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. Steve

    @ Vertebrate Catholic:

    Good advice Re: The Summa and the Catechism. For the newcomer to theological study, though, I might suggest starting with the Catechism, but combine that instead with Peter Kreeft's "Summa of the Summa" before getting into the Summa itself.

    November 13, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  2. BeckFastPaws

    If only we could get the Church to do a mass exorcism on Washington. Then again, if they did, the Capitol would be empty.

    November 13, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  3. Mark Powell

    The Orthodox Church practices exorcism everytime a person is baptized. What's the big deal? This is our faith, and in this respect, we share it with the Roman Catholics.

    November 13, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
    • Fr.Me

      Damn, I knew I missed out on the good stuff.

      November 13, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  4. Steve

    @Vertebrate Catholic:

    I like where you're going. I think many of us in this thread can learn from what you have to say.

    Please stick around. I'm listening.

    And I agree with you Re: The comment sequencing problem. Not very helpful.

    November 13, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
  5. TheRationale

    How gullible do you have to be to actually believe this stuff? Honestly, it's just saddening.

    November 13, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  6. tim

    Its really hard to try to understand where people are coming from. To stop all this craziness all these useless words of putting down christians and or catholics shows some people don't really know what's happening in the world. The key is love. To love one another would stop a lot of things. That's really a simple task but people treat it as something impossible.I guess it is easier to do evil things. Its sad to see this all this name calling among people that maybe don't know each other. God is real and His beloved Son did die on that cross for u and me to save us and give us a chance to see Him after we pass this world into the next. U can say what u want about my God and maybe just maybe
    One day U will be looking up begging me for water to quench your thrist. May God bless u and I pray He grants u understanding for life eternal.

    November 13, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  7. Vertebrate Catholic

    The time stamps on these comments are terrible and it doesn't want to order them correctly. My comments always end up higher up in the list than they belong.

    November 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  8. Vertebrate Catholic

    shamgar50, but what is "chair-ness"? You can think of an abstract chair that is not physical. Somehow a king's throne and a rickety wooden chair on a porch can both match this abstract concept, which demonstrates that the concept exists separately from the physical world. Just like the concept of justice. Have you ever held justice in your hand?

    November 13, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  9. Vertebrate Catholic

    @shamgar50, but what is "chair-ness"? You can think of an abstract chair that is not physical. Somehow a king's throne and a rickety wooden chair on a porch can both match this abstract concept, which demonstrates that the concept exists separately from the physical world. Just like the concept of justice. Have you ever held justice in your hand?

    November 13, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  10. Hilda

    Blessed be the name of the Lord.

    November 13, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  11. Steve

    @David Johnson:

    What, exactly, must one do to become a good atheist?

    November 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Vote for the Dems in 2012.

      November 13, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • Steve

      Oh, come now, David! You should be embarrassed by that ridiculous response.

      I know just about nothing about you, but I know for sure you can do better than that. Care to try again?

      November 14, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • David Johnson


      You said: "What, exactly, must one do to become a good atheist?"

      Actually Steve, I was being kind. Your question is lame. I don't know if you meant it to be a trap or if you truly aren't aware of what an atheist is.

      An atheist does not believe in any god. He doesn't replace one religion for another. Your question implies that atheism is a religion. It is not.


      November 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  12. Vertebrate Catholic

    @shamgar50, your post betrays a childish and simplistic understanding of theology. God is outside of time and space, therefore there is no time "before" God made the universe. Also, an infinite universe model is not widely accepted to be scientific. The Big Bang Theory, most commonly accepted, is taught by most (i.e. Stephen Hawking) to be the beginning of space/time.

    November 13, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  13. Joseph

    This is like scientists gathering to discuss a geocentric universe. An archaic idea with zero impact on reality, supported only by the most fringe or foolish individuals.

    November 13, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  14. Sum Dude

    The thread went "spang" thanks to some whine-tit hitting the "report abuse button" and causing the top post to disappear.

    Thanks to the lame dork that couldn't handle David Johnson's post. What weenies you are who cannot argue against him!
    No, just hit that little button (I never have) and Mommy will delete the bad naasty post for you. Yeah.

    November 13, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Thanks, man but I'm used to it.

      November 13, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      @David Johnson

      I'm just sick and tired of these threads going "spang" so damn often. Those abuse buttons are a joke.

      November 13, 2010 at 10:39 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Sum Dude: Is that how it happens? I thought it was just that the thread reached its reply limit. I don't really know how this works. But that sucks. How do we have open discourse when the fearful idiots are the editors? Oh well.

      November 15, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  15. Jesus Freak

    David I know who you serve. He is lying to you. He hates you and you know it. Its never to late to switch sides. There is hope for you even though he tells you there is no way out. Please accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

    November 13, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
    • Helene

      Is this a joke? because my poor friend you will never know who you trully are if you keep on following someone else's path.

