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Vatican: Pope didn't perform exorcism
May 21st, 2013
02:55 PM ET

Vatican: Pope didn't perform exorcism

By Dan Merica, CNN
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(CNN) – A Vatican spokesman on Tuesday refuted claims that Pope Francis performed an exorcism on a man in St. Peter’s Square after Mass on Sunday. But he did not altogether deny the encounter.

“The Holy Father had no intention to perform any exorcism,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement. “Instead, as he frequently does for the sick and suffering persons who approach him, he simply meant to pray for a suffering person who was presented to him.”

Speculation that Francis performed an exorcism began to ricochet around the Internet when video of the encounter from TV2000, a Catholic television station in Italy, was posted online.

In the video, Francis smiles and takes the hand of an unnamed man in a wheelchair. After a priest whispers in the pope's ear, his demeanor changes and he places his hands on the man’s head. The video shows the man in the wheelchair convulsing before his body goes limp with his mouth agape.

The pope also places his hands on two other people in wheelchairs, but neither has the same dramatic reaction.

Performing an exorcism is the act of “casting out” evil spirits from a person’s body. The power to perform exorcisms, wrote the Rev. Thomas Rosica in an e-mail to reporters, “was conferred by Jesus on the apostles, and it is understood that this power passes to the bishops who are the successors to the apostles, and priests the co-workers.”

“The Church has had – for many hundreds of years, it ought to be added – a very precise ritual of exorcism: there are no evangelical-style tent revival theatrics, but careful, even methodical attention and faithful following of the prescribed prayers, gestures and use of sacramentals such as holy water and the crucifix,” Rosica added.

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, an American expert on exorcism who organized a conference on the topic in 2010, said what Francis did on Sunday was “clearly not an exorcism as most people understand it.”

“It is just too short,” Paprocki said. Most exorcisms, Paprocki said, take 20 to 30 minutes to complete and involve reciting prayers, reading scriptures and using sacramental objects such as crucifixes and holy water.

“I doubt the pope has it memorized,” the bishop said.

Paprocki’s 2010 conference on exorcism was seen as a peak of interest in the ancient practice - at least in the United States. According to experts, 100 bishops and priests attended the exorcism conference held in Baltimore.

“Since that conference, I think things have died down a little bit,” Paprocki said. “I think it kind of ebbs and flows and sometimes you get more of an interest in that than other times.”

Exorcism is not unique to Catholicism. Other Christian faiths, Hinduism and Islam all have forms of casting out evil spirits.

Jesus performs a number of exorcisms in the Bible, encounters that are recounted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. One example: in Matthew 9:32-34, Jesus exorcises a mute shortly after healing two blind men.

“As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him,” reads the passage. “And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke.”

The guidelines on Catholic exorcisms, “De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam,” or “Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications,” are an 84-page document that was last revised in 1998.

Hollywood has also contributed to the public fascination with exorcism.

In 1973 “The Exorcist” captured America's imagination about demons taking over a person’s body and profoundly shaped the public's perceptions about the process of throwing those devils out. The movie was violent, vivid and for many people unforgettable.

More recently, in 2010, a movie titled “The Rite,” starring Anthony Hopkins, dramatized the life and training of the Rev. Gary Thomas, a California priest, as an exorcist in Rome.

To experts on exorcism, however, these movies are just a sensational look at a traditional Catholic practice.

“These portrayals in these movies tend towards sensationalism,” said Rev. Mark Morozowich, dean of theology and religious studies at the Catholic University of America. “It creates a hysteria among some people and it creates fantasies among other people. I think this has caused undue fascination with these things.”

Morozowich said in some cases exorcisms are legitimately necessary and solemn tasks taken on by a priest.

“While possessions do exist, they are meant to be something more private,” Morozowich said. “Sometimes it trivializes that experience by fantasizing it.”

- CNN’s Tom Foreman and Daniel Burke contributed to this report.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Pope • Pope Francis

soundoff (442 Responses)
  1. Derk

    Mike – how about proving that "god" is real and not a fictional character? That's an easy one, right?

    May 21, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  2. Oppy

    This is sort of like the movie Air Force One, where the president himself takes on the terrorists. Kind of awesome, now that I think about it...

    May 21, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  3. gman21

    Would the Holy father perform an exorcism on GOP please?

    May 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  4. Dick

    Mike from CT - better yet, why don't you prove that your god is real. Much easier to prove, right?

    May 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      Derk, nobody can prove anything. I can not prove God, you can not prove that this is a dream we are having, that you live in the matrix or that your name is even (whatever it is). All we can do is make a verdict on the evidence we are given. So we have design points to a designer. That we believe the world is really unjust pointing to a justice which we use for comparison which is not a personal justice which suites our own fansys. But something we point to that we expect all people to know. And we have the highly reliable historical testimony of Jesus who is called the Christ by the way he live, taught, died and resurrected from the dead.

