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.

  • phantomreader42

    This has the advantage of altar boys learning kung-fu…

  • histrogeek

    They would understand what it was, but it would be like swinging around a noose. It would almost certainly be seen as some sort of threat.

    On the other hand, lots of pre-Christian traditions used crosses (sans dude) as amulets simply because it’s an easy geometric shape.

  • Wednesday

    Not the Slayer you mean, but I suspect some people think Lina Inverse needs to be exorcised. =P

    On the other hand, she also defeated her world’s equivalent of Satan by summoning the power of… well, I guess the closest Christianity-analog being to LoN would be God, but I’m not sure where that puts Ceipheed.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    That’s actually what it was. This one time he exorcised 159,999 demons from this one dude. This other time he exorcised one from some other guy. Nobody really cares about frequency, though, it’s all about volume and averages and he’s just been gaming the statistics ever since.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Everything about this was made of awesome.

  • phantomreader42

    The Lord of Nightmares, being an entity of Chaos, outside the Good/Evil paradigm, doesn’t really have an analogue in christian myth, which leaves out one of the alignment dimensions.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Demons always give me pause.

    Take it as a given that demons exist. That’s you’re premise and you don’t question your premise (unless it leads to a contradiction in which case you reject it, but everything up to that point is based on assuming the premise to be true.)

    So, demons are real for the purposes of this exercise.

    Is redemption real?

    A demon on earth is one that has escaped the bounds of Hell and is therefore in the unique position of being in a place where saying, “I don’t want to be evil,” will not get its ass kicked. Is sending this demon back to Hell a good idea?

    Since when do Heaven and Earth have extradition treaties with Hell?

    Yes, if a demon is in someone doing bad things, or simply without permission, you want to get it out for the sake of that person, but Hell is a prison. You’re supposed to visit the least of these in prison, when was the last time you took a vacation day to pop over to Hell and give comfort to the demons? The least you can do is minister to them when they’re here on earth.

    What happened to forgiveness and grace and redemption when it comes to demons?

    Yes you help the victim first, you always help the victim first. The victim is your primary concern. That’s how it works, but shouldn’t at least one of your secondary concerns be redeeming the demon. It’s multiple victories in one if you succeed. One less entity doing evil, one more entity doing good, a saved soul (or whatever angels and demons have in their place), a happy ending.

    Sending the demon back without even trying to convert it is just sending back a an enemy soldier fully armed so it can resume the fight on a different front. But that’s not the major concern for me. The major concern is: what about redemption?

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    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!”

    And now I want to see that done somewhere. It has to be a visual format, preferably by someone competent. So, like, it can’t be a scene in Scary Movie 27.

    Sadly, the only two scenarios I can see where this would happen are South Park and Family Guy. They’d do it too wink-and-nod for the scene in my head, though. And I’d want to see it live action, anyway.

    Really, I’m seeing Hugh Laurie as Jesus, bringing the entire gravitas of the “everyone in history is British” Western film oeuvre to the part. But he’s scruffy, like House, because he’s aged quickly, living hard and casting out demons and getting bad sunburns all the time and the like. But he’s not as hard and uncompromising and broken as House. He’s still got that twinkle in his eye and can be moved to help those who can’t help themselves because he can’t see pain and turn away.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Band Name of the Day: Quadratic Bishops.

  • Stephen Oller

    I’m afraid that some of your ideas about exorcism in the Catholic Church are just incorrect. I highly recommend reading The Rite (don’t watch the movie). The Rite is half History of Exorcism, half non-fiction story of an exorcist-in-training. Literally, every other chapter talks about the teach and history of exorcism in The Church. I think it will clear up some of your misconceptions. For example, the Rite of Exorcism is not a verbatim process. The document itself is as they said, but it is not meant to be in rote fashion. Think of the document as a guide–the exorcist definitely reads from it, but is pretty free in how he goes about doing that. Furthermore, performing an exorcism is not a process with instantaneous results. It actually takes months, sometimes years in extreme cases, for the possessed to become totally liberated.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Put into a modern setting:

    Jesus: Get back you demon!
    Apostle: Dude, why are you holding a miniature electric chair?
    Jesus *a solemn sadness in his voice*: You shall see brother; you shall see.
    Mary *whispering to the apostle who asked* Did you really have to ask that?

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    What happened to forgiveness and grace and redemption when it comes to demons?

    Christianity gets around that by claiming that demons are fallen angels and that angels, unlike humans, were created without the capacity for free will. As such, demons lack the capacity to receive grace and redemption.

    This just pushes the problem farther down the road, however, as the obvious follow-up question is then, “So if angels don’t have free will, how did they end up rebelling?” Option A is that they did choose. Option B is that god made them do it, thereby setting into motion the creation of Hell, the Garden of Eden, the Fall, and all of that.

