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

Vatican: Pope didn't perform exorcism

By Dan Merica, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='DanMericaCNN']

(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. Observer

    So it's not true. Pat Robertson was not exorcised.

    May 21, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
  2. Ndubuisi

    Reflection on Feast of St. Rita, the saint of Impossible Cases:22nd May
    Today, the Church celebrates the feast of one her daugthers, the Saint of the Impossible cases – St. Rita of Cascia. Rita was born in 1381 in a little village of Roccaporena, near Casica, Italy. As expressed in her prayer: ‘You know my trials, for you yourself were many time burdened in this life.’ Rita suffered not only the death of her husband but that of her two sons. She never sought to avenge the death her husband, Paolo; rather like our Lord Jesus Christ, he loved her enemies and prayed for those killed his husband.

    After the death of her sons, Rita turned her whole life to loving and contemplating the redemptive passion of Jesus Christ. For the next ‘forty years she gave herself wholeheartedly to prayer and works of charity, caring for the sick and needy and working especially to preserve peace and harmony among the citizens of Cascia.’ As Apostel Paul says in Colossians 1:24: ‘I shall fill up in my body what is lacking from the sufferings of Christ’. For the last 15 years of earthly life, Rita shared in the sufferings of Christ by bearing the external sign of stigmatization. She breathed her last on May 22, 1457 in Cascia. St. Rita was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on May 24, 1900. Apart from being the saint of the Impossible, St. Rita is also the patroness for abused wives and mourning women.

    Furthermore, Wisdom stands at the centre of today’s first reading taken from the book of Sirach. Wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom exalts those who seek her. Seeking wisdom requires: Responsibility, Initiative, Trust and Availability (RITA).

    RESPONSIBILITY disposes us to knowing the place of God in our lives and our service to our neighbours. St. Rita placed God at the centre of her life and gave her life for the worship of God and service to humanity.

    INITIATIVE: relationship is not a one-way street. Even in our relationship with God. Seeking wisdom entails taking initiatives, in other words, opening our hearts and minds and allowing the Spirit of Truth to move us in the right direction. St. Rita allowed herself to be moved by the love of God.

    TRUST, without which no relationship can function. Seeking Wisdom involves placing our whole being without reserve into God’s hand. It is entails abandoning ourselves to the care of God. Allowing Him to do His works in us; and firmly believing that He is God who does not deceive. St. Rita put all her trust in God; She trusted and loved her Saviour to her very last breath. And the psalmist says, ‘those who trust in the LORD are as secure as Mount Zion; they will not be defeated but will endure forever.’ (Ps 125: 1)

    AVAILABILITY, many a time we are so occupied with our daily routines or activities that we hardly have time for ourselves, for the people around us and even for God. Seeking Wisdom means being available for God and our neigbours. Seeking Wisdom is saying to God, ‘Here I am Lord, I have come to do your Will (Heb 10: 5, 7; Psalm 40). That was what St. Rita of Cascia did, as a mother she was there for her family; she was there for the people; and above all, she was available for God.

    May we ask St. Rita today to intercede for us before the throne of God almighty, so that we may become TRUE SEEKERS of Wisdom. May she intercede for all the pregnant women, all the abused women and widows. May she interecede for us all especially those encountering difficult family/relationship situations. Amen

    I also invite to join in this Prayer:

    Prayer to Saint Rita in Impossible Cases

    O powerful Saint Rita,
    You are called the Saint of the Impossible.
    In this time of need I come to you with confidence.
    You know my trials, for you yourself were many times burdened in this life.
    Come to my help, pray with me, intercede on my behalf before the Father.
    I know that God has a most generous heart and that He is the most loving Father.
    Join your prayer to mine and obtain for me the grace I desire:
    Here mention your request
    I promise to use this favour, when granted to better my life
    To proclaim God’s mercy and to make you widely known and loved.
    Amen. St. Rita of Cascia, Pray for us.

    May 21, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  3. STFU

    not sure about ghosts, spirits, demons can possess real people, but some of the bloggers here are behaving like they have been possessed by Pope.

    May 21, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  4. Livilla

    Sick aicker and sickest. Have fun in the tenth century.