      See in the end the only reason you deny unprovable point A is because you hold true unprovalable point B("There can not be a God")

      May 22, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  5. Maria Carvalho

    Are these people in the Middle Ages? The man in the wheelchair probably had a sizure or something like that. What happened to responsible journalism?

    May 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
  6. Reality

    Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are a bit on the odd side (as was JC) believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and EXORSISMS, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

    May 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • jayluv

      Why take the precious time to comment on something you don't even believe in?

      May 21, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • Reality

      As a good student, you have read the reiterations of the "fems" (flaws, errors, muck and stench ) of religion. Therefore the seeds have been planted in rich soil. Go therefore and preach the truth to all nations, reiterating as you go amongst the lost, bred, born and brainwashed souls of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as Rational Thinking makes its triumphant return all because of you!!!!

      May 22, 2013 at 7:02 am |
  7. Pope Performs Exorcism

    Tired of sharing the Vatican, Pope Francis has booted Benny da 16th out of the residence, stating "Man that guy is a touchy feely guy even at his age."

    May 21, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
  8. me

    "Speculation that Francis performed an exorcism began to ricochet around the Internet "

    There's your problem right there.

    May 21, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  9. HeavenSent

    Prideful atheists will have their own personal worms to feed off their fat drippings for all eternity. Your carnal afterlife will be spent rotating on a spit. My camel-toe's rash went away but the holes are still open. Your father satan is waiting for you to join turn on the stereo system.

    Amen.

    May 21, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Penelope Sims

      How Christian of you not to judge others! I'm so sorry a talking snake told one of Adam's rib to eat a magical apple, so now evil exist and I will burn forever! Thank you so much for clearing that up! 😀

      May 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      @Penelope Sims

      Your kind refuses to open your mouth and hear Jesus' Truth, which is written in the Bible. His notes on Heaven are instructions for inserting the tape in the slot. The kittens are big enough to get out of the stove now. Carnal atheists, always flapping but not flying.

      Amen.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • sam

      They don't make band aids for that area, HS.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • BillyD

      HS, you have a strange way with words. Kinda creepy. How about not worrying so much about who is going to hell? As a Christian, I would expect you to know that it is your God's duty to sort them out. Not you.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • derp

      You all do realize that this is a phony HS right?

      May 21, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • JBOHDRider

      No, you are going to die and get put into a giant vat of spaghetti because you don't bow to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You will pay for your unholy ways.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  10. derp

    Of course they never performed an exorcism.

    That would require that Satan be real.

    He isn't.

    No exorcisms.

    May 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Blahblah

      That's silly. The ritual of exorcism still exists, whether it is based on true premises or not.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • derp

      "The ritual of exorcism still exists, whether it is based on true premises or not"

      The point of an exorcism is to remove evil spirits.

      Evil spirits do not actually exist.

      The only thing that is silly, is actually performing an exorcism.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  11. Penelope Sims

    God, what idiots! It's the 21st century people! White people pretending a middle-eastern god from 2,000 years ago gives a damn about them, much less having some old white guy playing "pope" and driving magical evil demons from the souls of the innocent Christians. Repugnant! Anyone reading this has INTERNET access, and LITERACY. You are willfully choosing to ignorant in believing a all-powerful being, that was neither created nor can be destroyed is watching over YOU, waiting for YOU to fart your last fart, so your soul can resurrect into heaven with a choir of angels and chill on clouds all day.

    May 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • SATCH

      You said it!!!!!
      Right on!

      May 21, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • jayluv

      As a Christian I admire your passion and zeal for your faith

      May 21, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
  12. R.W. Tank Ward

    Who gives a dang what a delusional old man did or didn't do. Two Popes destroyed the whole Pappy thing. Now we have to go back to excavating the entire Vatican. Oops did I really think the clowns in or is it the other way. Anyway, they all wear funny clothes and make us laugh. What a joke.

    May 21, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  13. I AM

    My exorcisms are getting shorter the older I get.

    May 21, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  14. Will

    The sow is mine!

    May 21, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
  15. tony

    God and Superman have a lot in common. Neither turns up to help in a real-life tragedy, like Oklahoma, or the Tsunamis. But parting the Red Sea was huge hit around 500 BC

    May 21, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • Rajun Cajun

      The story takes place about 700 years ealier than 500 BC there, sport.

      May 21, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • derp

      It never actually happened, therefore the exact point in time when it didn't actually happen is only important if you are a moron....sport.

      May 21, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • George

      Derp – that is quite honestly of the best retorts I've read in a long while. Thanks.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • derp

      Why thank you, I'm humbled.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • JBOHDRider

      Derp-I second that, great come back-sport!

      May 21, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  16. Richard Cranium

    Of course the pope didn't perform an exorcism...that would require the presence of gods , evil spirit or demons, which are made up fictional characters.

