Both Catholic writer William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel and the 1973 movie based on it are fictionalized accounts of an exorcism that took place in 1949. As related in a 1998 article in the Arlington (Virginia) Catholic Herald:
The true story began in January 1949 and involved a 13-year-old boy named Robbie who lived with his parents and grandmother in Mt. Rainier, Maryland. Robbie was very close to his aunt who visited the family frequently from St. Louis, Missouri. She was a medium and attempted to communicate with the spirit world. Not only did she spark Robbie’s interest in this practice, she also taught him how to use the Ouija board.
Strange phenomena began happening on Jan. 10, 1949. The family heard scratching on the walls; however, exterminators found no evidence of pests of any kind. Objects moved by themselves: a table would turn over, a chair would move across the room, a vase would fly through the air, and a picture of Christ would shake. At night, Robbie felt scratching in his bed, and he suffered nightmares frequently.
After the aunt died suddenly on Jan. 26, Robbie continued to use the Ouija board to communicate with her and others. The strange phenomena also continued. Moreover, Robbie’s disposition changed — he become unsettled, agitated, and angry.
The boy’s parents first took him to see their Lutheran pastor, who claimed to have observed strange phenomena. First, he had the boy admitted to a hospital for testing. After tests revealed nothing out of the ordinary, the pastor brought in a local Catholic priest.
Based on information that came out of the unsuccessful exorcism attempts that followed, the family headed to a cousin’s home in St. Louis. There, the boy eventually underwent an exorcism by Jesuit priest Father William Bowdern. The exorcism efforts were extensive and sometimes violent — at one point, Bowdern suffered a broken nose. Eventually, after the rite was over, the boy, who had been baptized Catholic, reportedly recovered and went on to live a normal life.
Click here to see an evocative photo gallery created by the Denver Post to commemorate the event.
On Friday, Oct. 30, Destination America, which is owned by Discovery Networks, is doing something that may prove very unwise. From its press release:
The history-making special EXORCISM: LIVE! premieres this Friday, October 30 at 9/8c, bringing the first-ever live televised exorcism in U.S. history to TV screens exclusively on Destination America. Just in time for Halloween, the two-hour TV event revisits the legendary house that inspired the scariest movie of all time, The Exorcist. It was in 1949 at a house in St. Louis when an exorcism was performed on Roland Doe to rid him of demonic possession. No one has ever attempted to cleanse the house of the dark entities that remain there… until now.
“The saying ‘the truth is stranger than fiction’ has never been more true than in the case of the Exorcist house. The real story was so much more horrifying than the book or movie depicted, making it one of the most terrifying places in America,” said Jane Latman, general manager of Destination America. “Our crew and talent are now on the ground in St. Louis at this iconic home making final preparations for EXORCISM: LIVE!, ensuring that we’re taking the necessary precautions for what is truly going to be the most dangerous night in television.”
Make no mistake, the USOCC is NOT connected with the Catholic Church. It was founded the early 1700s in the Netherlands by groups which separated from the Church over the issue of papal authority. The declaration of papal infallibility caused more groups to splinter off in the late 1800s.
So, whatever rite this bishop is performing, it has no validity in Catholic eyes. Destination America is encouraging viewers to participate through social media, which should concern anyone who takes the possibility of demonic possession seriously.
These days, the USOCC is in full communion with the Episcopalians/Anglicans. Its “inclusive” theology reflects that group’s accepting attitude toward homosexual behavior and divorce, along with ordination of women, non-necessity of clerical celibacy, etc.
I’m not one who condemns all of reality TV. There’s a lot of it that’s informative, uplifting and honestly entertaining. But it can also be exploitative and reckless, and this falls in that category.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis agrees. As reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it released a statement that read, in part:
Given the public nature of this event, the Archdiocese of St. Louis – which is not involved in this dangerous endeavor – deems it necessary to educate and warn the public about the dangers of participating in such activities.
“No exorcism can take place without the authority of the local Roman Catholic ordinary,” said auxiliary bishop emeritus Robert Hermann.
Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson, archbishop of St. Louis, has not granted the necessary permissions – known as “faculties” – to any priests or bishops for the purpose of this televised event. Anyone involved in this production who claims to be a member of the Catholic clergy is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of St. Louis nor are they operating under the authority of the Vatican.
Any purported exorcism by spiritualists, paranormal investigators, mediums, or non-Catholic clerics for the purposes of entertainment trivializes this ancient rite of the Roman Catholic Church and the very real danger of evil.
“Any attempt to use the solemn Rite of Exorcism as entertainment exposes all participators to the danger of future hidden satanic attack,” said Bishop Hermann. “We cannot play games with Satan and expect to win.”
It could be a rough night, St. Louis. Keep the Faith.
Image: Wikimedia Commons