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. Joy

    I find it really funny that posters will argue over anything and everything.

    November 13, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
  2. Melissa

    Real men of God would be able to call upon Him w/o having to go through some lame workshop. What they should be doing is having a workshop on how NOT to molest children and how to notify the proper authorities if suspected.

    November 13, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
  3. joel

    About a year and a half ago I attended a blessing of a home of a friend. The owner had had some misfortune in his home this was part of the support we were trying to give. We went room by room until we entered one bedroom. Something there made the hair on my neck stand up. I felt something similar visiting Dachau. My feeling is that there just might be something to this exorcism stuff, although I'm not sure it was a demon. I have not been back to that house since.

    November 13, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
  4. Margo Zargo

    Exorcism, Ha ! People are either born evil and can't be cured, or they are just plain nuts, and nuts just need to be sent to mental hospitals and treated with medication and also need psychiatric help.

    November 13, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  5. travis

    After they learn how to do exorcisms, they can perform exorcisms on themselves. I'm pretty sure the Catholics need them more than the rest of us.

    November 13, 2010 at 8:44 pm |
  6. ruby

    REligion is regarded bu the ignorant as true, by the educated as false and by the leaders as useful. –Seneca

    November 13, 2010 at 8:42 pm |
  7. J Doe

    Maybe they should "confer" to discuss exorcising Demon Pedophilia from their priests.

    November 13, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  8. Allen N Wollscheidt

    Such hysteria is fitting.

    November 13, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  9. Matthew

    This is absurd. If someone is mentally ill, they should see a psychiatrist, not a priest.

    November 13, 2010 at 8:31 pm |
  10. Mic4life

    I think the RCC should focus on expelling the demons in their own organization

    November 13, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
  11. Joseph Mortz

    Maybe the Catholics can exorcise their clergy.

    November 13, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
  12. RightTurnClyde

    from the frying pan into the fire .. after all the R.C. church has been through why open up exorcism as a new area of controversy? It is amazing how they can go from one disaster to another without an intermission.

    November 13, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  13. ben tzion

    The early Christian sect followed the true Scriptures, the TORAH (the Hebrew Scriptures). Now, while it is possible that the Christian gospels may be true, it is not possible that the TORAH is false at the same time. However, if the TORAH is true, it is possible that the Christian gospels may be false at the same time. When the Greek and Roman mind took over Christianity from the Hebrew mind in the run-up to the Roman Emperor Constantine's reign, the Roman Empire did not convert to Christianity instead Christianity converted to the Roman Empire and the dictates of the Emperor Constantine who used this new religion as the cement to hold together his empire at the Council of Nicea around 325 CE, (long after the birth of the Christian deity). Into this new universal Roman Empire religion all manner of pagan ideas were pulled in from the existing beliefs around at the time, including mythologies of gods coming down and impregnating mere mortal women who gave birth to gods. Ideas such as this have no place in the Hebrew Scriptures (Torah) as revealed at Mount Sinai. So, if you want the final word about evil and demons, then find out what THE ALMIGHTY ONE AND ONLY ONE G-D OF CREATION SAYS by studying TORAH. It is interesting to note that many of the prophecies of the TORAH, PROPHETS AND WRITINGS (TANACH) have come to pass, and the ONLY PROPHECY THAT WAS EVER MADE BY THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, i.e. THAT THE JEWS WOULD NEVER EVER AGAIN RETURN TO THE HOLY LAND OF ISRAEL, has proven false.

    November 13, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Well, there was also the one prediction made by Jesus about his coming back in the 1st Century.

      I think we should put his picture on the side of a milk carton, with the caption: "Have you seen the Messiah?"

      I think the Christians are wrong, but I also think the followers of Judaism are wrong to. All religion is the product of men with a pencil.

      Just curious, aren't you the slightest bit ticked off over your god letting 6 million of His chosen people be murdered? I mean if He really existed.



      November 16, 2010 at 8:35 am |
  14. MS

    Maybe they should try exorcising the pedophiles.

    November 13, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  15. just bob

    Is that what all of those priests were doing with those little boys... exercising their demons?

    November 13, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  16. brian

    Why don't they have a convention on rain dances and Bigfoot too? What a bunch of medieval dark age nonsense. I am actually embarrassed for them... yet thankful for the laugh.

    November 13, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
  17. Gawd

    "Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him god?" – Epicurus, 341-270 BCE

    November 13, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  18. ruby

    Instead of all this mumbo-jumbo you'd think that the church leaders would have more important items on their agendas...like ferreting out the chicken hawks in their ranks!

    November 13, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
  19. Lee Oates

    The shamens shake their rattles and throw the evil spirits out. Wonderful fairy tales for adults. And priest are said to be "educated" men.

    November 13, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
  20. NDestroyer

    Its really all very simple, their is no right or wrong, only what we decide is right or wrong...this world is all about creativity, even if you destroy something like a life or anything at all, you are still creating something. But remember if you are destroying something then you are being lazy and you are using your skils at their lowest form and this can be very dissapointing to anyone else. Most people would equate this to be wrong or bad. Really it is not wrong or bad, it just is what it is. For those who dont believe their is a God or afterlife that is their choice but in my opion a very depressing one because if thats the case then I dont see any reason to live at all. I am going live life believing in a God and an afterlife because I would hate to live life without any meaning. If their isnt a God or afterlife when I die then the joke is on everyone else because I lived life happy. By the way just because religion is silly and makes up all kinds of rules doesnt mean God doesnt exist...its not a bad thing to be spiritual but it may not be a good thing to be too religous if you are applying some silly rules that church made up.

    November 13, 2010 at 6:59 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.