    May 21, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  5. scot pederson

    I doubt the Pope could perform an exorcism if he believes what the Catholic church teaches which is a system of good works for salvation. It goes clearly against what the Bible teaches that salvation is by Grace alone, Eph. 2:8-9.

    So if he only has Jesus in his head but doesn't really know him then he has no special gift and especially Apostolic gifts which died out when the Apostles died. So he won't be raising any one from the dead or immune to a venomous viper like Paul was either.

    May 21, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Acts 19:13


      May 21, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • TDidmus

      The Catholic Church absolutely does not (and never has) taught salvation by works. Salvation comes from faith in Christ alone. They do, however, teach that your faith will be judged by your works as seen in James 2:14-26. True faith will, by its nature, produce good works.

      May 21, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Dustin

      Well, look at it this way: Catholic teaching states that you need both faith AND works. So he knows Jesus; according to Catherine doctrine, you need to be saved by Christ, just like with Protestants. The only difference is that they believe you need works too. So it's like having all the puzzle pieces, except that you have an extra puzzle piece, and you're perfectly fine with that. So they have everything they need for salvation (faith) they just have something else which neither harms nor helps (works) their case. Thus they are still saved.

      May 21, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  6. Helovesusall7


    May 21, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      haha... The site makes me laugh but I feel real sorrow for you. What a miserable fearful existence you must have to worry about "end days." The likelihood of you dying of a heart attack, cancer or car accident is incredibly high, but you're worried about some imaginary future, fantasy apocalypse. I can only imagine how painful your life must be to feel you have to project yourself off into la la land.

      May 22, 2013 at 1:31 am |
  7. Tim

    “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.”

    WELL EXCUSE ME!!! If the church lays claim to ANYTHING, it's sensationalism!!! At least Hollywood does sensationalism in the (occasional) pursuit of the provable truth.

    It would funny if it weren't so ostentatiously STUPID for any educated person to make that claim.

    May 21, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  8. OwMySkull

    How about exorcising all the pedophiles out of the church?

    May 21, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • William

      I can assure you there are pedos in your line of work as well.

      May 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • OwMySkull

      Gee, you really nailed me on that one, William.

      May 21, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  9. JPO

    It's all in your head, evil spirits, satan, god and all of religion. All you have to do to get rid of evil spirits is mess with someone's head in a way that they believe will rid them of the evil spirits.

    May 21, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  10. Bob

    Religion = irrational nonsense. Who cares if he did or did not use magic spells? It is all craziness.

    May 21, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  11. Bob

    Give me a break!! Everyone knows that in addition to the pope, you need Merlin and Dumbledore in order to perform an exorcism...

    May 21, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      Those are wizards, not clerics. Wizards cast magic spells, clerics cast holy spells. Dude...go back and read the rule books.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      -15 HP | -25 MP

      May 21, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Brian, Detroit

      There is no such thing as magic power, just as there is no such thing as holy power. The only power this guy controls is power over the billions of dollars religious idiots give him. Hasn't the catholic church stolen enough from the world?

      May 21, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      @Brian, Detroit,

      I think you're missing the point here.

      May 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Livilla

      The wizards are cool but make sure you keep the little kids away from those clerics

      May 21, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  12. Reinaldo

    I have had 3 exorcisms last year by santeros and the final good one by a catholic church. Exorcisms are as common as checking email, bad vibes get stuck in the body, specially in the forehead (third eye) where the "social conduct" of the humans are. The thing is that churches does not talk about them because people would be asking for exorcisms every time they are in problems or do something wrong without learning the lesson. Is like getting high spiritually, people are very irresponsible about those spiritual things. That is why the church is quiet. Santeria took those tips and you see santeros charging for "despojos" from $500 to $1500 or more.

    May 21, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • Brian, Detroit

      You had better go see a psyciatrist, he may be able to prescibe you drugs for your addled brain.

      May 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • William

      You replace one fraud with an even bigger fraud that escapes without ridicule.

      May 21, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  13. SDFrankie

    The article neglects to mention the incident where the Holy Father cut the heart out of a living man and then kicked his still-twitching body down the steps of the temple. I'm pretty sure he did that.

    May 21, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • Bob

      I heard that he lit the man's still-beating heart on fire, and then took a bite of it.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  14. HeavenSent

    Phony HeavenSent think she's clever by stealing my handle and spewing the lies of satan, which is the word of the devil. scotty *cough* tommy-tom is jealous of Jesus because He is the Lord. When I first sat down it was painful but I am ok now and the ketchup bottle is gone. Toxic baiter always no imagination.


