ROME — An exorcist should have a close relationship with the Lord, confess frequently and live in fraternal charity with others if he is to be effective in casting out demons.
This was a leading instruction given at the 10th annual course on exorcism at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum Athenaeum in Rome.
The April 13-18 course, sponsored by the Congregation for the Clergy and organized by the Sacerdos Institute, was attended by 170 students this year — its largest ever number — and from a wide variety of countries. The Sacerdos Institute is affiliated with the Legionaries of Christ and its lay apostolate, Regnum Christi.
Addressing the conference, Father Aldo Buonaiuto, a respected Italian exorcist, warned that, among cases of Satanism and occultism, witchcraft and sorcery are a “great problem that is growing in Europe.” He said black-magic magicians are arriving mostly from Brazil, and some people are asking them to perform rituals to cast spells out of revenge.
To combat this, he said that, as Catholics “we have to, within our profession of faith, renounce evil.” The greatest profession of faith, he stressed, “is when God wins over evil.” But this needs faith, he continued, and in order to break an evil spell, a person “has to believe in the power of God, not in the power of the healer. It’s a question of faith. If I believe more in the action of Satan than I believe in God, then we’re on the wrong path.”
Father Buonaiuto warned that a major problem is believing the sorcerer has powers, which makes people “terrified that the devil cannot be overcome.” But the answer, he added, is faith. “‘When I come back, will I find faith on earth?’ Jesus says. We have to help our brothers. How can you remove the evil spell? It’s not like removing part of a body, like a tonsil. It doesn’t work if there’s no faith. There has to be reconciliation with God.”
Confession — the First Exorcism
He reminded the priests present that the first exorcism after baptism is confession. “An exorcist cannot do anything if there’s no reconciliation,” he said. “First, do a good confession; then do the rest.”
Similarly, in a video message to the participants, the well-known Rome exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth stressed the importance of exorcists receiving the sacrament of penance regularly.
He recalled how Blessed Giacomo Alberione, the founder of his order, the Society of St. Paul, used to go to confession every afternoon. “The exorcist must be very pure,” he said, and he also highlighted the importance of prayer and fasting so one can be as “clean” as possible.
Another important factor is communion and cooperation. Father Buonaiuto spoke of the importance of teaming up with other experts, both inside and outside the Church, in the battle against demonic possession. “We have to walk together as a team,” he said. “It is important also to examine cases, make reflections and considerations, because we have to walk in truth.”
“Who is the devil afraid of? St. Bernard [of Clairvaux] said he is afraid of those who love each other, so an exorcist must not be a person who is not conciliatory,” the priest said. “The devil fears those who love each other, so an exorcist must live fraternal charity to a high degree. He is a man of communion; he cannot live in division; he has to live reconciled with God and his fellow neighbor.”
Since the “Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation” course began in 2005, it has grown steadily. Legionary Father Pedro Barrajon, the Spanish founder of the Sacerdos Institute, told the Register April 16 that “interest in the course has increased, but the need remains the same, because evil action has been, is and will be present.”
He said the course has expanded from having primarily an Italian and ecclesiastical focus to including greater international participation and incorporating speakers trained in psychology, social anthropology and other sciences.
“We have tried to dialogue more and more,” he said, adding that this was important to help exorcists distinguish between a person who might have psychiatric or other medical problems and someone truly possessed.
Although psychiatric disorders can be linked to sin, he said, they are not the same as cases of possession.
“All the illnesses of the world, in the history of man, come from the sin of the devil, because the devil made man to sin since Adam and Eve, bringing illness and death,” Legionary Father Cesar Truqui, an exorcist based in Switzerland and in charge of this year’s conference, told the Register.
But he added that 99.9% of psychological illnesses “have nothing to do with the devil. It’s just something human beings have; just as I need glasses or I might have problems with my liver, so some people have problems in their heads.”
Father Barrajon said that sometimes psychiatric disorders and possession can be related, and a person who has been liberated from the action of the devil “then has psychological problems, as if it were a consequence of the period when he was possessed.” This is why, he added, it’s important to work together with other specialists, such as psychologists and psychiatrists.
The Devil’s Subtle Attacks
Both Father Barrajon and Father Truqui pointed out that although the devil causes the sensationalism of demonic possession, he is at work in much subtler ways. Possession attracts “lots of attention,” said Father Truqui, “but we should be aware of the more common ways the devil works, through tempting, deceiving, pushing people towards lies.”
He pointed out that some young people today “take drugs as though it’s nothing” and think it is normal. “There’s the action of the devil, the great deceiver — the invisible deceiver — who is so capable of changing the ideas of people, young people, from distinguishing between what is good and what is evil.”
“There are very few cases of possession,” said Father Barrajon. “The real action of evil is temptation; [that] is the normal action of the devil, 99% of the time. Then we have a few cases of special influence, infestation, which is a little more presence of the devil that goes further than temptation. And then we have very few cases of possession, when the devil lives in the body of a person who becomes another subject.”
Pope Francis has often mentioned the devil, and at a weekly general audience last year, he laid his hands on a possessed man. Father Truqui, a native of Mexico, said it is very normal in Latin America to speak of the devil. “We believe in that figure not only as a theological reality but as a true person existing in an invisible way,” he said.
Pope Francis, he added, “is making the whole Church more aware of the reality of the devil.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.