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. Peace2All

    Seems that most 'believers' are the ones that have this possession by demons phenomena. And, almost always there is a major fundamental Christian upbringing or background.

    I am not saying that I know absolutely one way or the other, but my take on this is that some are predisposed to this kind of mental phenomena.

    I am not saying that they don't exist, but I have yet to hear of 'atheists' getting possessed by a 'demon.'

    Possibly a more likely scenario is a belief or model that these people take on, that the *meaning* of the experience is coming from a 'demon.'

    Just some thoughts.... Anyone have some counter-examples or other theory's on this, or any kind of hard evidence or experiences one way or another....?



    November 15, 2010 at 3:06 am |
  2. Cthulance

    "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."

    Translation: The reason for the conference is to find some way around canon law without overtly flaunting canon law.

    Exorcism is just that important–with all these demonic possessions going around (just ask Linda Blair), we need more power in the hands of priests. Why just last night a demonically possessed young woman was crawling across my ceiling and instead of calling a Catholic priest (who'd just be hampered by all this canon law stuff), I called in the Mormons.

    I don't think it worked as I'm sure the demonically possessed young woman is still hiding in the attic, so next I'll call the Scientologists. Xenu isn't hampered by canon law. Take that, Catholic bishops! Who needs the rite of exorcism when you can audit your demons away?

    November 14, 2010 at 11:56 pm |
    • Nonimus


      November 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
  3. Iqbal khan

    One of the five pillars of Islam is following the foot steps of prophet Abraham or Ibraheem(PBUH)


    November 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  4. Iqbal khan

    Please Listen and read The Quran with translation in many different languages check


    November 14, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
    • Know What

      Iqbal khan,

      Another bizarre, fantasy desert god conjured in the Middle East? No, thank you, dear.

      November 14, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  5. Iqbal khan

    Learn more about Islam check

    November 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  6. John Jaskson

    some would say the world is gay, well sorry but 95% are normal!!!!! (NOT GAY)

    November 14, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  7. DUnka Shane

    AMericans believe this stuff. We are the dumbest folks on the planet as a whole. thanks to Bush and the spiritual right we are laughing stock as well. ..and now our military can't keep up anymore...and we have no money left either...except the monstrous amounts we illegally print. I"m ashamed to be AMerican....and knowing we will never recover is even scarier. So many of us suffer so that our rich few can life the life. ANarchy2012

    November 14, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  8. cheiftonton

    maybe they should exercise some priests instead of little children......

    November 14, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  9. Gumby

    Here's a better article about this exorcism conference.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:42 am |
  10. dave

    Wouldn't it be more responsible for them to admit that there is no such thing as demonic possession?

    November 14, 2010 at 6:21 am |
  11. Pete

    Just another excuse to write off bad behavior. This isn't the movies and anyone believing in invisible deities to "save" them from what ever are just as nutty as the exorcists. How about being a good person because it's just a good idea, why do people need a religion to act properly.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:57 am |
  12. NuclearWar

    I suggest that some of you skeptics read Hostage to the Devil by Malachy Martin. It might shake up your fine notions about whether Satan exists or not.
    I find athiests pathetic and closed minded. In philosophy we call God a "first cause" . In other words once you get to the big bang theeory ..how do you explain that it happned ? What caused it....? Are you saying that something comes from nothing? In other words you believe in magic. Well, I believe in God and you believe in magic.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:06 am |
  13. Rick

    Oh for Gods sake.. GO AWAY RELIGION! exorcism... seriously? GOD I HATE RELIGION. this is 2010!!!!

    November 14, 2010 at 4:45 am |
  14. Peter Timber

    I once read somewhere:
    "The smartest trick of the devil is to make people believe that he does not exist."

    November 14, 2010 at 4:25 am |
  15. Thomas

    Judging by the comments on this article, the news media has clearly succeeding in pounding the idea that pedophilia and Catholicism are the same thing.. sad

    November 14, 2010 at 4:19 am |
  16. MessengerST

    Hello people of earth!
    God is the creator Who has no beginning and no end, nothing was there before Him and nothing shall be there after Him. The One Who needs no one else, but every one else needs Him. He loves every one of you, He becomes so happy when an atheist goes back to Him more than the happiness of a mother with the return of her lost child. His Mercy is the widest among His creation. When you are lost and hopeless and becomes sure that no rescue is on the way; even if you are an atheist and even if for a fraction of second, something inside your mind and soul may at least suggest to you to pray and ask whomever has more power in this creation to help you. This though that occurs to you for a fraction of second is the Mercy of God, but many fail to understand; many atheists fail to respond to the Mercy and Love messages sent by their Lord, their Creator...

    November 14, 2010 at 4:18 am |
  17. Thomas

    Judging by these comments, the news media has clearly succeeded in pounding the idea that pedophilia and Catholicism are the same thing.. sad.

    November 14, 2010 at 4:17 am |
  18. Dfender

    People, why do you have so much hate in your heart. No one is forcing you to believe in my God. If you truly believe that you are right, why such a hate. Shouldn't you be at peace knowing that you are right? By the way, i'm at peace.

    November 14, 2010 at 4:04 am |
  19. Aezel

    Now this is true comedy. A bunch of self-ordained people debating over how an imaginary magical man in the sky feels about them using their imaginary magical powers to exorcise imaginary magical demons from people, and using a book written two thousand years ago by primitive goat herders to answer the question.

    You can't come up with fiction more hilarious than that if you tried.

    November 14, 2010 at 2:34 am |
    • primitive goat herder

      demons are baaaaaad! baaaaaad!


      November 14, 2010 at 9:30 am |
    • primitive goat


      November 14, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  20. Cletus

    It's so cute that they still give headline space to these simple witch doctors and their colorful tribal lore.

    November 14, 2010 at 1:26 am |
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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.