A Word on Demons in the Charismatic Renewal

A Word on Demons in the Charismatic Renewal March 28, 2022

I want to say a little more about the Charismatic Renewal.

Earlier this year, I talked a little about how some Charismatic communities really meet the definition of a cult. Last week I talked about how forced touching and even assault can happen in Charismatic Catholic circles, in the context of prayer. This week I want to talk in a little more depth about another aspect of the Charismatic Renewal, and how it can lead to abuse.

In the Charismatic Renewal, they believe in demons, but not always the way the rest of the Church believes in demons. They believe that demons are extremely powerful and can wreak havoc in people’s lives, and that this is a common occurrence. They believe that demons are often directly responsible for physical and mental illness, and even plain old bad luck. They also believe that demons can inhabit you if you do the wrong thing: if you watch the wrong film or play the wrong board game or don’t turn the channel fast enough when a commercial for a psychic comes on. There is also a belief, in the Charismatic Renewal, that demons can inhabit someone’s family line. And this provides an opportunity to torture people, sometimes without meaning to.

I’m not saying that every single person who identifies as a Charismatic believes exactly these things and hurts people because of it. I’m saying this is a very common set of beliefs in Charismatic communities. Sometimes people assume it’s true but don’t think about it very much, and sometimes it’s taken to extremes, but it exists in these groups, and it gets people hurt.

It goes like this: suppose your grandfather is an alcoholic with an anger management problem, and he tells stories of his father being the same way, and your father also grew up to be an alcoholic with an anger management problem, and now you find yourself losing your temper with people and drinking way too much. Everyone knows this kind of phenomenon can run in families; you can inherit a tendency toward addiction genetically, and even more importantly you can get traumatized by abusive parenting and start acting out the abuse and trauma on a new generation if you don’t get help. But in the Charismatic Renewal, you will find people who honestly believe that that generational curse of alcoholism and abuse is happening because of the presence of a literal demon who has made himself at home in your blood line and can be passed on to a fetus like HIV.

Those of my readers who have never been Charismatic are probably shaking your heads and laughing right now, but it’s not a laughing matter for those of us raised Charismatic.

Some Charismatic circles take it a step further and believe that evil spirits are responsible for physical health conditions too: I’ve been to prayer services where they cast out the spirits of heart attacks and cancer for example. Once I remember a mimeographed pamphlet where we prayed against “the spirit of flat feet.” And I’ve been to prayer meetings where people mention random bad luck like “the spirit of not getting a job.” Anything that runs in families or seems to happen in a pattern can be a spirit.

There are entire prayer meetings and books of prayers, which I’ve talked about several times on this blog, for getting those generational demons out of you. It’s not an easy task. You have to call them out by name, and if you get the name wrong they’re not going to budge. You have to call them out in the Name of Jesus and repeat that often or they will only pretend to be controlled. You have to forbid them, in the Name of Jesus, to take vengeance or to enter anybody else or you’ll be stuck with an even worse case of possession. It’s so difficult you probably can’t figure out how to expel the demons by yourself, so of course you’ll want to bring in an expert. And that’s where the con artists come in.

There are people who, in exchange for a “donation,” will pray over you and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Then they’ll inform you that the Holy Spirit told them all the places demons are living in your family line. They’ll say your grandfather was secretly a freemason and your great grandmother once went to a folk healer in Italy and your mom played with Ouija boards but never told you about it and that’s why you suffer from migraines, or equally outlandish things. And then they’ll say that you need to meet with them for deliverance prayer, for another “donation,” and then we’re off to the races. There are also phony exorcists who will throw holy water on you and yell at you for an hour in exchange for a “donation” as well, and worse things can happen.

Obviously, right off the bat this set of beliefs can lead to people neglecting their physical and mental health, seeking prayer instead of a doctor. And it can also lead to financial abuse by the con artists. But it also leads to other forms of abuse.

There are communities which will get in on the act, subjecting people to “deliverance prayer” by a group of people all laying on their hands and praying to get the demons out. And this group prayer can become extremely abusive very fast because, as I covered last week, a panic attack is a perfectly normal response to that kind of prayer– but to someone indoctrinated in the Charismatic Renewal, panic attacks look like manifestations of evil spirits. And if you truly believe you’re dealing with an actual demon, a spirit of vast power who might jump out of a person and wreak havoc in your community and your family line, you’re not going to be gentle. You’ll be as forceful as it takes to get rid of the demon. People in these communities get assaulted and battered, or just bawled out and traumatized, for having a panic attack. And after they’re abused  they get told they have to come back for more prayer, which they do because they think the panic attack is a sign that the would-be exorcists were right. And then it happens again.

I am talking about Charismatic communities in general here, but yes, I’m still talking about Franciscan University. When I went there, I got prayed over by the famous Mike Scanlan to expel the demons that were causing anxiety. And yes, I was referred to David Morrier for confessions because Scanlan viewed Morrier as someone who understood “spiritual warfare.” I believe I was one of many women who got funneled through that pipeline. It was said around campus that Morrier firmly believed in demonic influences on the family tree, and that was part of the healing prayer he offered. But he was not the only one. Alumni from previous generations have told me that “deliverance prayer” with a group of people or just a priest was common at Franciscan University, including long before Morrier got there. It wasn’t anything that was officially espoused by the university; it was just something that went on and was part of the culture.

I’m talking about all this because when Morrier pleaded guilty and the courageous Jane Doe’s victim statement was published, I saw a lot of people not familiar with the Charismatic Renewal reeling in shock at how a situation this horrendously abusive could begin. They didn’t understand how someone could get manipulated like that in the first place, or why there was a whole pack of other people apparently helping Morrier, assaulting the victim, even lying on top of her to hold her in place during the clandestine exorcisms. I recognized it right away.  It’s a culture I know well. The sexual abuse was Morrier’s special addition, but the culture of bullying and torturing a traumatized person because of supposed evil spirits was right out of a playbook I know.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the people involved in the abuse still don’t think they did anything wrong. In their view, they were only trying to help.

I hope that clears up a little something about how a person can get manipulated in such a terrible way.

And I’ll be talking more about abuse in the Charismatic Renewal as I go along this year.



Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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