    Interestingly enough, even though I hung out in churches where demons came up from time to time I don’t remember ever discussing the inherent problems outlined above. Demons were simply evil and unrepentant. They were the definition of the Other. It’s almost like no one wanted to think about the implications…

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Apparently the problem here isn’t that Fred hasn’t read The Rite and needs to, the problem is that this Paprocki fellow needs to, since he was the one claiming the Pope couldn’t have possibly performed an exorcism since he hadn’t memorized the proper set of incantations.

  • Launcifer

    I can’t help but think that an organisation composed entirely of clerics would be… well, let’s just say it’d a bit crap, shall we?

  • Launcifer

    What no one – and I mean no one – has ever managed to work out, though, is how come all of those demons from that one guy happened to be called Steve. Don’t even get me started on the suspiciously similar voice they all seemed to use…

  • Launcifer

    … And now I’m imagining a celebrity deathmatch between Fr. Damien Karras and Elmer Gantry.
    Or maybe we could cut out the middle man and just plump for Clancy Brown’s character from Carnivale?

  • Stephen Oller

    It’s not a set of incantations; it’s a prayer book.

  • Launcifer

    Aah, then this must be their secret superhero theme song, yes? And the name of the band is neither blasphemous nor a Dennis Wheatley reference, but an earnest attempt to hide the fact that they’ve just revealed one of the most closely guarded truths of the Catholic church?
    Christ, but I should start writing some of this shit down…

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    When you’re claiming it has to be memorized and repeated verbatim and only people who know how to do it repeatedly are qualified to get the specific results you’re not praying, you’re making an incantation. Paprocki is making those exact claims.

  • Launcifer

    He’d have been much better off if he’d just changed his name to Roberts like his more illustrious namesake.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    They just distract everyone by saying, “Yeah, but who made Steve?”

  • Jeff Weskamp

    You’d think the Vatican would have an enormous stash of Clerical scrolls in its Archives. Heck, they should have scrolls with multiple copies of Remove Disease, Neutralize Poison, and Raise Dead!

    They should have dozens of copies of the various Protection* scrolls, too. If they just brought out some Protection from Magic scrolls, they could have defeated all those witches during the Middle Ages in a jiffy. And each exorcist should be given at least one Protection from Demons scroll.

    *An entire class of magical item that didn’t survive the transition from 2nd to 3rd Edition. Basically, there were dozens of scrolls that bestowed protective benefits on the one who read them aloud, and *anyone* who was literate could use them! Some varieties also granted protection from poison, petrification, etc.

  • Stephen Oller

    And you *would* be able to exorcise someone with just a sentence? Jesus did miracles: healing the sick, curing the incurable, giving sight to the blind. His liberation of possessed people with a simple word was one of those miracles. By your logic, priests should be able to cure people just as miraculously as Jesus did.

  • Omnicrom

    Actually more likely was Jesus was a Favored Soul which is the Divine Magic equivalent of the Sorceror. It also includes Wings (to fly up into heaven) and Damage Resistance (to withstand suffering).

  • Stephen Oller

    No one has ever claimed is has to be memorized. And I never claimed it had to be repeated verbatim. There is nothing wrong with reading off written prayers.

    And, yes, absolutely, only certain people are permitted to do this. It would very unhealthy for all involved if the Catholic Church allowed just anyone to do this type of thing. When someone claims possession, it’s an extremely serious claim and is not to be handled lightly.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Man, somebody has not seen Supernatural.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    No one has ever claimed is has to be memorized.

    Paprocki, in the linked article, DID.

    Your ire should not be directed at Fred, who has not made any claims. It should be directed at Paprocki, who is talking out his ass.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    Am I the only one who reads that story metaphorically? That the mute wasn’t physically mute, but that he was an oppressed person and too cowed to speak for himself, and that meeting Jesus gave him the courage to speak? Because when Jesus talked about demons, I never pictured him talking about Devil’s Imps or something, but about the demons WE create and force others to suffer from.

  • Stephen Oller

    He simply said that the Pope did not have it memorized. He easily could’ve been referring to the idea that the Pope didn’t have a copy of The Rite on him at the time and would’ve had to have it memorized if what he did was an exorcism. He didn’t say *anything* about it having to be memorized.

  • Alicia

    What?? Clerics kick so much ass. They are as strong as fighters and they can do magic. If they could shape-shift too they would be invincible.

  • Launcifer

    Huh… I’m… well, I’m obviously thinking of entirely the wrong set of mechanics and probably the wrong universe as well. Thanks for the correction ;-). If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the other corner, desperately trying to ignore my brain’s attempts to turn this whole thing into a musical extravaganza.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    And he stated that by not having it memorized, or on hand, his rite was invalid. Learn to Brain

  • Isabel C.

