The experts on ‘exorcism’ are literally unbelievable

Our friend Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., shows up again in a weird little story recently in which the Vatican officially denied that Pope Francis conducted an exorcism — or at least denied that he intended to conduct an exorcism.

CNN’s Dan Merica spoke with Paprocki, noting that he is “an American expert on exorcism who organized a conference on the topic in 2010.” Paprocki:

… said what Francis did on Sunday was “clearly not an exorcism as most people understand it.”

“It is just too short,” Paprocki said. Most exorcisms, Paprocki said, take 20 to 30 minutes to complete and involve reciting prayers, reading scriptures and using sacramental objects such as crucifixes and holy water.

“I doubt the pope has it memorized,” the bishop said.

“Memorized.” So it’s an incantation that has to be memorized and recited verbatim to be effective. And it involves the use of magical amulets … sorry, I mean, “sacramental objects.”

How is that not magic? What Paprocki is describing is spellcasting, not prayer. And it seems to require a lot of showmanship.

Merica’s report continues:

Jesus performs a number of exorcisms in the Bible, encounters that are recounted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. One example: in Matthew 9:32-34, Jesus exorcises a mute shortly after healing two blind men.

“As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him,” reads the passage. “And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke.”

But whatever Jesus did in that story, it was clearly not an exorcism as Paprocki understands it. It didn’t take 20 to 30 minutes to complete. It didn’t involve reciting prayers, reading scriptures or using sacramental objects. Nothing needed to be memorized.

So where did all that abracadabra hocus-pocus razzle-dazzle come from?

Merica says, “The guidelines on Catholic exorcisms, ‘De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam,’ or ‘Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications,’ are an 84-page document.”

I’m sure that “experts on exorcism” have studied and memorized most of what’s in those 84 pages. I’m also sure that none of it has anything to do with whatever it was Jesus did in Matthew’s Gospel when he restored a voice to a voiceless man.

Meanwhile, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the top exorcist in the Catholic Church and head of the “International Association of Exorcists” claims to have exorcised 160,000 demons during his career.

That claim deserves a Wilt Chamberlain-sized dose of skepticism, which Jonathan Turley provides, along with some helpful arithmetic:

Amorth now claims to have sent 160,000 demons to hell — that is over 1,818 a year or roughly 5 a day or one demon every 4.8 hours every day every week every month.

For someone so very busy, he sure manages to schedule a lot of interviews.

Fr. Gabriele Amorth needs to go to confession. For lying. And not just about the number of “exorcisms” he has performed, either, but for the decades-long con he has been running as a grifter defrauding the church and the faithful.

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  • Catholicism is the Dungeons and Dragons of Christianity

  • P J Evans

    I seem to recall that Jesus only had to tell the demons to leave, and they did. Probably he had a better command voice than Paprocki or these other incanting exorcists.

  • Jon Maki

    Well, in fairness to Fr. Gabriele Amorth, I believe that it’s possible* for people to be possessed by more than one demon at a time.
    After all, that was the basis for actress Jennifer Carpenter being able to make the simple act of counting to six as creepy as hell in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, as that was the number of demons who were possessing her titular character.
    So, as I’m sure Wilt must have in his sexual encounters with women – regardless of the actual number – it’s likely that the good Father got freaky with multiple demons at the same time.

    *Inasmuch as it’s possible for people to be possessed in the first place, which is to say that’s it’s actually not possible.

  • Lori

    About the picture—I see what you did there. Nicely played.

  • FearlessSon

    Memorized.” So it’s an incantation that has to be memorized and recited verbatim to be effective. And it involves the use of magical amulets … sorry, I mean, “sacramental objects.”

    How is that not magic? What Paprocki is describing is spellcasting, not prayer. And it seems to require a lot of showmanship.

    “Expecto Patronum! I cast thee out, Dementor!”

  • The_L1985

    And most of the character classes are gender-specific!

  • LoneWolf343

    The more I hear about Pope Francis, the more I think the rest of the Vatican is saying: “Who does he think he is? The Pope!?”

  • Ron

    Hey, that requires very precise wand wiggling. You have to memorize it and execute it perfectly.

  • See the problem with Exorcism is it requires a prestige class – it’s not that hard to get into really; you just need to have 10 ranks of Knowledge: The Planes, 7 ranks in Knowledge: Religion, be Good aligned and be able to cast Dismissal or Dispel Evil.

    Oh and you have to be sanctioned by a church, but that’s sort of a non-requirement for the pope.

    He’s probably got the Knowledge: Religion ranks, but I wouldn’t doubt he’s missing Knowledge: The Planes*, and it’s pretty clear that most priests are Experts rather than Clerics, so I sincerely doubt the pope is going to be casting Dispel Evil anytime soon.

    Well and there’s the whole alignment issue, which we won’t get into.

