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November 12th, 2010
07:17 PM ET

Catholic clergy confer on exorcism rite

By CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor Eric Marrapodi

A group of Catholic bishops and priests are gathering in Baltimore, Maryland, on Friday and Saturday to examine what Scripture and canon law have to say about exorcism.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, spoke with CNN during a break in the Friday session to explain why the clergymen are meeting about this titillating, yet rare, rite in the Catholic tradition.

"It's an effort to try and provide some pastoral training for bishops and priests, to try and provide a pastoral response with people who may or may not be having demonic activity," he said. "The reality is there really have not been regular courses, or even a class, on how to do [exorcisms] because it is a rare thing. The work of the devil possessing someone is a rare thing. It's not part of the daily practices of a priest."

According to canon law, the governing structure of the Catholic Church, any priest, because of his ordination, has the power to perform an exorcism, Paprocki said. But, he said, "Canon law states he needs the permission of his bishop before he can perform an exorcism."

And therein lies the reason for the conference.

Bishops and priests have to be sharp on rules of this rarely used rite. Both are gathering in Baltimore for the annual U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. And with so many coming from across the country, it seemed to be a natural fit for the workshop on exorcism.

Paprocki heads the Committee for Canonical Affairs and Church Governance for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and was one of the organizers for the gathering on exorcism.

During the conference, the group will look at what the Bible says, paying careful attention to how Jesus responded to evil spirits or demons in the New Testament. During the Friday morning session, Paprocki said, they examined the Gospel of Mark. He said one of the first things Jesus did in his public ministry was cast out demons, and it was the demons that first identified Jesus as the Messiah in Mark.

Among the speakers is Cardinal Daniel DiNardo from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas, who will speak about Jesus confronting evil in the Bible, according to his representative. The attendees will also examine the study of angels and demons. From there, Paprocki said, they will move to the practical ways Catholic clergy should respond to requests for exorcisms.

"We use the principle that we have to exclude all natural explanations before we go to the supernatural explanation," he said. This includes having the person requesting the exorcism see a doctor and a psychologist.

"A lot of people experiencing what they think is possession just aren't taking their medicine," he said. Because of this, he said, priests and bishops need to use a great deal of pastoral discernment. "Is it a mental disease that can be diagnosed, or is it demonic activity, or even is the event both?"

Before becoming the bishop of Springfield in June, Paprocki was chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago in Illinois. In that position, he dealt with the administrative side of exorcisms. When a request came into the diocese, his office received them. "I was the first portal to these inquiries," he said.

In his 25-plus years in ministry, he has never seen an exorcism and said demonic possession is rare and extraordinary. In his time processing the administrative requests, he said, "I'm not aware of a formal exorcism while I was there." But he said there has been an increase in requests since he left and the Archdiocese of Chicago has since appointed an exorcist.

"This is an element of our pastoral care for people. If possession is extraordinary and the use of the exorcism is the extraordinary response, then the daily work of the devil is temptation. Very few people are possessed, but everyone gets tempted," he said. The fix for temptation, he said, is not exorcism but rather participation in church resources such as Mass, Communion and confession.

As for the conference, he is not surprised by the attention it has received. "It shouldn't be unusual for us as clergy to be talking about the devil," he said.  "People kind of look at you funny when you talk about it in public." But he said that even while talking about the devil and exorcism may be a small and rare part of the Catholic tradition, "Yes, I believe it's a regular part of our faith."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bible • Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity • Mass • Pastors

soundoff (528 Responses)
  1. Ed

    Non-believers will find out how wrong they are and how they have been fooled. Unfortunately, they will find that the one that fooled them will own them forever.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • streetcar01

      Ed,
      If the devil fooled me into not believing in god, it's because god did not do a good enough job proving that he exists. It's not my fault, it's god's.

      November 13, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • Faisal

      God cannot be at fault, streetcar01. for He did nothing wrong to you. the earth is Satan's realm. this is the power of darkness

      November 13, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • streetcar01

      Faisal,
      God is doing nothing to prove his existence, then he allows the devil full reign to coerce us into "evil"? He certainly must take some responsibility.

      ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (or God) do nothing’

      This is the god you want to worship?

