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. ybs

    Yup, catho-licks are catho-licks!


    November 14, 2010 at 1:20 am |
  2. Amalia Sheran Sharm

    I am shocked- SHOCKED- that CNN would defame Catholics like this by implying that we believe in demons and exorcism. That would be absurd.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:48 am |
  3. Jim

    We also need an answer to the question "How many angels can dance on hte head of a pin."

    November 14, 2010 at 12:40 am |
  4. chris.

    lol wow you all make me laugh.. and i mean all of you .

    November 14, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  5. Exorciseitvigorously

    Exorcise the Wh0re of Babylon.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  6. Rick

    I blame stupid people for taking Paranormal Activity 2 literally.

    November 14, 2010 at 12:27 am |
  7. Eric

    I think all organized religion can be understood by reading just two quotes: "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” - Roman philosopher Seneca, and "A fool and his money are soon parted." - Thomas Tusser (1524–1580

    November 14, 2010 at 12:03 am |
  8. scott mandel

    Every single one of you are blind and misguided. TPTB can feel comfortable knowing that more and more people are willing to throw away a power that is mightier than their stupid little brains. Every single one of you are indoctrinated morons, incapable of understanding the deception of your society as well as the existence of God and the higher dimensional realms. Keep the stupidity going....I see the Lie is still alive,

    November 13, 2010 at 11:38 pm |
  9. Bill

    They used to think the earth was flat, also.

    November 13, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  10. xiaobao

    How stupid, this is just sinking down to Islam levels of religious indoctrination

    November 13, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  11. BillyD1953

    "...people who may or may not be having demonic activity"
    Demonic activity?
    Eh, what century is this church living in?

    November 13, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  12. Brian

    "99.9% of Catholic priests are good".......

    Good for what?

    November 13, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  13. ybs

    Mental midgets, Prove that your god, jesus, etc. didn't beat off! If you can't, they did! 🙂


    November 13, 2010 at 11:11 pm |
  14. Loki

    Satan's greatest trick was getting the world to believe he didn't exist.

    November 13, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      bleh. more fear mongering.

      November 14, 2010 at 12:00 am |
  15. Atheists Exist

    I don't understand this fictional claim that atheists can not exist. We can absolutely say there is no god for the same reason we can say there is no undetectable teapot orbiting the sun or no flying spaghetti monster. The burden of proof does not lie with the person who doesn't believe something. You cannot be asked to prove a negative. Those who claim they know god exists are free to put forth their absolute proof, but no real evidence has ever been offered for it..

    November 13, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
  16. Kelsey

    Is this the catholic church jumping the shark so to speak? Will this be their next excuse for pedophilia amongst the clergy? They are pedophiles but taken over by demons which we can exorcise? Do they really, really, really think that this will some how bring people back to the church? I don`t think so. Certainly not me.

    November 13, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
  17. Mick

    "Hey, fellow bishops and priests, lets get together for a conference."

    "Good idea. What should we discuss...guidelines for turning in pedophile priests to the secular authorities?"

    "Naa...I vote we discuss ways to cast out demons."

    "Good idea. Gee, I wonder why so many people are down on the Church these days?"

    November 13, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  18. Neptune

    Wow. Grown people still take this stuff seriously. Demons possessing people. What a bunch of nut jobs.

    November 13, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  19. Wow

    All I can say is, I believe in God and when the day comes for the roll to be called up yonder, I'll be there. Will you?

    November 13, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      Only god will be able to answer that one.

      November 13, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
  20. Moose

    OK - let me make sure I have this right. You made up the exorcism rule decades ago, and now just "all of a sudden" or because you want to be hype, you're thinking of changing the rules??? Typical Catholic move. Unfortunately, this is the very reason why I left this sham religion and became an Evangelical. Now, it's very straighforward - read your Bible and believe in Jesus. All this extra nonsense like penance, purgatory, exorcism and all the other ridiculously made up stuff is a distraction for Catholics. Sorry, not part of the club anymore. Don't even get me started on priests who are secret butt pirates on the weekends with little boys. How corrupt is that?!!!

    November 13, 2010 at 9:31 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.