Francis inspires rising tide of exorcists and exorcisms

Francis inspires rising tide of exorcists and exorcisms May 5, 2015

Francis’ respect for and practical belief in the reality of the demonic has allowed people who were hitherto shy about discussing the devil and similar facts to come out of the woodwork and ask for the graces and helps the Church provides in confronting Old Scratch. This includes exorcisms and there has been a corresponding uptick in priests getting trained to act as exorcists.

People are often astonished to discover that I believe in the demonic. I’m even more astonished that, after the 20th century, anybody could doubt the existence of the demonic. The arguments of postmoderns are typically absurd non sequiturs like “But this is 2015!”, a reply with all the logical rigor of “But this is Tueday, April 14!” or “But this is 12:15 in the afternoon!”

So what? What does the year have to do with whether or not God can create non-corporeal intelligences which, abusing their free will as we do, can use their powers to harm and dominate certain human beings? I’ve never seen a sound argument against the proposition and the world teems with evidence that this is precisely what happens sometimes.

Beyond the appeal to the calendar is the Argument from Personal Incredulity. It just seems ridiculous, so it can’t be true. What is striking about such arguments is that the person who makes it typically sees himself as the hard-headed fact-based rationalist and the believer as the obscurantist afraid of science and reason. Yet in truth, it is the believer who goes and sees the evidence (the Church typically spends a lot of time diagnosing claims of possession and typically refers people to shrinks), while the skeptic simply refuses to look while hiding behind a fusillade of insults against the intellect of the believer.

After that, the last beloved tactic of the skeptic is the old fallacy “Some claims of the demonic are fake, therefore all are.” The trick is either find a fake or a crazy person and then generalize from that to all the other stories of encounters with the demonic.

But despite such tactics, the fact remains that the testimony of plenty of witnesses down through the ages bears witness to the reality of demonic evil and demonic power. The good news is that such evil, while real, is by no means an ultimate power. Christ conquers sin, death, and the devil and spent a goodly portion of his ministry doing what the Church still does today by the living power of His Spirit: driving out the devil.

All of which is to say, there’s really nothing new modernity has to add to the conversation about the existence of the demonic, except for blank, baseless prejudice.  In a century that has seen Auschwitz, the Cultural Revolution, theGreat Famine, and Sandy Hook, only a fool would declare that the demonic is prima facie ridiculous.

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  • James H, London

    with all the logical rigor of “But this is Tueday, April 14!” or “But this is 12:15 in the afternoon!”

    Very Chestertonian, O Mark 🙂 I’d love a chance to use it.

  • Pete the Greek

    Waaaaiiiitttt…. I thought Francis was an ultra librul who wants to ruin the Church?!!? STOP RUINING THE LABELS!!!

    • Jacob Suggs

      Clearly, “driving out the devil” is euphemism for forcibly driving money out of rich people and into the hands of the poor, under the condition that they’ll use it all to fight global warming. It was on Huffington Post, don’t you remember?

      There, I fixed it for you.

      • Alma Peregrina

        Sooooo… if driving out the devil is a euphemism to drive money out of the rich people…

        … does that mean the Holy Father wants us to drive the devil into poor people?

    • Benedetti

      He did ruin the Church. The Gates of Hell already prevailed. You must have missed the news that day.

  • I like: Argument from Personal Incredulity

    From my personal experience and observation, I would say not only have fiends from Hell an actual existence, but that they have succeeded in gaining quite a few human recruits.

    Sometimes I’m surprised that God hasn’t fed the whole species to the pigs. Probably He hasn’t because of some saints, who are mostly anonymous.

  • LFM

    I’ve sometimes thought that one reason for the success of the Pentecostalists in many parts of the “Third World”, including those that are nominally Catholic or some other strain of Christian already, is that they are not shy about driving out demons, witches and spells in Jesus’s name when in the presence of those who claim to be afflicted by these things.

    p.s. If my information here is out of date, please excuse me.

