Exorcism in the Catholic Church: The Muslim Times (TMT) Preserving information for the Posterity

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Painting by Francisco Goya of Saint Francis Borgia performing an exorcism.

In Roman Catholic dogma exorcism is a sacramental[1][2] but not a sacrament, unlike baptism or confession. Unlike a sacrament, exorcism’s “integrity and efficacy do not depend … on the rigid use of an unchanging formula or on the ordered sequence of prescribed actions. Its efficacy depends on two elements: authorization from valid and licit Church authorities, and the faith of the exorcist.”[3] The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism.”[2]

The Catholic Church revised the Rite of Exorcism in January 1999, though the traditional Rite of Exorcism in Latin is allowed as an option. The ritual assumes that possessed persons retain their free will, though the demon may hold control over their physical body, and involves prayers, blessings, and invocations with the use of the document Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications.

Solemn exorcisms, according to the Canon law of the church, can be exercised only by an ordained priest (or higher prelate), with the express permission of the local bishop, and only after a careful medical examination to exclude the possibility of mental illness.[4] The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) enjoined: “Superstition ought not to be confounded with religion, however much their history may be interwoven, nor magic, however white it may be, with a legitimate religious rite.” Things listed in the Roman Ritual as being indicators of possible demonic possession include: speaking foreign or ancient languages of which the possessed has no prior knowledge; supernatural abilities and strength; knowledge of hidden or remote things which the possessed has no way of knowing; an aversion to anything holy; and profuse blasphemy and/or sacrilege.

Further information: Exorcism in Christianity



In the 15th century, Catholic exorcists were both clerical and lay, since every Christian has the power to command demons and drive them out in the name of Christ. These exorcists used the Benedictine Vade retro satana around this time. By the late 1960s, Roman Catholic exorcisms weren’t as popular or done as often in the United States. But by the mid-1970s, movies and best sellers changed people’s interest and raised demand for Catholic priests to perform exorcisms because of thousands of claims of demonic possession. By the mid-1970s maverick priests who belonged to the right-wing fringes took the opportunities of the growing need for exorcists and went into their own businesses. The exorcisms that they performed were, according to “Contemporary American Religion”, the “clandestine, underground affairs, undertaken without the approval of the Catholic Church and without the rigorous psychological screening that the church (at least in theory) required. In subsequent years the Church took more aggressive action on the demon-expulsion front.”[5] By the eighties and early nineties exorcisms were a common phenomenon.

When an exorcism is needed

According to the Vatican guidelines issued in 1999, “the person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness.”[6] Most reported cases do not require an exorcism because twentieth-century Catholic officials regard genuine demonic possession as an extremely rare phenomenon that is easily confounded with natural mental disturbances. Many times a person just needs spiritual or medical help, especially if drugs or other addictions are present. After the need of the person has been determined then the appropriate help will be met. In the circumstance of spiritual help, prayers may be offered, or the laying on of hands or a counseling session may be prescribed.

Spinello Aretino Exorcism of St Benedict


Signs of demonic invasion vary depending on the type of demon and what it wants to do. Signs include:

  1. Lack of appetite.
  2. Cutting, scratching, and biting of skin.
  3. A cold feeling in the room.
  4. Unnatural bodily postures.
  5. A change in the person’s voice.
  6. Supernatural strength not subject to that person’s gender or age.
  7. The possessed speaks in another language which they had never learned before.
  8. Violent rejection toward all religious objects or items.

Rules of exorcisms

  1. Must be done by a priest with the proper authorization and should have the proper knowledge to perform an exorcism.
  2. It should never be broadcast in media but treated with the utmost discretion.
  3. More than one person should be present, preferably family members.

Process of the exorcism

In the process of an exorcism the person possessed may be restrained so that they do not harm themselves or any person present. The exorcist then prays and commands for the demons to retreat. The Catholic Priest recites certain prayers and follows procedures listed in the ritual of the exorcism revised by the Vatican in 1999. Seasoned exorcists use the Rituale Romanum as a starting point, not always following the prescribed formula exactly.[7] The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained describes that an exorcism was a confrontation and not simply a prayer and once it has begun it has to finish no matter how long it takes. If the exorcist stops the rite, then the demon will pursue him which is why the process being finished is so essential.[8] After the exorcism has been finished the person possessed feels a “kind of release of guilt and feels reborn and freed of sin.” [9] Not all exorcisms are successful the first time; it could take days, weeks, or months of constant prayer and exorcisms.

Notable examples

  • 1928 — Emma Schmidt underwent a 14-day exorcism by a Catholic priest, Theophilus Riesinger.
  • 1949 — Roland Doe was allegedly possessed and underwent exorcism. Later inspired the novel and film The Exorcist.
  • 1975-1976 — Anneliese Michel was a woman from Germany who underwent 67 exorcisms. Her events inspired the films of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Requiem.

See also


  1. ^ p.43 An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriele Amorth; Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999.
  2. ^ a b Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1673
  3. ^ Martin M. (1976) Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans. Harper San Francisco. Appendix one “The Roman Ritual of Exorcism” p.459 ISBN 0-06-065337-X
  4. ^ THE ROMAN RITUAL Translated by PHILIP T. WELLER, S.T.D.
  5. ^ Cuneo, Michael W. (Jan 1999). “Exorcism”. Contemporary American Religion 1 (New York: Macmillan Reference USA): 243.
  6. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (Nov. 13, 2010). “For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism is Revised”. New York Times.
  7. ^ The Rite by Matt Baglio; Doubleday, New York, 2009.
  8. ^ Steiger, Brad (2003). “Exorcism”. The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained 1: 204–209.
  9. ^ Steiger, Brad (2003). “Demonic Invasions”. The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained 1: 179.

Further reading

  • Baglio, Matt (2009). The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist. Doubleday.
  • Blatty, William Peter (1972). The Exorcist. Bantam Books.
  • Dickason, C. Fred (1989). Demon Possession & The Christian. Crossway Books.
  • Karpel, Craig (1975). The Rite of Exorcism: The Complete Text. Berkley.
  • Kinnaman, Gary (1994). Angels Dark and Light. Servant Publications.
  • McGinn, Bernard (1994). Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil. HarperSanFrancisco.
  • MacNutt, Francis (1995). Deliverance from Evil.
  • Martin, Malachi (1976). Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans.
  • Nicola, John J. (1974). Diabolical Possession and Exorcism.
  • Richardson, James T.; Best, Joel; Bromley, David G., eds. (1991). The Satanism Scare.

External links


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