    *Giant Nerd Mode Engaged*

    *I’ve spent much of my life studying aircraft of various kinds, and I probably only have 5 or 6 ranks in that skill anyway… why the pope needs to know what a P-39 is to exorcise a demon is beyond me; but it’s in the rules and god doesn’t seem to be much for houserules and homebrew so…

  • “Memorized.” So it’s an incantation that has to be memorized
    and recited verbatim to be effective. And it involves the use of magical
    amulets … sorry, I mean, “sacramental objects.”

    Right, because we know that a real proper prayer is supposed to be extemporaneous to show your Real True Passionate Sincerity. Those formalized ritualistic prayers aren’t REAL prayer, they’re things those evil papists with their death cookies do when they’re worshipping false idols and not reading their bibles.

  • FearlessSon

    You go into a detailed description of the requirements to perform an Exorcism ritual in Dungeons & Dragons, and then you feel like you need to put up a nerd tag for a brief pun about an aircraft?

    … you are probably in the right place. :)

  • general_apathy

    “It’s Levi-O-sa. Not Levio-SAH.”

  • Ygorbla

    > “I doubt the pope has it memorized,” the bishop said.

    Obviously what he means is that the Pope, who is after all new to his role, can’t be more than a 6th or 7th level Cleric; it’s unreasonable to expect that he’d have a 5th level Exorcism spell memorized.

  • I suppose he could use a scroll, but those can be pricey once you get into 5th level+ spells…

  • pharoute

    Exorcisms aren’t just for Catholics anymore

  • thatotherjean

    I don’t doubt that in the early Middle Ages, when no better explanation than demon possession existed for mental illnesses, intractable pain, and various other conditions, exorcism was a useful and practical skill that sometimes actually worked. Even today, pain can be eased by practices like reiki and the administration of placebos, which have no therapeutic action in themselves, but mainly consist of paying careful attention to the patient’s troubles and DOING SOMETHING. I’m sure that a properly equipped exorcist, fully engaged in the ritual, gave as much attention to the “demon-possessed” as he ever received in his life, while doing highly impressive things on his behalf. But to pretend today that we know no more than our Medieval ancestors is simply lying, and making the Church look silly.

  • Launcifer

    Unless, of course, the bit that’s really upset Paprocki is that all the Pope really did was don his trenchcoat, light a Marlboro and tell the demon to piss off and everything else was just sleight-of-hand.

  • Julie

    He probably counts the demons as they leave to see how many were in there. Or maybe he asks them. But then he would have to count on them telling the truth. I don’t really know how you do demon math. Probably it’s in the book.

  • Well, you know what happens if your command voice isn’t good enough.

  • Launcifer

    What’s really weird is that, looking at the still on the thread, I can’t quite shake the feeling that this is really a Police video from the Synchronicity II era.

  • Perhaps they have to take an exit poll.

  • Evan

    … said what Francis did on Sunday was “clearly not an exorcism as most people understand it.”

    Yes, I agree: It’s clearly not an exorcism as most of Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s friends understand it. Next question: Is it an exorcism as Jesus, Matthew, Mark, and Luke understand it?

  • Carstonio

    In fairness, perhaps we should mention the fundamentalists who believe that listening to Slayer magically notarizes Satan’s possession of the listener’s soul.

  • MaryKaye

    When I was 28 I was reading the list of events at a Pagan festival, and noticed they were offering rites of passage into adulthood. I thought about this a while, said “My gosh, I’m a very old adolescent,” and did the rites. They were showmanship and ritual, and they were effective at making a change in my life. So I don’t knock this sort of thing. I am skeptical of physical effects of magic, but not of psychological and spiritual effects, and in many situations those are what you need.

    That said, ethical use of that kind of magic involves scrupulous honesty and integrity on the part of the one conducting the rites. To start with, you should not stand to profit from them. You should also acknowledge that the god(s) and the person make the outcome, not the ritualist. If I hadn’t been prepared to become an adult I am quite sure nothing useful would have happened, no matter how well the ritualist performed. And you have to resist the temptation to cover up your failures with showmanship or to promise more than you can deliver.

    When I was a practicing Pagan priestess I tried to build a culture in which this sort of thing could be done right. I don’t see the upper echelons of the Catholic Church doing that at all–rather the opposite–and I would not ever want them doing magic on my behalf.

  • Carstonio

    In another thread recently, I observed that movies involving Satan show his opponent as Catholicism – Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen. The consensus seemed to be that the denomination’s visual appeal works well on film..

  • Andrew Glasgow

    Obviously, the exorcists of the Catholic church are wizards, and have to consult spell books. Jesus was a sorceror, and cast spells spontaneously.

  • Amaryllis

    Which, without commenting on the substance or efficacy of an exorcism ritual, was my eye-rolling reaction to that line, also..

    But in the interest of fairness, I will note that the linked article contains a quote from a priest speaking rather disdainfully of “evangelical-style tent revival theatrics,” which are unfavorably compared to the “careful, methodical, faithful” Catholic liturgical style.