    May 21, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      Great, prove your positive as.sertion of " gods , evil spirit or demons, which are made up fictional characters"

      May 21, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • Colin

      I think the fact that they exist nowhere outside of literature is proof enough. Like fairies, pixies and elves.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • derp

      Oh great, it's Mark from atlantis once again challenging us to prove that things that don't exist, don't exist.

      Believe in Tinkerbell do you Mark, prove she doesn't exist!

      I have a rainbow colored mini tyrannosaurus rex living in my crawl space that is invisible to anyone other than me.

      I swear, it's really there. Prove it isn't.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • JBOHDRider

      Mike-Prove that the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist, I dare you.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • Blahblah

      The performance of a ritual obviously does not require the underlying beliefs to be true.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • derp

      "The performance of a ritual obviously does not require the underlying beliefs to be true"

      Yes, but it does render the ritual to be completely and utterly pointless.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      @"nowhere outside of literature is proof enough"
      Following that logic, the french revolution, Persia, or even a fan favorite, the inquisitions never occurred either.
      Why do you not except history, which is taught at every university, as acceptable form of knowledge?

      @"Believe in Tinkerbell do you Mark, prove she doesn't exist!"
      Sure, we have the historical testimony from the author and Disney, that Tinkerbell was their creation. Hope that helps.

      @"Mike-Prove that the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist, I dare you."
      Who were the men that the FSM walked with for three years? Where is the archaeology that located his tomb? Where is the historical documents with internal consistency, and many manuscripts?
      See I don't say the FSM doesn't exist, I say there is no evidence. You look at the evidence of Jesus and say I don't believe it. HUGE DIFFERENCE

      Hope that helps.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Mike from CT

      *accept

      May 22, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  17. Punchmaster

    I was born just fine the first time.

    May 21, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  18. Take Note

    What is clearly wrong about the Catholic denomination is that they believe it is only they, i.e., the pope, bishops, and priests who can perform exorcisms when clearly Jesus gave that power to His disciples thus, to mankind in general who believe and accept Him as their LORD and Savior and who follow Him and His teachings and take Holy Communion. So, it is inaccurate to assume that jurisdiction over the Holy Rite of Exorcism lies strictly with the RCC. But one must always be spiritually prepared by intense prayer and fasting and strong faith and belief in God through Jesus Christ as this rite is a most Sacred and serious rite that should never be taken lightly nor undertaken just for curiosity's sake or fun. There are Extreme Dangers in so doing!

    May 21, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Satan

      I am coming for you, "Take Note." I know who you are. You cannot hide from me.

      May 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • Take Note

      "And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get Thee Behind Me , Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the LORD thy God., and Him only shalt thou serve." - LUKE 4:8 (KJV)

      May 21, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • SB

      So believing a certain historical figure suddenly gives you power over others while not believing it won't ? First you need power to think. If you get thru that you will see rest is crap. If you can't see thru that, you have no power whether you believe or not.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
    • Take Note

      Our power, SB, as Born Again Christians, comes directly by Faith and Belief in God through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ who gives us the power over the forces of darkness and evil. And yes, they Do exist with the proof being when Satan tried to tempt Jesus on the mountain but he failed miserably and was even cast out of Heaven beforehand for his disobedience to God. So much for your hero.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • Robert

      @Take Note – How is Satan that person's "hero"? It is exactly that kind of black & white binary thinking that troubles me when it comes to religious people. A non-believer has no use for Satan, either. For what its worth, using the Bible as authority of its own contents is also a logical fallacy.

      It is great that you believe. It is great that you apparently take the Great Commission seriously. However, it isn't for everyone.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  19. charles

    Mock you unbelievers, but the power to cast out demons was not just given to the apostles and then to bishops and priests, but to a believers. Furthermore the believers are called a royal priesthood.

    May 21, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • aldewacs

      more like a royal pain in the a$$.

      May 27, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  20. PJ

    This is nonsense. I cannot stand any of the Roman Curia, the Cardinals or Bishops especially here in America and Boston. However, I believe Francis was sent for a purpose. He would never fake something like this. He is a good, holy, humble man in the spirit of St. Francis who will do a lot to turn our Church around. It is sad that the best he has to work with is O'Malley from Boston.

    May 21, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • Cardinal O'Malley

      You fvcking evil, hateful woman. I call on the Almighty to smite you.

      May 21, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
    • SB

      "He would never fake"

      How do you know this. May be he would've have never gotten to where he is now without staging all those acts.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • diana horton

      i agree with you. the new pope i also think will make a huge diffrence in the church. not everyone will agree with these changes but, my hope is that they will keep a open mind. he is kind and loving to all people of diffrent faith's.may god bless him with a long life.–peace

      May 21, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
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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.