By Joe Slama
A recent article in the Economist has some disturbing news about the rise of so-called “professional exorcists” in France and elsewhere, according to one Catholic exorcist.
“It almost seemed like the main focus was on entertainment,” Fr. Vince Lampert of the International Association of Exorcists told CNA, speaking on one of the problems with the phenomenon.
“For the purpose of any exorcism, one of the steps would be for the person to re-connect with their faith or to discover their faith for the first time. It almost seemed like people there were just thinking of evil as something that you can kind of play around with.”
Fr. Lampert is the exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, having functioned as such since 2005. While the identities of most exorcists are kept secret, Fr. Lampert often gives talks on the subject.
The Economist piece details the practice of “private exorcists” independent of the Church, claiming that the reason for a rise in popularity is two-fold: a perceived lack of interest from the Church and the benefits customers believe they receive from the “rituals.”
As far as lack of interest from the Church goes, Fr. Lampert responded that in his view, this is not the case. Rather, the Church simply wants to be cautious with cases potentially involving demonic activity, rather than rush to a quick judgment as some may want.
“The Church always wants to move very cautiously,” he said.
He described times when he has seen people who seem to desire a quick-fix to their problems or a superstitious solution, such as those offered by sangomas, a sort of shaman in South Africa that Fr. Lampert believes may be connected to the French phenomenon due to immigration.
“I will say that oftentimes I encounter people that really don’t want any connection with faith,” said Fr. Lampert.
“They just want to treat the priest-exorcist as a shaman as well. ‘There’s evil in my life, make it go away; I don’t really want there to be any responsibility on my part to pray or to grow in faith for the Church.’ They don’t want to change any aspect of their life, they just expect the priest exorcist to make all this go away.”
The business of “private exorcists” can be booming. The Economist article references one of these “professionals” as claiming to make €12,000 (over $14,000) a month from the business. True exorcisms conducted by the Church, however, never have monetary costs associated.
“The Church does view exorcism as a ministry of charity, so she helps anyone who’s in need,” said Fr. Lampert.
Additionally, the perceived positive effect of these “rituals” may actually be dangerous.
“If it’s evil at work, then somehow evil is giving the illusion that somehow what they’re doing is being efficacious, if you will, as a way to continue to play and toy with the people that somehow believe that they can combat the forces of evil independent of the presence of God,” Fr. Lampert said.
These “professionals” mistakenly seem to claim that it is through their power that they exercise their supposed spiritual authority, Fr. Lampert noted.
“Certainly, I didn’t hear any reference to Christ. It almost seemed like it was the individual who was the one casting out evil. But certainly from a Catholic perspective the exorcist would be operating within the name and the power and the glory of Christ. It’s not any power or authority that I possess on my own.”
He describes how this functions in a true exorcism.
“Ultimately, Christ would be the exorcist, because you’re calling on his name, his power, the authority that comes from Christ, and then the priest, the exorcist then, is an instrument that Christ is using.”
Furthermore, these fake rituals can do more harm than good for the person desiring them if they have issues arising from sources other than the demonic, he added.
“The Church could end up causing more harm than good if it labels a person as being possessed, and that label doesn’t allow the person to get the true help that they need, perhaps from their medical doctor or from a mental health professional. You could have these professionals who are just preying on people’s misery, and they could actually be making things a lot worse.”
Fr. Lampert described the process which someone who suspects that demonic activity has entered their life should go through.
“The number one place where people should always begin is with their local pastor, so if they’re Catholic they should talk to the local parish priest who can listen to their story. If you just call somebody blindly and say, ‘I think I’m possessed,’ you might get a non-favorable response from them. But if you go in and you say, ‘OK, there are certain things go on that I can’t figure out, can you help me?’ then that priest is going to be better equipped to make the connection between the exorcist of that diocese and that person.”
He compared this to going to a doctor for physical ailments.
“It’d be like if you need to see a medical professional, a cardiologist, you don’t just walk in and see one; you go through your family doctor who then makes the connection for you. A person should always rely on their local pastor.”
Fr. Lampert also listed a desire for “immediate gratification” as well as resistance to following Church procedures on exorcisms as reasons people turn to unqualified professionals.
If someone seeking help isn’t a practicing Catholic, “then people have to be willing to follow the procedures and the protocols that the Church has in place. Sometimes, people don’t like that, and that’s when they can turn to these so-called professionals because they will give them immediate gratification, if you will.” The Church often assists non-Catholics with these problems.
Many dioceses have an exorcist assigned within them by the local bishop. For safety purposes, their information is usually not made public, hence the need to consult first with a local pastor.
In a piece first published in the National Catholic Register in March, Fr. Lampert noted that demonic activity and the need for exorcist services in the U.S. is on the rise as well.
“The problem isn’t that the devil has upped his game, but more people are willing to play it,” Father Lampert said in reference to pornography, illegal drugs use, and the occult. “Where there is demonic activity, there is always an entry point.”
“As the acceptance of sin has increased, so, too, has demonic activity,” said Msgr. John Esseff of the Pope Leo XII Institute, which trains priests “to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil.” Msgr. Esseff was quoted in the Register article.
Fr. Lampert in the March piece noted that while true possessions are rare, exorcists also assist in the case of demonic infestation, vexation, and obsession.
According to the register piece, “(h)e explained that demonic infestation happens in places where things might move and there are loud noises. With vexation, a person is physically attacked and might have marks such as bruises, bites or scratches. Demonic obsession involves mental attacks, such as persistent thoughts of evil racing through one’s mind.”
However, he cautions against the faithful focusing too much on the devil. “The focus should be on God and Jesus Christ,” he said in the Register piece. “When I remind myself that God is in charge, it puts everything in perspective, and the worry and fear dissipates.”
“If people would build up their faith lives, the devil will be defeated.”