Catholic Church Gets Its Exorcise

Catholic Church Gets Its Exorcise October 22, 2011

Utne reports on the vast increase in the number of Catholic exorcists running around the United States doing … well, something. Pretending to throw out “demons” and such, I guess.

The challenges now confronting the Catholic Church in the United States are legion: the sex abuse scandal, a secularizing society, and a restive flock that, studies show, loses one out of three adult Catholics, to name just a few. Exorcism reasserts the relevance of the church and its inimitable power over human destiny. Who else is going to help when the devil comes for you?

Pope John Paul II, who is rumored to have performed several exorcisms, frequently warned Catholics that Satan is very real and very dangerous. In a similar vein, Pope Benedict XVI praised a group of Italian exorcists in 2005, encouraging them to pursue their “important ministry.”

In the latter half of John Paul’s papacy, the number of official exorcists in the United States ballooned from 1 to 19, according to sociologist Michael Cuneo. The number has grown to about 30 under Benedict. Many of the new exorcists are theologically conservative priests chosen by like-minded bishops who share the late pontiff’s belief that the church is battling cosmic forces of evil.

All those people running around battling demons and yet John Tesh still exists. Maybe their aim is off.

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  • Tim DeLaney

    Even when I was a devout Catholic (when I was a child), I recognized demonic possession as superstitious nonsense.

    Since becoming an atheist, I have always thought that many popes might well be atheists. You know, like the sausage factory worker who never eats frankfurters. I guess I was wrong about that.

  • Aliasalpha

    For some reason (probably the lack of sleep), reading the phrase “Catholic exorcists running around the United States doing … well, something” gave me a mental image of an ecclesiastical version of cops

    Satan, Satan

    Whatcha gonna do?

    Whatcha gonna do

    When he comes for you?

  • raven

    My natal xian sect didn’t believe in demons, or at least I don’t remember hearing about them.

    The idea of demons running around has always seemed on par with UFO aliens, elves, fairies, brownies, wood sprites, leprecauns, and mermaids. All of which they closely resemble in characteristics, being invisible and doing nothing in the real world.

    There are a lot of problems with the idea.

    1. Why are these demons running around? Who made them? Well, god made them, along with hell and satan, and lets them run around on earth. It’s his ant farm, after all. Can’t he keep out the spiders and mold?

    2. If billions of demons are running around doing things, where is our free will? Same thing with angels, of course. If you blame bad things on god and demons, and good things on god and angels, you are just a meat robot for cosmic forces. Your individual freedom and responsibility for your actions go out the window.

    3. Demons are invisible, undetectable, and do nothing real. If you don’t believe in them, nothing happens except you don’t worry about them.

    It’s no accident that they look a lot like fairies etc.. They come from the same source, obvious primitive superstitions.

  • raven

    The Catholic church has always tried for a broad appeal. Be all things to all people.

    For the uneducated and superstitious, there are demons and exorcists, saint’s bones and relics with magic powers, and wizards in black robes called priests. One of their weirder rituals is digging up their honored saints and dragging their dead bodies around for supernatural reasons.

    For the intelligent and educated, you have the Jesuits and “sophisticated theology”, which while not all that sophisticated, is a step above dead bodies with magic powers.

    My guess is that they need the money and are appealing to the superstitious part of their membership.

  • raven

    What ended the demons journey on earth was real simple.

    The Demon Theory of Disease. It’s all through the bible, jesus being famous for casting out demons and healing people.

    We found out centuries ago, that disease is caused by “germs”, genetics, old age, and so on, all natural causes. We also found out that going to doctors works a lot better than faith healing or exorcisms.

    Demons just shrivel up in the light of knowledge and education. Not so scary after all.

  • For some reason (probably the lack of sleep), reading the phrase “Catholic exorcists running around the United States doing … well, something” gave me a mental image of an ecclesiastical version of cops

    Satan, Satan

    Whatcha gonna do?

    Whatcha gonna do

    When he comes for you?

    It makes me think of Trinity Blood, an anime I watched for trainwreck value. In the distant future, the Vatican is the home base of the vampire hunting priests who wear spiffy uniforms and work for the cardinals, some of whom browbeat the weak-willed Pope into supporting their plans. Said Pope is a 13-year-old boy who inherited the title from his father.

    …I’ll give you a moment to process that last bit.

    As bad as I thought that anime was, I’ll take Japan’s version of the Catholic church over this silly stuff the real world church is trying to pull.

  • Nice Ogress

    Marvin Harris, in his excellent book “Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddles of Culture“, posited that the mass executions, inquisitions and witch scares of medieval times were triggered by mass defections from the church – they tended to synchronize neatly with schisms and were biggest during the Prostestant Reformation. They didn’t have anything to do with ACTUAL witchraft, and everything to do with whipping up fear and hysteria. Supernatural forces are out to get you, and the church has the cure!

    Basically, the church figured out that slaughtering heretics wasn’t bringing pople back into the arms of the church. People still had sympathy for heretics. Labelling them witches and accusing them of having supernatural powers FIRST worked better, and eventually heresy stopped being important at all and the witchfinders basically just picked people at random.

    This worked so well that all the schism sects started doing it, too – basically resulting in all of Europe being alternately at war or on fire until the Age of Reason (which really only slowed it down a little).

  • cag

    Many of the new exorcists are theologically conservative priests chosen by like-minded bishops who share the late pontiff’s belief that the church is battling cosmic forces of evil.

    So they are fighting among themselves!

  • Pierce R. Butler

    ex-orc-ize?

    Is that anything like ex-gay “therapy”?

    If it works as well, prepare to be overrun by minions of Sauron…

  • Aliasalpha

    Everyone knows that Orc is a lifestyle choice!

  • bananacat

    My uncle had an exorcism in the 60s for schizophrenia, and his family wasn’t even Catholic. What they were was dirt poor and that’s the only “help” they could afford. And that’s why I loathe religious-based charity. It’s all about recruiting and not about actually helping people. This offends me both as an atheist and as someone who volunteers simply to help other people. The Catholic church preys on disadvantaged people who have nowhere else to turn. One great thing about government welfare programs is that it takes some of the leverage away from religious charities (in the cases where the government program isn’t controlled by religious people).