      November 13, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  2. Jon

    I'm sure the demon will just ask for a ordination certificate of the Priests,... and will just get out of the person.lol
    Only the power of the Holy Spirit and name of Jesus Christ can remove an unclean spirit. If a priest is not a true believer(which many are not) The Holy Spirit does not reside in that person, therefore performing an exorcism is not possible. Check out Acts 19:15.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  3. Ttommy

    Hundreds of years ago, the raging debate among the faithful was how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. This article reinforces my belief we have really not come that far.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      But "progress" is bad, right?! Glenn Beck said so!

      November 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  4. Diane

    Well, if you believe in God then you must also believe in the devil. The bible talks about demonic possession so priests perform this right. Guidelines seem very important to me in that from what I understand this procedure can be dangerous.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      actually, there are plenty of people who believe in God and do not believe in the devil. deists for one. I do not believe in the devil, and I'm good with it.

      November 13, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • TTommy

      That's odd. I didn't realize I had to believe in either God or the Devil.

      November 13, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      No, I don't feel a need to believe in the devil. Just because in cartoons you see people with a little angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other trying to get them to do right or wrong...! And at the time the Bible was compiled, they didn't understand seizures, epileptic fits or mental illness, either!

      November 13, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  5. Fuyuko

    I tend to feel demonic possession is simply mental illness. In any case, the desire is to help people is admirable, as long as they genuinely help. I think the Catholic Church should let these folks be examined by doctors or licensed psychiatrist though before getting involved. If there are genuine cases of demonic possession afoot, then we need to know more about the condition scientifically.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
    • FuzzyNutz

      In todays modern world the majority of our population is walking about through their daily lives armed with digital cameras, some in form of cell phones others cameras alone. Point is with all of these wonderful technological devices around how come if these experiences(demonic possession) are real then why isn't the church recording these and showing to the public to prove it's real. They would atleast then have a leg to stand on and argue that if demons are real, and if they exists the surely angels and god must exists as well.

      November 13, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  6. Disgusted

    So scary. I worry about the rise in children being suffocated to death because of parents being prompted to scare the teenager out of them by this article.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Did you get a message your comment is awaiting moderation?? I mentioned the same thing & got that message. (GEEZ! CNN, you invite a discussion & then this!)

      November 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  7. johnj

    Well said Up1652 !!! You atheists make me laugh. You show up your stupid faces here for nothing. Start believing in your God.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  8. andybud

    This is the 21st century right?

    November 13, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  9. Popeye

    What a grand idea. The Bishops and Priests can practice exorcism on themselves and just maybe, just maybe some of the demonic possession of the Catholic church will be removed.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
    • Disgusted

      That's a pretty good idea

      November 13, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  10. david

    After reading these posts. I have come to the conclusion why our country and world is so screwed up. its the non-moral, selfish, arrogant, egotistical people like 80% that have posted comments. so sad.

    November 13, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • Disgusted

      I think the indication from the comments is that, if you believe in such things as exorcism, you are in the minority. People who read the news and comment on it use their education, their knowledge of science-based information, and common sense to know that exorcism is not something to spend time on in the 21st century. For those who haven't come to this realization yet but are reading the posts, that's great. Let the learning begin.

      November 13, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  11. TomBomb

    While ignoring young boys being abused the Catholic church now spends its energy on such a worhtwhile subject. Wow. What priorities. Why just last year they came to the conclusion that limbo does not exist after all. Very impressive work. Can't wait for the outcome of this one!

    November 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Wait – there's no Purgatory??! Oh man ..I can't keep up with these crazy modern times...

      November 13, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  12. Newfie

    I'm sorry for my comment I did not see it was the "Belief Blog". I followed the story from breaking news and made my comment without seeing it was a blog.

    November 13, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  13. Newfie

    I'm so glad I ate of the apple many years ago. Good sales pitch create a problem and have the solution. How people can believe in this stuff and follow rules from the Bronze Age, and yet, will never believe in UFO"s and Aliens is beyond me.

    November 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  14. StevieBoy

    It was said, "The work of the devil possessing someone is a rare thing." NO SHI_???? REALLY??? That is SO not true! I am eat up with the devil! Just ask my momma!!!

