The devil gets more attention in the popular culture at Halloween than at any other time in the year. But it’s not often one hears the question put so specifically.
Regarded as the Church’s most experienced and prominent exorcist, Father Amorth warned Vatican Radio listeners Aug. 27 that the devil can possess not only individuals but also entire groups and populations.
“I am convinced that the Nazis were possessed by the devil,” he said. “If one thinks of what was committed by people like Stalin or Hitler, certainly they were possessed by the devil. This is seen in their actions, in their behavior and in the horrors they committed.”
After his comments were made public, some accused the veteran exorcist of making excuses for the atrocities perpetrated by the two infamous dictators, and essentially of defending them by using the “devil-made-me-do-it” excuse.
“It absolves the Nazis from their
crimes,” Rabbi Marvin Hier of the
Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger also spoke about the influence of the demonic in the life of Hitler — but explained that it absolved nothing.
In the Book God and the World (Ignatius, 2002), he is quoted treating the subject at some length.
“There are reliable reports by eyewitnesses that suggest he had some kind of demonic encounters,” the future Pope said of Hitler. “He would say, trembling: ‘He was there again,’ and other such things. We cannot get to the bottom of it. I believe one can see that he was taken into the demonic realm in some profound way, by the way in which he was able to wield power and by the terror, the harm, that his power inflicted.”
In an interview with the Register Oct. 17, Father Amorth restated his belief.
When asked if he still believed the dictators were possessed, he answered, “Certainly,” and denied that the statement abrogates culpability.
“It’s both,” he said. “They have full responsibility for their actions, but they have followed the promptings of the devil — and they have done so willingly. Therefore they are guilty, completely responsible.”
When asked if there were any leaders today who could be similarly possessed, Father Amorth said there are “many who listen to the temptations of Satan and follow him.” Because of that, he said, “the world goes bad.” Instead of leading others “towards peace and well-being, the world moves towards war and unease,” he said.
Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the question when journalist Peter Seewald asked him about it.
“What about Hitler?” asked Seewald. “Was he, as many people think, ‘Satan incarnate’? Sartre once said, ‘The devil is Hitler, that is, Nazi Germany.’”
Cardinal Ratzinger answered: “On the one hand, Hitler was a demonic figure. One only need read the history of the German generals, who time and again made up their minds, just for once, to tell him to his face what they really thought, and who were then yet again so overcome by his power of fascination that they did not dare to. But then, when you look at him from up close, this same person who has a demonic fascination about him is really just a quite banal hoodlum.”
He pointed out that “the power of evil makes itself at home precisely in what is banal” because, when it comes to evil, “the greater it is, the more pitiful.”
One exorcist who fully backs
Father Amorth is Father Hermanagild
Jayachandra, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church in
He added that temptation is given by the devil, but in cooperation with God’s grace it can be overcome.
However, dictators such as Stalin and Hitler turned away from God and refused such cooperation, he said. He also believes that mental illness and possession can often exist at once in the same person, and that psychological illnesses are frequently caused by persistent sinful behavior.
In his interview, Cardinal Ratzinger pointed to a deeper relationship between Hitler and the devil.
“Hitler was able to foresee
demonic situations,” he said. “For instance, I once read an account of how the
preparations were made for Il Duce’s (Italian dictator Benito Mussolini) visit
In the past, Father Amorth has warned of a lack of awareness of the devil in modern society.
He has also criticized the application of the liturgical texts of the Second Vatican Council and, in 1999, he had some criticisms of a new Rite of Exorcism. His views on the application of the council have not changed: He blames bishops for “exaggerating” the reforms and for “wanting to make everything new.”
But he accepts the new rite and has grown to like it.
“It’s good; it’s an official Church document so it’s valid and it functions well, but it has its defects,” he said, adding that he still uses the old rite as it is still allowed.
The renowned exorcist did not succumb to the temptation of explaining his opinion of Halloween and, at first, seemed unaware of the tradition.
“I don’t practice it and so I don’t want to seriously answer that,” he said. But he was aware of the famous movie of the 1970s, The Exorcist.
“I know it very well,” he said. “Fifteen scenes are very real, the substance of the film is positive.”
He felt it was particularly helpful in showing how exorcism is of value when all medical care has proved useless. But he warned that the film is a “spectacle because cinema needs to make spectacles.”
He lamented that there are “too few” exorcists around today.
“Many bishops and priests don’t practice the material, and they don’t believe in it, or they believe only a little, despite the fact that canon law is very clear, as clear as the Gospel where it says pray and cast out devils and evil spirits,” he said.
Father Jayanchandra agreed: “They don’t believe in demons anymore, but it’s a biblical doctrine, and it’s a big problem,” he said. “It’s a ministry, and canon law says it is so.”
At his general audience address Oct. 18, Benedict XVI gave some salutary advice on how to overcome the devil’s temptations.
“Truly, there are many ways in which the human heart can be perverted,” he said. “The only way to avoid them is to be in full communion with Jesus.”