Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
When Father Stephen McCarthy, the chaplain of Sts. John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School in Philadelphia, sent a May 25 email message warning students about a popular social-media game that encourages kids to “play with demons,” he never intended to get his name in the paper.
But when a friend forwarded a British tabloid story about the #CharlieCharlieChallenge with his photograph, the Philadelphia priest realized he had struck a nerve.
“It boggles my mind that my email was so newsworthy. Did it take me to say this? Was this unknown to Catholics?” asked Father McCarthy during a May 27 telephone interview.
Father McCarthy isn’t looking for notoriety — he’d rather be one among many voices spreading the word.
“The response shows we need to empower our parents to tell their kids right from wrong — not only in terms of moral and social issues, but spiritually, as well.”
Secular media has generally portrayed a game that encourages kids to play with demons as harmless, but Father McCarthy challenges that judgment.
“The #CharlieCharlieChallenge is portrayed as an innocent game. But where we might be inclined to see innocence, the devil is inclined to see opportunity.
“We need to close that window of opportunity by helping our students to discern what is entering their minds and settling in their hearts,” he said, echoing a message he has posted on his Facebook page.
Asked to comment on whether the devil can enter someone’s life through the Internet, the priest paused for a moment before replying: “Can the devil enter through the Internet? When I considered this question, I immediately thought of the ring [of power] from The Lord of the Rings. The devil can turn anything to his purposes.”
The high-school chaplain questioned why others in the Church were not stepping forward to warn teenagers and the public.
He suggested that many priests and parents remain silent because talking about the existence of the devil has become controversial. But the controversial nature of this subject, he said, actually points to Satan’s influence: “If we turn away and pretend that it doesn’t exist, we are opening our kids to real spiritual warfare without protection.”
Father McCarthy acknowledged that the Internet and cellphones make it almost impossible for 21st-century parents to play the role of gatekeeper as their parents or grandparents once did. And that is precisely why he believes Catholic catechists and pastors must do more to help families.
“The call for the New Evangelization is to get out there and embrace this world and catechize it. I hope good Catholics on social media are seeing what is going on and are motivated to do just that: to go into this sphere and claim it for Christ and the Church.”
The full text of Father McCarthy’s email message is below:
My dear friends,
It has come to my attention that there is a dangerous game going around on social media which openly encourages impressionable young people to summon demons. I want to remind all of you that there is no such thing as “innocently playing with demons.” If any such game reaches your ears, please be sure to not participate, and encourage others not to participate as well. I know how tempting curiosity can be, but the problem with opening yourself up to demonic activity is that it opens a window of possibilities that is not easily closed. If you want to “experiment” with summoning spiritual entities, may I recommend the Mass? The Rosary? I think you’ll find these to be far safer and more rewarding alternatives in the long run. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this most important matter.
With the help of our guardian angels, may God bless and protect us!