    I was under the impression that you can do Lesser Exorcisms, but that Greater ones take a Bishop, or sanction from one? (…this may or may not be relevant to writing stuff in progress.) But I’m going from Wiki here.

  • Stephen Oller

    Can you point me to where he says that? I can’t find it.

  • Alicia

    Doesn’t the article kind of imply that? He said that the Pope’s actions were not an exorcism because they did not consist of the requisite “20 or 30 minutes” of reciting prayers, reading scripture, etc. Didn’t he? What is the difference between a recitation of a prayer and an incantation?

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    … 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.

    SRSLY Dude? Scroll up 10 inches. It’s right there in the OP

  • Stephen Oller

    No, the article didn’t imply that. Exorcisms, like many things, usually take a certain amount of time. I’m sure you say your daily prayers in about the same amount of time. Is that an incantation? Is saying the Lord’s Prayer (a very specifically worded, pre-written prayer) an incantation? No!

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    Yes it is. You may not want people to call it that, because that implies its not SOOOPER DOOPER SPESHUL RELIGIOUS STUFF and is just a belief in magic instead.

  • Stephen Oller

    Look, you need to reread that quote very carefully. That quote says absolutely nothing that you’re claiming it does. He’s presenting an argument that what the Pope did was *not* an exorcism. He isn’t claiming that it was an “invalid exorcism” like you’re saying.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    not an exorcism =/= invalid exorcism????

    The results of a Catholic education, no doubt

  • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    so…the Doctor, then?

  • Stephen Oller

    Yes, Aeryl, there *is* a difference.

    I’m done with you. It’s clear you’re not capable of intelligent discussion. There’s no discussion to be had here. I’m not going to reply to or read any more of your comments

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    Explain what it is then, practically everyone else on this thread and I don’t see it.

  • JustoneK

    The entirety of the references to Paprocki:

    Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, an American expert on exorcism who organized a conference on the topic in 2010, 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.

    Paprocki’s 2010 conference on exorcism was seen as a peak of interest in the ancient practice – at least in the United States. According to experts, 100 bishops and priests attended the exorcism conference held in Baltimore.

    “Since that conference, I think things have died down a little bit,” Paprocki said. “I think it kind of ebbs and flows and sometimes you get more of an interest in that than other times.”

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    if you think the concept of exorcism is is grift, that’s like claiming the concept of transubstantiation is a grift

    It’s not the same at all, though. Because exorcism depends on a powerful person, normally a man given authority by the church, doing things to people who are less powerful. Transubstantiation, you can just do in your own head.

    Exorcism gives powerful people more power. It can cause extreme harm to people who are “exorcised”. Transubstantiation is just something a person can believe or not within themselves.

    Further, I’ve never heard of anyone being driven further into madness by believing in transubstantiation. Nor, in recent decades, have I heard of anyone causing harm to anyone else over transubstantiation. Exorcism, though? http://skepdic.com/exorcism.html. And it’s not just Catholics.

  • Alicia

    Stephen,

    This is where people are getting tripped up then. To me, there isn’t a meaningful difference between a prayer intended to produce a direct supernatural effect (such as removing a demon from a human’s body) and an incantation.

    This is not a criticism or a disparagement of prayers or incantations; I just think that the words in this context are functionally interchangeable. I could be wrong, of course.

    Can you specify the difference here?

  • Carrie Looney

    I feel like “The Exorcists!” needs to be the punch-line to a dirty running theater gag.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    What is the Warhammer 40K of Christianity?

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    Yet another reminder of how druids really are the most powerful class.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Exorcism is utter nonsense. We might as well be weighing women against ducks and burning them if they’re the same weight. There are no such things as demons and they cannot possess people.

    The reason I’m being so straightforward and harsh about this when I’m usually not about religious beliefs? Here’s a sampling:

    Exorcism has caused a number of real-world
    tragedies over the years, including several deaths.

    Pentecostal ministers in San Francisco
    pummeled a woman to death in 1995, as they tried to drive out her
    demons.

    In 1997, a Korean Christian woman was
    stomped to death in Glendale, Calif., and in the Bronx section of New
    York City, a 5-year-old girl died after being forced to swallow a
    mixture containing ammonia and vinegar and having her mouth taped shut.

    In 1998, a 17-year-old girl in Sayville,
    N.Y., was suffocated by her mother with a plastic bag, in an effort to
    destroy a demon inside her.

    In 2001, a 37-year old woman, Joanna Lee,
    was strangled to death in an exorcism by a Korean church minister
    working in New Zealand. The minister, Luke Lee, was found guilty of
    manslaughter.

    http://skepdic.com/exorcism.html

    There are no such things as demons. But belief in demons has caused millions of murders over the history of our species. Without it, the gynocide of the witchcraft executions in Europe would never have happened. It’s superstitious, dangerous nonsense that causes nothing but harm, and it must stop.


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