    It all depends on who’s talking, doesn’t it?

  • Charity Brighton

    I don’t think that you should be allowed to count exorcising multiple demons from the same person at the same time to be separate events like that, unless it’s actually harder than exorcising one.

  • “And if I had held the crucifix like this, would you say that would have made you more likely, about as likely, or less likely to leave in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”

  • stardreamer42

    Nitpick: D&D levels count up, not down. So a 5th-level spell would be easier to learn than a 6th-level one. Exorcism might be 10th-level or better.

  • stardreamer42

    Didn’t Giles exorcise a few demons here and there?

  • Ben English

    Wesley did once. It did not go very well.

  • Ben English

    They should just hurry up and switch editions, like the Episcopalians. Any Episcopalian can take an Exorcise demon ritual if they have the right Feat.

  • Ben English

    The math really breaks down at higher level directly along gender lines, too. Linear nuns, quadratic bishops.

  • hidden_urchin

    “Command voice.”

    You mean like this one?

  • P J Evans

    they say jump, and you don’t even ask how high before you start jumping.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    I thought it was from the music video of Dancing With Myself, haha.

  • FearlessSon

    As The Count observes, you need classical training to deliver a line like that.

  • Hexep

    They do, but in 3.5, you go up a spell level every two regular levels; a 6th or 7th-level cleric would only have access to level 3 spells.

    Is that right? It’s been a long time since 3.5…

  • Huitzil

    You kinda have to see how silly it is to say that this exorcism is fraudulent, because even though demons exist and possess people, the way to get them out OBVIOUSLY doesn’t involve ritualized actions and talismans. Come on, man. This is a really, really, really fine distinction that you’re acting is some huge, clear cut difference. The idea of ritual and authority having spiritual power are part of Catholicism, so you’re kinda crossing over from pointing out religious hypocrisy, to just not liking specific details of other faiths that don’t have anything to do with hurting people.

    And yeah, if you think the concept of exorcism is is grift, that’s like claiming the concept of transubstantiation is a grift. It’s an article of faith. Now, the thing about this guy that you could object to but I am not seeing here is that this guy thinks that all priests should be allowed to perform exorcisms, which is a conflict with Catholic practice, that exorcists should almost never perform exorcisms. The official position, and it’s one I greatly respect as someone who doesn’t believe in their faith at all, is that almost every instance of something that people think is demonic possession is actually mental illness. Catholic exorcists are SUPPOSED to have extensive training in psychology, recognize mental illnesses, and refer people to mental health professionals or institutes as appropriate. They only perform an exorcism in the rare case that the patient has some form of mental illness that psychology has no idea what it is or how to treat it, and at that point, hell, why not try an exorcism, we’re at the “throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks” stage.”

    Saying that all priests need to be authorized to perform exorcisms to meet the growing demand is implicitly rejecting that idea, and saying that possession really IS everywhere, and mental illness isn’t being mistaken for it. THAT’s shit to get mad at. THAT’s what to object to, not the fact that Catholics place more value on ritual and talismans than your faith does.

  • themunck

    Close. A 7th level cleric would’ve just gotten his level 4 spells.

  • Carstonio

    Heh. I didn’t mean the Sarah Michelle Gellar and Joss Whedon type of slayer, but the one with Kerry King and Tom Araya and the late Jeff Hanneman.

  • Hexep

    Damn it, you’re right. I just checked.

  • Nangleator

    I’m trying to imagine Jesus using a cross as a religious symbol.

    Wouldn’t people wonder what it was all about? And ask him about the little man on the cross? And would Jesus wink and say, “You’ll find out!”

    It doesn’t seem to work, does it?

  • caryjamesbond

    Wouldn’t people wonder what it was all about?

    Oh, I think anyone that lived within several hundred miles of the Roman empire would pick up on what a cross was, and why the little dude was hanging there, REALLY REALLY QUICKLY.

  • Michael Pullmann

    Hey, if it’s good enough for The Doctor…

  • Wednesday

    Well, given that _both_ exorcism and transubstantiation have a history of being used as a pretext for violence against people who didn’t accept the Catholic Church’s authority (and exorcism has gone on to be used by other denominations in similar ways). So I’m inclined to say it’s not entirely unreasonable to say transubstantiation is… well, not quite grift, but something with a hella problematic history.

  • Michael Pullmann

    Well, sure, if you want your priests to be perfect anime superheroes.

  • Nangleator

    Yes, but not understand why Jesus was waving a little model of it around at an important occasion!

  • Wednesday

    Technically, I think only a crucifix would have the little man on it. A cross is just a cross.

    And like Cary said, yeah, I think people living under Roman rule at the time would already know about crucifixion. Probably their bewilderment at Jesus using a cross as a symbol would be more “why are you waving around a symbol of execution and Roman oppression like it’s a good thing? Christ: what an asshole.”