    • One of the things said by Catholics in Brazil after they go over to Pentecostalism is that the priests don’t help them fight the devil.

      • LFM

        Yes, I’ve heard that before about other parts of the world. Haitians, too, appear to be drawn to pastors and churches that are willing to take an active part in helping them exorcise these afflictions. Urbane, educated priests are often too embarrassed to do so.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    My father is assisting our priest in an exorcism this week. I think people are a little shy about bringing it up, and relieved to find that something can be done.

    • Newp Ort

      any details? (keeping it anonymous, of course.) What are the sufferers symptoms/malady?

      • I can’t speak to that particular situation (obviously), but if you want to learn more about the symptoms, signs, treatment, etc., I highly recommend Matt Baglio’s The Rite (a non-fiction account of the writer’s time with Italian exorcists, an experience which renewed his Catholic faith).

        • Rebecca Fuentes

          Francis Macnutt has at least one book out about spiritual warfare, too.

      • Rebecca Fuentes

        No, we are such a small community, Dad would give no details. He just asked for our prayer support. We have a high per capita suicide rate here, so I do wonder if it is connected to that.

    • StumbleBumble

      I belong to a large Spanish speaking parish here in Southern California. Father preached a fiery sermon last night at Mass and he mentioned the devil and his desire to destroy and take to hell as many souls as possible. One other priest at our parish has shared a few stories about being in certain homes and experiencing the evil one’s presence and reminding us all that he is real. He says he had to return to perform exorcisms later.

      Can the evil one have fooled the “modern West” into thinking he has not set foot on us and only seeks to pester the poor in the third world who understand who and what he is?

      I was thinking too, if certain priests are too embarrassed to help out the faithful against the evil one…woe to them. Maybe being embarrassed is a ploy to capture them and hold them bound. If one is bound, then how can they pray for deliverance and bring the tormented one into the presence of Christ and be healed?

  • A.J. Avila

    This is a lot like a novel I wrote, Nearer the Dawn, even down to the arguments (given by an atheist) that such things don’t happen in the 21st century and that everything can be explained by science. Some of the demonic attacks I describe in the book are based on the personal experiences of someone I know.

    If you want to check it out, it’s free at or inexpensively on Kindle with all net profits going to charity.

    • antigon

      On that matter of novels, Bulgakov’s masterpiece ‘The Master & Margarita’ begins with the devil chatting up some folk in Moscow as I recall, about the absurdity of believing he exists.

    • Especially in the 21st century. And the last one.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I don’t think that the “Appeal to the Calendar” is meant as an argument against the existence of the demonic, but just as a statement of surprise. In their eyes, demons are an outdated superstition of the past. “But it’s 2015” no more proves the roundness of the earth, than it does disprove the existence of demons, but if someone said the earth was flat, I’m sure you’d hear it said in that case too.

    • Alma Peregrina

      “I’m sure you’d hear it said in that case too”

      And you’d be wrong in that case too.

      You didn’t mention if it was 2015 b.C. or a.D.

      Perhaps mentioning the roundness of the earth as seen on our trips to the moon would be more to the point?

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Haha.. well I suppose if you want to be nitpicky…. though I doubt there are many people who need clarification on whether we are currently in a ADs or BCs.

  • kirthigdon

    I think I’ve completely missed out on the phenomenon of belief in the demonic or in exorcism being in the closet. I’ve been fooled by all the hit movies, the vast array of books at just about any bookstore and the fact that I’ve even run into agnostics who believe in the devil or in some sort of malevolent spirits. I’m all for giving the devil his due but it strikes me that, like Caesar, he gets a lot more than he’s entitled to. I’ve been condescended to by being told I’m “too intelligent” to believe in God. No one has ever disputed with me concerning belief in the devil.

    Kirt Higdon

    • Andy, Bad Person

      I’ve often thought about supernatural evil as being the stupidest thing the devil can do. If a nonbeliever witnessed a real demonic possession, what’s the first thing he would do, assuming he couldn’t run from the truth? He’d run straight to Jesus.

