • Gus Snarp

    No and no, because exorcisms aren’t real things.

  • Gus Snarp

    “Those who don’t believe should read the Gospels. Jesus continually performed exorcisms.”

    Someone who’s a bit more up on their New Testament help me out here, does someone not know what “continually” means, or am I forgetting some verses? I’m only aware of the exorcism with the pigs. That makes 1 exorcism, a far cry from “continually”. Are there more exorcisms than exhortations to eschew riches? Because if not, then the Vatican has it entirely backwards…

    • Sweetredtele

      If we take the gospels as evidence, jesus and the pigs is pretty weak. On equal footing is Circe turning men into pigs, which I find more impressive.

  • Mark W.

    If Futurama and South Park have taught me anything, then yes, the Pope is indeed and alien.

  • C Peterson

    Seriously? A church whose tradition and dogma have created a mountain of guano towering over Everest, and another microscopic bat turdlet gets tossed on top and that’s news?

    • The Other Weirdo

      For a moment there I thought you were talking literally. Then massive disappointment hit when I realized you weren’t. I’m sad now.

  • pagansister

    My guess is the fellow in the wheel chair was having a seizure—due to whatever his medical problem is. Seriously, exorcism? Some folks will believe anything.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Well, they are Catholic.

      • pagansister

        Very true, they are Catholic! Guess that can account for some of the “believing” just about anything told to them by a guy in a dress. However, I taught in a Catholic School for 10 years, and the other teachers were not what I call “robot Catholics” and had questions about many of the Churches’ teachings. They were thinking Catholics.

        • The Other Weirdo

          It’s not the Church that teaches casting out of demons, it was Jesus himself. Or was that bit with the pigs metaphorical?

  • baal

    I always found the RCCs theology for demons extremely weak. At best you get a hand waving about ‘stan’s little helpers’. The bible doesn’t explain them so much as assume everyone knows already that every bad action or illness is due to an evil spirit residing in a person (rather than say brain chemistry or germs).

  • ganner918

    Forcing, by reciting some incantations, an incorporeal being to abandon its inhabitation of an unwitting human host is no more ridiculous than turning, by reciting some incantations, a cracker into the literal body and some wine into the literal blood (that mysteriously look and taste identical to crackers and wine) of a 2000 years dead god-man.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    There is no evidence that demons exist. If they cannot be proven to exist, then they can’t be assumed to possess humans. So what is the point of exorcism? How sad that we have a media that reports on this nonsense as if it were fact. If someone has evidence to the contrary please present it. Real evidence, not second-hand anecdotes, thank you.