    November 13, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  15. Emily

    The problem is we think God is separate from us.
    All of us represent who and what "God" is. We are not separate. We are one.
    Spirits do exist. You're soul exists and I believe there is no true devil. I think there are negative energies and positive ones. But the "Devil" is something we made up to try to explain what "negative energy" is. There is a hell, but its not what you think. Hell is the reality that is created when you deny who and what you are. Which is love. Which is God. There is no Judgement or punishment, but a soul can become negative and what we call "evil" although evil doesn't really exist either. "Evil" is fear personified. And fear is the polar opposite of love. And thus you have the dichotomy that is God.

    November 13, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  16. YBP

    It's disheartening that CNN would run an article about demonic possession in this day and age as if it were serious and noteworthy. But what is worse is the fact that a group of grown men are convening to discuss exorcism, and to glean some kind of guidance from ancient "scriptures.'

    Have we turned the clock back 1000 years?

    November 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      I can't help but think that Jesus would really rather they go and volunteer in a soup kitchen or something instead...

      November 13, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  17. Translation

    Wow, Christianity has lured and intimidated so many people into believing that I've decided to form a new religion using it as a benchmark. I'm going to call it the Letucian religion because we will worship Head Of Lettuce (HOL). HOL was once on Earth, intimately mingling with its very soil. But humans saw how good HOL was and wanted that goodness for themselves. So HOL died for our...........salads! He died to provide us with ample dietary fiber. But before leaving, HOL said to commemorate His time on Earth, saying,"Take this Lettuce in remembrance of Me. Take it, mix it with the tomato, mix it with the carrot, mix it with other leafy greens. Mix it with the sunflower seed, the pine nut, the walnut and the cranberry. Festoon it with blue cheese, bacon crumbles, the hard boiled egg, the crouton. Anoint it with oil and vinegar, or with French, or with honey mustard. But use no Ranch, for that is the invention of the evil one. This I say unto you. Do this in memory of me."

    People: Worship Head Of Lettuce! Join the worldwide Letucian church!

    November 13, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      I guess that wouldn't clash with the Flying Spaghetti Monster too much..! 🙂

      November 13, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Mrs. Fizzy

      Praise be to his 'holy noodleness' 🙂

      RAmen...!

      Peace...

      November 13, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
    • FuzzyNutz

      I like turtles!

      November 13, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  18. davidp

    http://godisimaginary.com/

    November 13, 2010 at 11:35 am |
    • Reality

      Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the mytyical de-mons of the de-mented.

      November 13, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  19. Reality

    Religion is not necessarily evil. Unfortunately it has been taken over by profiteers using mystical communications with god/allah/Abraham/Smith et al to convince the "pew peasants" to monetarily support the profiteers' viewpoints. Take away the "bishops/exorcists/prophets/prophecies/fortune tellers", the "pretty wingie talking thingies", the satans aka "demons of the demented" and basically what you have left are the Twelve Commandments (eight if you are an atheist), nothing more and nothing less. These Commandments were first formulated by the ancient Egyptians, Cynics and Babylonians using reasoning and common sense. They are the only necessary keys to the spirit state of heaven(if there is one).

    November 13, 2010 at 7:43 am |
  20. EM

    hotchathbabe: Please capitalize God's name (His name is spelled: "God", not with the lower-case 'g' as you spelled it). Also, please use the proper grammar with God's name - as I just did. So if you are writing the possessive form - referring to an attribute that belongs to God, as in: "..God’s hands.." - you need to use an apostrophe before the 's', otherwise it is a plural form. And that would be blasphemous. And you would therefore have to do another 5-hour exorcism all over again. (At least I would).

    November 13, 2010 at 1:20 am |
    • David Johnson

      @EM

      You said: "Please capitalize God's name (His name is spelled: "God", not with the lower-case 'g' as you spelled it)"

      Pfui! I purposely do not capitalize god, because when talking about the ancient gods, "god" is not capitalized.

      The god, whose name you want capitalized, is no more real than the ancient gods.

      None of the gods, are real. None.

      Cheers!

      November 13, 2010 at 9:36 am |
    • JesusFreak

      @EM: No need to attempt to correct hotchathbabe – capitalizing God's name is a sign of reverence and respect, something hotchathbabe, along with many others on this blog, apparently does not have. As Christians, all we can do when we come upon people like this is to pray for them. We can attempt to share the Gospel however, understand that often we do not see the fruits of our labor when we plant seeds. Many times it is not until much later when your seeds are sown. Ever faithful to our Lord and Savior!

      November 13, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.