Some years ago, I came across an audio file of part of the exorcism of Anneleise Michel. Probably I had just watched “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and was curious about the true story. Things like that interest me, but I don’t recommend you get interested; the audio, even in a language I could not understand, unsettled me. After Taylor Marshall recorded a ninety-minute podcast promoting things the demons said during the exorcism, I thought: Wait. Demons are liars. “There is no truth in him,” Jesus said (John 8:44). “He is a liar and the father of lies.” Don’t the rubrics for the exorcism rite instruct the priest to disregard what the demons say; the demons lie; don’t trust them?
The text of the rite is in the Missale Romanum, but when I scroll down to the chapter on Exorcism, here is what I read:
The texts of the Rite of Exorcism are restricted to the study and use of Exorcist Priests who perform this ministry under the direction of the Diocesean Bishop.
No help there; but there is a text of the rite (without rubrics) here, and one of the prayers the priest recites includes these words: “Depart, seducer, full of lies and cunning.” Odd it would be for a priest to address the demons as “full of lies” and then assume that there is necessarily truth in anything they might say during the exorcism.
Remember that. A professor at DeVry writes me today:
In our diocese we had a process for discerning exorcisms. First, we had a team meet with the person. This team consisted of a deacon and trained psychologists to determine whether we were actually dealing with a demonic possession or just a lunatic. If it was determined to be the former, we would then call in the exorcist. Anything he did was entirely confidential; we treated it all like the seal of confession. Most dioceses operate this way. If you see others who spout off about such events, they are media hounds looking for glory for themselves and their agenda.
And Deacon Keith Strohm writes:
Working in this area of the Church’s ministry and assisting exorcists, I do know that any conversation is generally kept to a minimum and is focused on discovering the name and/or entry point. I don’t have vast experience in this area, but the exorcists I know do not generally engage in extensive dialogue with the demonic…and their basic approach is to take anything that a demon says and, except under very particular circumstances, assume it is a lie.
That’s sound advice. Demons lie; don’t listen to them. Should we have to belabor this point?
But given Dr. Marshall’s decision to broadcast to the world the words of the demons who possessed poor Anneliese Michel—and then treat them as though they reveal much truth about the “infiltration” of the Church—I guess we must belabor it.
I listened to all 90 minutes of the podcast today, but I no more recommend you listen to it than I recommend you listen to the exorcism of Anneliese. I was flabbergasted to hear a public Catholic with the following of Dr. Marshall suggest that we listen to demons. Maybe I should know better; maybe I’m naïve.
The demons identify themselves as Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Hitler, Nero, and some disgraced Catholic priest. What these five credible people say, Dr. Marshall tells us, confirms everything he (Dr. Marshall) has said about the “infiltration” of the Church. (By the way, if you value your sanity and want to avoid the migraine headache I have now after ninety minutes of Dr. Marshall, don’t buy this dumb book.)
The five demons, according to Dr. Marshall, say things like: We hate the Rosary; the Dutch bishops are heretics; communion in the hand pleases Judas; Hans Kung is one of ours; more Catholics should follow Archbishop Lefebvre; listen to Fatima; Humanae Vitae is decisive.
“Totally legit!” Marshall and his co-host say. “This passes the smell-test! Why, this is just what we Traditionalists have been saying!”
(So the demons sound like Traditionalists; that amuses me to hear Taylor Marshall admit this.)
Dr. Marshall’s co-host actually praises the demons for being “red-pilled.” “This whole thing,” he says, “has the ring of complete legitimacy.”
So Jesus says, “Father of lies.” Jesus says, “No truth in him.” The exorcism prayer says, “full of lies and cunning.” And Dr. Marshall says, “The demons are red-pilled and totally legit.”
Dr. Marshall even goes so far as to say that the Catholic hierarchy doesn’t want this tape to get out because the demons reveal the truth they’re trying to cover up. It’s utterly astonishing.
Dear reader, I don’t think I have words for just how spiritually dangerous it is for a Catholic to start looking for truth in what demons have to say, and then go further and attempt to drag other Catholics with him. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). St. Paul does not say, “Five demons who possess a German woman in the 1970s are the pillar and ground of truth.”
I know how Dr. Marshall would reply, because he says this in the podcast. He says: Well, yes, demons are liars, but when they are under the authority of the exorcist they are compelled to tell the truth.
And who does Marshall cite as his authority for this? Well, he says, it’s “what I’ve been told.”
It’s clear Dr. Marshall knows that the demons are the bad guys. So it’s astonishing why he thinks we need to listen to them at all. He says that if you listen to these demons, you’ll definitely be praying the Rosary every day, because they testify how powerful the Rosary is against them.
Well, sure, but why do I have to listen to a demon to know that? The Church tells me this about the Rosary. St. John Paul II has a whole encyclical about the Rosary. It’s called Rosarium Virginis Mariæ. Leo XIII and Pius XII had themselves written encyclicals on the Rosary before John Paul II. Why does Dr. Marshall tell us, “Listen to the demons about how powerful the Rosary is”? Why does he not say, “Listen to the popes about how powerful the Rosary is”? Or: “Listen to the Blessed Mother about how powerful the Rosary is”?
Any truth that is necessary to my salvation I can acquire from the Church. I don’t need to get it from demons.
Jesus gives us a model of how exorcism ought to be done. It’s in Luke 4:33-35, where Jesus encounters a man in the synagogue possessed by a demon. The demon shouts at Jesus: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God!” Jesus does not say, “He tells the truth!” “Totally legit!” “What a red-pilled demon!” No. He tells the demon to shut up and leave.
That’s what an exorcist does. He’s there for one reason—to expel the demon. An exorcist does not engage the demon in conversation about the Rosary or Hans Kung. An exorcist does not care what the demon thinks of the Rosary or Hans Kung. He does not ask the demon his opinion of the Red Sox. He tells the demon to leave. End stop.
Who asks the opinion of Anneliese Michel? Demons stole her voice from her in the 1970s; and in 2019, Taylor Marshall seems more interested in what the demons had to say through Anneliese’s possessed mouth than in Anneliese herself.
C.S. Lewis wrote that there are two errors into which one can fall about demons. The first error is to disbelieve in them. The second error is to believe in them and have an unhealthy interest in them.
Satan doesn’t care which error he traps you in. The attitude of a Catholic should be, I don’t care what the demons have to say. I’m not listening to you; I’m listening to the Church.”
I’ll say it again: Demons lie. And one way the lie is by mixing some truth in with a whole lot of lies, so you let your guard down. Don’t listen to them. What they say, they say not to save you but to damn you. And don’t listen to Taylor Marshall or anyone else with an unhealthy, spiritually dangerous interest in demons, or in confirming one’s private opinions through the testimony of demons. Listen to the Church.