      On the other hand, no one said the devil was smart.

      • antigon

        ‘no one said the devil was smart.’
        Oh, smart enough, depending on your definition. But when sin conquers, its sweeping aspect demands service even against, so to say, its own interest.

        • D.T. McCameron

          Evil always destroys, most especially itself.

      • Clever. Stupid.

  • FrogLeg

    “After that, the last beloved tactic of the skeptic is the old fallacy ‘Some claims of the demonic are fake, therefore all are.'”

    In fairness, this should be “Most claims of the demonic are fake, therefore all are.”

    • capaxdei

      You’ve seen the statistics?

      • LFM

        Perhaps he/she has inside knowledge….?

  • Tweck

    I have a friend who is an Anglican priest, who has been on an exorcism or two. I asked him to tell me more about his experiences, and he responded, “The amazing thing about our encounters with evil…they are equally terrifying and mundane. Evil is, ultimately, the most boringly terrible thing in the universe.”

    Before my reversion (back to Catholicism, yaaaaaayy!!! *grateful*), I claimed to not believe in a literal devil. Now I very much do, having seen how much destruction Satan has wrought in my own life. After my first Reconciliation in 20-some-odd years, I told one of the wonderful priests from my parish that there was so much I didn’t remember, and he told me in no uncertain terms that I am a new man, and not to look back on the sins of my past, as that’s one of the places the devil lurks. My extrapolation is that he was informing me that the devil tries to convince us in this manner that we aren’t worthy of redemption.

    Of course, that has nothing to do with exorcism, and I have now gone completely off-topic. I suppose I’m still just so fresh to even believing in the existence of the devil, who I had convinced myself 20 years or so ago didn’t exist.

    • antigon

      ‘not to look back on the sins of [the] past.’
      Just in passim, Sant’Ignacio di Loyola held – as I recall very specifically contra Padre Luther – that pondering sins forgiven in Confession was but a temptation of the devil designed to provoke further sin.
      Since pondering these were nonetheless part of the Exercises, he presumably thought such was allowed, never randomly, but under specific direction in the brevity of that retreat.

    • Judith Alexander

      Thank you so much for saying this. I sit and dwell on my mistakes of the past sometimes, and they make me feel soooo bad and guilty that it seems to serve no good purpose. I have vacillated on the existence of personified evil for a long time, too, but what you said struck me in the center of my chest as true, and it gives me new drive not to dwell on past sins.

  • There are plenty of damaged and vulnerable people who comment on blogs and seem to have been offered dangles by the Devil, and some may have taken the bait. They are always bitter, angry, and never evince any joy or love, which is a good way to know where they’re coming from.

    A priest I know says: All the devils in Hell have never manufactured one joy.

  • onewaytoheaven

    Many struggle with temptation and the devil “possess” someone not by physical possession but with the chains of temptation, and many times for most of their lives; they know the Truth but can not seem to shake the chains of temptation of the world and so are led around quite literally by the devil. My husband struggled daily for the last six months of his life with the devil. A battle that was just as horrible and difficult as the cancer itself. He would tell me the devil was tormenting him, telling him he could not be forgiven by God, that he was lost and there was no chance for Heaven. Daily I would read Scripture and the many parables that Jesus gave us about the forgiveness and Love of God no matter what our sins, that we too as the prodigal son can come back to the Father and be Loved and Forgiven. Over and over, each day was the terrible battle with the devil, it was very very real. Yes and the devil hated me too and hates me still because I was not going to give up on a soul or any soul ever as the Lord gave me strength and wisdom and the words of encouragement each and every day to help my husband and to rebuke the devil, I was not afraid of the devil and I am not now either for Jesus Christ has conquered the devil. The devil tried to scare me though, to discourage me in a number of ways in those days but Jesus only strengthened me more to which there was so much evidence that God was helping us that I was not afraid and knew my husband was Forgiven. And he did see Jesus before he died, he did win the battle with God’s assurance and help. The devil was defeated. Praise be to God!