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. Armen Rome

    To ALL Cardinals, Bishops and priests that consider possessions, obsessions, infliction, and suppressions of demonic nature as rare occurrence I invite to participate the daily sessions of Rome's exorcists which are always fully books with their increasing number and LEARN the alarming truth of demonic attacks that are on the increase. They might even hear from devil's own tongue how they continue to sin for their shortfall in Christian cleric duties. I see countless clergy that are comfortable in putting on the vestment and 'play' the cleric role yet fall drastically short to fulfil Christ's work. They should ask themselves what did Jesus come for? To deliver man from sins. Sins that are perpetrated by devil. From the beginning to end Christ battled with demons and the devil. It is a crying shame that some organs of the church do not comply with the TRUE Christian teachings.

    December 18, 2010 at 6:17 am |
  2. Authentic Freedom

    I hope to God I never see or experience a situation of "demonic possession" and I certainly hope that in this day of modern psychology, we have a better explanation for what previously would have been considered demonic possession. I appreciate the work of JeanYves-Leloup in his commentary on the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) when he invites us to explore the demons as the inner fears and compulsions that keep us from remembering our true nature as One with God in Compassion, Love, Peace and Joy. It is this approach to demons and temptation that I take in the work that I do as a Spiritual Director and facilitator of programs in Adult Spiritual Development. I will leave the ritualitic approach to the priests.

    Lauri Lumby
    Authentic Freedom Ministries

    November 16, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
  3. Love The Lord

    You all are so lost it is not funny!
    Please, do you not know how dangerous it is to mock God? You do have a soul, David Johnson. Your soul does not feel things like your body does, as you stated above. I pray God sends you some "proof" you have a soul, it is a wonderful thing to have, lest you endanger it.
    If you don't want to believe, then don't. But please do yourself a favor, and stop mocking God. It is a bad thing to do, and if you don't believe in him, that don't give you a right to mock him.

    There is a devil too, and a Hell. The greatest feat Satan can perform in your life, is to convince you that he does not exist. It then is easy for him to confound your mind and spirit, to false doctrines.

    Science is a marvelous thing, and it has its place as such. But, your God (whom you deny) is what caused the creation, and despite the fact that you and scientists have not discovered what caused it, is even more proof that it was God, the Creator.
    You cannot find these answers, for they are hidden from man for now. One day he will show us all how he created everything. For now, it is by Faith you will believe him as Creator. Why can't you wrap your head around the fact the God is the "awe" of the very Creation you disbelieve in?

    I am sure it is easier to put your so called logic above believing God created everything. But some of the ingreidients for what you measure this fact by, are missing. Thats because you can't see the divine part of it. Therefore, it is an incomplete theory.

    You said, Show me where thier are ghosts or spirits, or things that go bump in the night. I agree that once you are physically dead, you cease to be in that capacity. But, your spirit lives on. It goes to a place of waiting, till the Lord comes for us all.

    I recall, since you know the bible so well, the story of Saul, and the witch of Endor?
    When the witch called up his brothers spirit, God allowed the REAL spirit of him to come forth from the grave. That is why she screamed and said "you have tricked me". All along, when she called up spirits, she knew they were "familiars", impersonating demonic spirits. She did not bargain to see a real spirit, and the truth of that was revealed to her at the time of the happening.
    Never say that spirits and demons do not exist, for that is not true. Do not be blinded by that which you can feel and touch and see.
    When Jesus appeared to Thomas, he was not convinced it was in fact, God. That is when Jesus said to him, I am not a ghost! Put your hand into my side, it is flesh...thus, the name "doubting Thomas".
    Afterwards, he was convinced.
    I see alot of doubting Thomas's on this blog.
    I do hope you will all find enough faith to ask the Lord to show you that he is. He loves us all and do not wish for any to perish.
    You said when you die, you will live on thru those that loved you. (That would be your spirit by the way) How would you feel if you knew that when you died, your childrens children would mock you and say you were a bad person (even if you weren't) ? No matter what YOUR CHILDREN did to convince thier children, that you were a fine, upstanding person! Your spirit, the essence of everything you represented while alive, goes forth, thru them. Imagine one day, you are not even talked about anymore, and if you were,, it would be negative. How would that make you feel? That is just one example of what is being done to God. Difference being, he is the KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Every tongue will confess, and every knee will bow, and acknowledge that he is God!
    Do not stay in a reprobate mind. Please consider that your consequences will be paid. It is easy when sitting at your PC, having a drink, and voicing your selves how smug it does feel, no?
    But someday, that will all end. You are of a dead spirit,until your are cleansed in the blood of Jesus. The your spirit is born again, and in the new life of Jesus. Then you really are no longer "dead". So, if you think your "alive" in your spirit,(which you don't believe you have) you aren't.
    Know that Jesus was the only one on the cross, who said "it is finished", and bowed his head and died. Note what happened immediately AFTER he said those words.
    Peace to you all.

    November 15, 2010 at 7:39 am |
    • David Johnson

      @Love The Lord

      Dude! I didn't see your post until just now.

      You said, "Please, do you not know how dangerous it is to mock God? You do have a soul, David Johnson. Your soul does not feel things like your body does, as you stated above. I pray God sends you some "proof" you have a soul, it is a wonderful thing to have, lest you endanger it."

      Ummm... If I don't get born again I'm going to hell. Yes? So have you believers now divided even hell into better and worse levels? I mean, if I mock god, will I go to a crummier level than if I just don't believe?

      LOL – You and your god are funny.

      November 15, 2010 at 1:51 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.