US Exorcists: Demonic Activity on the Rise
A look at the growing need to battle the devil.
INDIANAPOLIS — There is an alarming increase in demonic activity being reported by those who work in exorcism ministry, said the exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Although steps are being taken to increase the number of exorcists, demand is still outpacing supply.
Father Vincent Lampert has been an exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2005 and is the pastor at St. Malachy’s in Indianapolis. He trained at the North American College in Rome and assisted with more than 40 exorcisms with longtime Italian exorcist Father Carmine De Filippi. Although the identities of most exorcists are hidden, Father Lampert often gives talks to warn against evil and turn people toward the power of God.
In an interview with the Register, he said that he sees an increasing number of people involved in Satanic rituals and opening themselves up to evil.
“The problem isn’t that the devil has upped his game, but more people are willing to play it,” Father Lampert said. He pointed to rampant pornography, illegal drugs use and the occult. “Where there is demonic activity, there is always an entry point,” he said.
Last October, Father Lampert met in Rome with the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 400 Catholic leaders and priests. It is a support group that meets every other year. According to him, group members agree that there is a great need for more exorcists.
Actual demonic possessions are rare, however, Father Lampert explained. “I’ve only seen three possessions in the last three years, but there is also infestation, vexation and obsession.”
He explained that demonic infestation happens in places where things might move and there are loud noises. With vexation, a person is physically attacked and might have marks such as bruises, bites or scratches. Demonic obsession involves mental attacks, such as persistent thoughts of evil racing through one’s mind.
“In possessions,” Father Lampert said, “I have seen eyes rolled back in the head, throwing out obscenities, bodily contortions, foul odors, temperatures drop in the room, and I’ve witnessed someone levitating.”
When he was appointed as an exorcist by his bishop in 2005, there were only 12 others. He said there are now about 50 other exorcists that he knows of personally in the United States.
The Catholic bishops are aware of increased reports of demonic activity because a priest can only perform an exorcism with episcopal permission. According to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, “Canon law requires a bishop to give permission before a priest can do a major exorcism, but bishops don’t receive any formal training in exorcism.”
To help support bishops, in 2010, while he was the chairman of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Paprocki organized a two-day conference on all aspects of exorcism.
As a direct response to the need for trained exorcists in the U.S., the Milwaukee-based Pope Leo XII Institute was founded in 2012 to support “the spiritual formation of priests to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil.” It began as a series of informal meetings at the request of U.S. bishops wanting education and training. It was also a response to Pope St. John Paul II’s recommendation that every diocese appoint an exorcist. A spokesman with the U.S. bishops’ conference said that, although ideally every diocese should have its own exorcist, no statistics are kept as to the actual numbers.
Msgr. John Esseff, president of the institute’s board of directors, was one of the founding members. He has been a priest for 63 years and an exorcist in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, for more than 40 years. He often gives talks at the institute on exorcism and deliverance.
“As the acceptance of sin has increased, so, too, has demonic activity,” Msgr. Esseff said. “The bishops saw the need for more trained exorcists because so many cases were being referred from all over the country to the dioceses that had exorcists.”
“A person should be cared for in his own diocese,” he added.
The Pope Leo XIII Institute graduated the first class of 55 exorcists, priests and deacons from its two-year program in 2015. The training involves 10-day sessions given at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago, twice a year for two years. A second class of 52 will graduate this fall.
“I’m hopeful bishop are becoming more aware of their role as the ‘chief exorcist’ for the diocese,” Msgr. Esseff said. “There is also still some resistance of the reality of Satan,” in the Church, among priests and bishops, he added, “as if there is just evil and not the devil.”
“The only one that can overcome Satan is Jesus,” Msgr. Esseff said. “He overcomes the kingdom of evil with light. And every priest represents Jesus. The devil does not see the priest — he sees Jesus.”
Bishop Paprocki, who has also given lectures at the Pope Leo XIII Institute, said he likes to emphasize the difference between major and minor exorcisms. “A minor exorcism occurs very frequently in the Church, every time we do a baptism,” he told the Register. “It is a matter of rejecting Satan and all his works.”
A priest does not need a bishop’s permission to do minor exorcisms in situations where there is an evil influence, Bishop Paprocki explained. “It’s just a matter of praying to God to overcome evil influences.”
“The reason a major exorcism needs a bishop’s permission is that the priest talks directly to the devil and commands him in the name of Jesus Christ to leave that person,” he said. “For the priest to be able to do that, he needs the authority of the Church behind him.”
Father Lampert said that a priest, and even laypeople, can pray minor exorcism prayers because they address God. “The lay faithful should not give commands to demons,” he said. “Demons recognize the authority of bishops and the Church. If you claim authority on your own, it can get you into trouble,” he warned the laity. He referred to the example in Acts 19, when some Jewish exorcists tried to expel an evil spirit. The devil said: “Jesus I recognize, Paul I know, but who are you?” Then he attacked them.
“It’s not the exorcists that have the power,” Father Lampert said, “but the power and authority of the Church that comes from Jesus Christ. Catholics understand that individuals don’t have that power.”
Everyone interviewed for this article stated that the ordinary work of the devil is temptation, so it is sin that gives him a foothold in people’s lives. They all encouraged people to have strong prayer lives and to go to confession and receive the Eucharist frequently.
Father Lampert cautions people not to give too much attention to the devil, as well. “The focus should be on God and Jesus Christ,” he said. “When I remind myself that God is in charge, it puts everything in perspective, and the worry and fear dissipates.”
He added, “If people would build up their faith lives, the devil will be defeated.”
Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.
Books with deliverance prayers for the laity:
Editor's Note: This story previously referred to Act 13; the correct reference is Acts 19.