Does the US Need a Nationwide Exorcism?
In light of the spiritual housecleaning in Mexico in May, clergy weigh the efficacy of exorcising an entire geographic area.
Can — or should — an exorcism be done for the United States, as was done in Mexico this past May?
Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, the archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara, performed the rite, together with priests from across Mexico, at the Cathedral of San Luis Potosí in a closed-door ceremony. The purpose: to drive away the evil responsible for skyrocketing violence, abortion and drugs in that predominantly-Catholic nation.
Such “exorcisms … have helped bring awareness that there is such a thing as sin influenced by Satan,” said Msgr. John Esseff, a priest for 62 years in the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., and an exorcist for more than 35 years.
“The devil has much to do with [influencing people in] breaking the law of God,” he said.
But an exorcism over the United States is unlikely, according to Msgr. Esseff.
Instead, he said such action can be done diocese by diocese, and he encourages each bishop to do so. “Every bishop is the chief exorcist of his own diocese,” Msgr. Esseff said. “Anytime anyone with the authority uses his power against Satan, that is powerful. Every priest and bishop has that power.”
During the exorcism of a diocese, Msgr. Esseff explained that the bishop calls on the power of Jesus over every court, every single institution, every individual and every family. “The whole country would have such
power if bishops would exorcise their dioceses.”
In 2013, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., performed a minor exorcism at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield in response to the governor’s signing same-sex “marriage” into law on that day.
The bishop explained that the minor exorcism, which takes place at every baptism and confirmation, is a ceremony to renounce Satan. (A major exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation of a possessed person.) He said the prayer service was “not meant to demonize anyone,” but was “intended to call attention to the diabolical influences of the devil that have penetrated our culture.”
‘As Faith Diminishes, Superstition Increases’
Father Gary Thomas, pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Saratoga, Calif., and the exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, said he has seen notable improvements after exorcising homes and when he re-dedicated a church.
However, he is cautious about the idea of exorcising an entire country.
“I’m not really sure about the efficaciousness of that,” he said. “I think there are too many implications we cannot back up if we start saying we are going to exorcise a country.” He also cautioned against making a public announcement when exorcising a geographic area because there is usually backlash in the form of skepticism and ridicule.
“I’m not saying it’s a bad idea — just that, if it’s done, it should be done quietly.”
According to Father Thomas, demonic activity has been increasing in the United States because people are choosing to be dissuaded away from God and opening portals such as New Age and witchcraft that are gateways to the demonic. “When faith becomes thin and Satan and agents of Satan move in, there are going to be effects,” he said.
“It was Pope Benedict XVI who said that as faith diminishes, superstition increases.”
Father Mike Driscoll, chaplain of St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Ottawa, Ill., and author of the new book Demons, Deliverance, and Discernment, explained that, in addition to possession, demons can infest a place or thing.
“The average Joe reading this might think, ‘Oh, there must be a bunch of people possessed who need to be exorcised,’” said Father Driscoll, who is a licensed counselor.
“But part of the exorcism ritual is casting out evil spirits, and it includes a blessing for protection of a place.” He said that when demons are driven out, it may not have obvious results to everyone, but it gives God more authority, and priests and laypeople are fortified.
Father Patrick (not his real name) is a parish priest and also an exorcist for his U.S. diocese. He said that there are differences when exorcising a place rather than a person.
“With a person, an exorcist investigates to identify the true nature of the problems,” he said. “With a place, the exorcist looks at a territorial battlefield where good angels have lost their authority because power has been given over to demons through rejection of God’s authority.”
According to him, exorcising a place is done to re-establish God’s authority. “We want to shift superiority over an area to the angels, but there is still the ground-level [response] that needs all the priests to engage in battle, too.”
Father Patrick said that he has seen holy priests turn their parishes around when the angels were called upon and God was given authority.
Ultimately, Father Thomas said the battle is fought in each person, since God doesn’t interfere in free will. “If people are not invoking the angelic, they fall away from the faith and live secular lives,” Father Thomas said. “Then what is the optic they [use to] judge how they act?”
Msgr. Esseff also stressed the power of prayer to discern and lead holy lives among laypeople.
“In families, there’s nothing like a parent in prayer. The mother and father should claim their children for Jesus, and they will not lose them.”
He also said people should remember that Jesus said that if two or three agree in prayer, it will be done in heaven (Matthew 18:19): “People do not need to fear, but to trust and respond to God’s love.”
Register correspondent Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.