GARY, Ind. — The story of an Indiana family attacked by demons and freed by a Catholic priest through a series of exorcisms has stirred imaginations and curiosity. It also seems to confirm what many Catholics already know — evil is no match against the power that rests in the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
Most media accounts of the story have focused on the power of evil. But according to Father Vincent Lampert, designated exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, such news is highlighting the wrong thing.
“I keep waiting for the faith component to come out,” he said. “There is too much focus on what evil is doing instead of what God is doing.”
Father Lampert has an inside account of the Indiana exorcism story. Although he didn’t perform the exorcisms, the priest was contacted by Father Mike Maginot, the priest who did. Father Maginot was looking for the advice of an experienced exorcist.
During three months of training in Rome in 2006, Father Lampert assisted in more than 40 exorcisms with longtime Italian exorcist Father Carmine De Filippis. He worked alongside Father Gary Thomas, whose experiences became the basis of the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist and inspired the fictionalized movie.
Even though he always believed in the reality of evil, Father Lampert said he was surprised by some of what he saw in Rome.
“I saw someone levitate once,” he said. “I saw foaming at the mouth, bodily contortions, superhuman strength, speaking in strange languages and howling like wild animals.”
He described such visual shows from the devil as “parlor tricks” meant to scare or distract.
“When someone is possessed, the demon is choosing to act in that body,” said Father Lampert. “The prayers of exorcism are meant to call the demon forth. I focus on the prayers of the Church and power of Christ. A lot of people get caught up in the antics of the devil.”
Father Maginot explained that it was the mother, LaToya Ammon, who showed signs of possession in Indiana. One of the signs was an aversion to the point of convulsing when touched by a blessed object. He performed a total of four exorcisms on her, following the rite, alternating between prayer, praising God and condemnation of the devil.
“I was advised to focus on the things that received a response, such as agitation, in hopes that the demon gradually weakens,” he said. “The priest has to decide how much he can accomplish in a session. The demon is not going to wear out, but you will.”
Father Lampert said that people often wonder why exorcisms have to be repeated, since, in the Bible, Jesus just did them once.
“We live in an apostate society,” he said. “When one hears the Good News and listens for the first time, it takes hold. But when they’ve heard the Good News before and turned their back on it, it seems that evil has a stronger claim on them.”
Demonic Activity ‘Increasing’
Father Lampert said there are around 50 trained exorcists in the United States. He acknowledged that reports of demonic activity seem to be increasing.
In addition to possessions, which he said are rare, there is demonic oppression and infestation. In such cases, the devil does not take control of a person’s body, but harasses them in a number of ways, such as interfering in their lives or causing depression.
“I don’t think the devil has upped his game,” Father Lampert said. “I think people today are more apt to play his game.”
He added that there is a direct correlation with less religious faith and more involvement in the occult.
“People can invite evil in this way; and then, without the component of faith, there is nothing to protect them.”
But is it possible for someone to be the victim of a curse, as was suspected in the Indiana case?
“The only way we allow a curse to be effective is not having on the armor of God,” Father Lampert said. “If you are praying and relying on the power of God, that is much greater, so a curse will bounce right off.”
Father Lampert has personally performed only five exorcisms, but he receives 10-12 calls a week from people seeking help, many from outside his diocese and half of them non-Catholic.
“I try to connect them with someone in their own area and with a church community,” Father Lampert said, noting that Mass attendance and reception of holy Communion are essential in combating the devil.
If someone will not connect with a church, Father Lampert will not help. To explain his decision, he referenced Matthew 12:43-45, where an unclean spirit leaves a person but comes back and finds the house empty, so it brings seven other spirits more evil than itself.
In this way, Father Lambert said, the exorcism prayers could end up hurting the possessed person, if the demon returned with seven more demons.
A Thorough Process
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that an exorcism occurs when the Church, in the person of an exorcist, asks “publicly and authoritatively” in Christ’s name “that a person or object be protected against the power of the evil one and withdrawn from his dominion” (1673).
Under canon law, only those priests who get permission from their bishops can perform an exorcism after proper training. In Father Maginot’s case, his bishop granted him permission in this one case, with the stipulation that he received the guidance of two other experienced exorcists. Father Lampert had offered to do the exorcisms, but since Ammon had initially contacted Father Maginot and she felt he understood the situation, she did not want to start over with a new priest.
Bishop David Kagan of the Diocese of Bismarck, N.D., explained that while all priests by virtue of the sacrament of holy orders have the power to exorcise demons, only some are designated officially by their bishop.
“There is specific training in order to administer and minister the rite of exorcism correctly and fruitfully,” he said, “although every priest receives seminary studies in this area.”
Bishop Kagan noted that the Church uses caution in distinguishing possession from psychological problems.
“Before an exorcism is done, there has to be an investigation to rule out other causes, such as mental or physical [causes],” he said. “We can’t automatically be dismissive, but neither can we jump in.”
When the bishop gives permission for an exorcism to proceed, Bishop Kagan said that the priest is acting in an official capacity with the authority of the Church.
“At the heart of it all for every priest, especially for one who is an exorcist, is the need for a strong and faithful prayer life,” Bishop Kagan said. “We are dealing with Satan, and he is evil; but that does not mean he’s not brilliant. We can never let our guard down with the devil.”
Emphasis on Faith
According to Bishop Kagan, that’s a task that requires constant vigilance over one’s own mind and heart through faith in the power of Christ.
Father Lampert pointed out that Pope Francis has continued the theme of strong faith, building on the fruits of the Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI.
Father Lampert noted that this message is especially important to young people.
“It’s as if they are bored with God, so they lose faith or dabble in the occult,” he noted of some youth. He advised parents to recognize their responsibility to be the No. 1 educators of their children, teaching them about faith in order to protect them from evil.
“We can choose to change the world or let the world change us,” Father Lampert said. “I believe the Gospel has the power to change the world, and that is what I choose to focus on.”
Register correspondent Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.