      November 13, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  16. Helene

    Sorry ... tab Button
    God exist and it is what YOU make of it.
    YOU take the decisions for yourself and YOU pay the price when its not the good one, YOU pay the rent, YOU buy the groceries, YOU go get the kids when you come home from YOUR work...I dont think i need to go further.

    YOU are god. You are the one responsible for your own little world (your home , your familly, your friends..) you are the one teaching your kids how to interac correctly with others and how to react when something is hurting them.

    People who cant bare take the blame for their action will blame it on this fictionnal God or this fictional Devil because this was the easy way.
    But it was just written in a way that people from these times could relate to without putting the blame on one guy.
    (wich didnt work out really...poor Jesus.)
    Simple minded persons will take this book word for word and think that it is not a physolophical (? does this word even exist?) piece but as I see it was a way to make people think outside the box...

    I feel bad for those caught by the wallet in these so called church of "make me rich and i'll save you" type who are clearly controled by money because it was'nt supposed to be that way.

    November 13, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  17. Alex

    the catholic church is nothing more than a bunch of pervert wackjobs

    November 13, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • Helene

      Yess...who uses the ones in need for their own personnal egoist goals by leading them to the bottom while they stay on top... but that is the path to follow if you want to have power.

      People do greath things " the Catolic church" would'nt be anywhere near where it is now if it was'nt for those who let their weakness and perversions come before what is trully important.

      November 13, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • Vertebrate Catholic

      Should we also associate school teachers with child molestation? Take a look at the figures, which correlate the two much more significantly.

      November 13, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Vertebrate Catholic: Except that the Church has a multi-million dollar, international force behind it willing and able to cover up the actions of their priests or pay off the families of the abused. They eagerly hide their sins by moving the priests onto greener pastures while making a show of apologising. It's hypocrisy unbefitting a representative of their Christ.

      November 15, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  18. Helene

    Good day to all!
    Beeing an american
    ( I mean living in America, not American as in U.S citizen . I must say that coming from Canada it looks like the continent is a belonging of the U.S only said in that manner...)
    I lived, like my pairs all over the world, through sickness of a familly member, death of friends who were too young to die, unfair situations , bad judgment, bad decisions and hopelessness and all that makes life(? I am french and im sorry if I makes weird mistakes)and through all the bad and the good, Religion seems to me as a "how to guide" to make decisions in life.
    I am an atheist.
    I do not rely on the bible to help me with my life, but when we look at it, most of the 10 commandments are truly and profoundly good when we apply them to society. It is the way to be just and fair to make life enjoyable to everyone.

    The person who thought about writing these simple actions for all to rely on when a situation becomes a dilemma , Never thought about dividing the populations in multiple religions. It was for EVERYONE. Catholics made this book and these commandments theirs. That is when money comes into action. That is where religion comes into action. The use of GOOD to hide the BAD. The use of people in need for help to move them where you want them to be. On their knees in front of you with their wallet wide open.
    Money gathered from organisations who REALLY help others in their community, this is good. But do you know what fraction of the amount gathered really goes to the ones in need?
    People who really help people know how it works. They don't have the luxury to have preachers with gold rings and cadillacs, fancy churches that looks like a "Jesus shopping center".
    God does exist a

    November 13, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • Vertebrate Catholic

      The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world.

      November 13, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  19. wonderweirdo

    Why in the world are they focusing on this when there is an international child abuse scandal associated with this organization? How many of those priests, bishops, and archbishops are actually victimizers who've been protected by the church. Why aren't they throwing all of their energy into solving that problem instead?

    November 13, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
    • Vertebrate Catholic

      The Church is a spiritual organization more importantly than a physical organization. How can the Church address a problem of evil without facing the source of it, which is spiritual?

      November 13, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • Helene

      Because they are men. Men seem to have all the rights in the world they concquer, they own, they make rules !
      when actually women are more sensitive and caring of others by nature.
      But we are only on earth to make diner and smile...oh and to make more babies for those who will want to have people to control later on. This is a man's world that should corrected by a women's point of view.

      November 13, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Vertebrate Catholic: Are you serious? The way this organization operates, you probably are. I'm sure they believe the physical harm they are currently abetting by hiding the abuses of innocent children is much less important than the spiritual harm they are doing. After preventing all the suffering of the little children is worth less than some irrelevant fringe practice of exorcism. Catholic church, could you be more out of touch? Could you be more heartless? Besides if it was more about the spirit than the physical, then maybe they shouldn't be physically harming the children of those who believe in them.

      November 15, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  20. Jon

    As a Christian it always makes me wonder why the Catholic church is always messing around with the problems of demonic possession. Jesus warned against that kind of thing and from what little I know about it, few, if any mainline Protestant denominations give honor to the devil and engage in elaborate rites to exorcise his minions. I have a feeling that the Catholic church involves itself in these rituals to about the same degree that it spends its time in other rituals and because with Catholics, it's all about ritual. And, it seems like all of the demon possessed people you hear about are.....Catholic.

    November 13, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
    • Vertebrate Catholic

      "And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons" (Mark 16:17)

      November 13, 2010 at 3:20 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.