    May 21, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Brian, Detroit

      Jesus is just a charector in a book that the Romans wrote, they modeled him after the Egyptian god Horus, to the letter.

      May 21, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • William


      Uh-oh, it appears Brian has Netflix too. Google Zeitgeist:The Movie Debunked.

      May 21, 2013 at 6:30 pm |


    Helpless god of hindu Mithra ism, racist savior ism of hindu dark ages, labeled Christianity.


    May 21, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • jim

      long hair on a man was against the laws that Jesus lived by (1 Cor. 11:14,15)

      May 22, 2013 at 12:22 am |
  16. Ricky Gibson

    Let's take a deep breath, folks. The Pope was comforting and praying for someone who was having an epileptic seizure. A seizure is an electrical malfunction of the brain that can be a result of heredity, injury, or illness. We're in the 21st century.

    Or at least some of us are.

    May 21, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      It worked for the mormons – they got a whole religion out of it!

      May 21, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Tim

      In the 21st century, WE call for a doctor, we DON'T lay on hands and move on. Srsly, listen to yourself!

      May 21, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  17. QS

    It was too short....yeah, cuz THAT'S how you could tell it wasn't a "real" exorcism! LOL!

    May 21, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • Blahblah

      That would in fact be one major clue. Anybody knows it's a ritual that can't be done in a few seconds, on the fly.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Bob

      Well, that and the absence of green vomit.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      Maybe the new pope has a feat allowing him to perform exorcisms in less than 2 rounds.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • derp

      It's a new catholic thingy called expressorcisms.

      May 21, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • HeavenSent


      Acts 19:13


      May 21, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  18. Apple Bush

    Yeah I guess it is like a cell. It has dark spots, corners

    There is a lighted area but the bulb flickers on and off more than it used too

    Strange to be a rabid animal in a cage you built yourself and when they try to save you….
    bite them…then ask them to come back

    Strange to do that, but this is home, home smells this way
    There is mildew that could be treasure but it is stuck and when you pull too hard, it rips
    I might move a bit
    I might change a bit
    Frozen playing music without time

    May 21, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  19. BillyD

    I'm not quite sure where all the animosity is coming from. Neither side can prove their assertions when it comes to the existence of God, demons, etc. Until someone uses their opinion for nefarious purposes (not that it hasn't been done before many times), why get so enraged or rude about it? If someone wants to believe in something greater than themselves, why deny them that comfort when it doesn't affect you? If someone can't believe because there is nothing to support the existence, that's their perogative and doesn't hurt believers.

    May 21, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • JBOHDRider

      That is the most bogus argument on the planet. You can't prove something that does not exist, it's that simple. There is no magic spirit in the sky guiding your life. All religions are based on social rules and norms and use made up stories to scare people into submission.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • Matt

      Oh dear Billy Boy – let us break down your paragraph to see what errors you have made:

      //I'm not quite sure where all the animosity is coming from. Neither side can prove their assertions when it comes to the existence of God, demons, etc//

      True. No one can prove the assertions of fairies, leprechaun, the Bogey Man, Zeus, Thor and so on either. Does this make them plausible to believe in? Of course not, that's why Billy Boy the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim.

      //Until someone uses their opinion for nefarious purposes (not that it hasn't been done before many times), why get so enraged or rude about it?//

      Because ridicule is a fantastic why to change mind sets and get people to challenge their stance. Do you think slavery, women's rights started off without ridicule? C'mon be serious now and think of a better question.

      // If someone wants to believe in something greater than themselves, why deny them that comfort when it doesn't affect you?//

      Not deny their right to believe it Billy Boy....We want to protect the right for everyone to believe whatever they wish... Why would we deny that to them? How could I do that? Well I suppose we could act like the religions back in the hay day and say "believe in us or we will kill you" methodology.

      I won't deny the right of someone that thinks African Americans are dumber than Caucasians either...But I damn will ridicule this stupid belief. Secondly your beliefs are not BENIGN. You act in accordance with your beliefs...so if someones beliefs are idiotic...best to address before they act on it.

      May 21, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  20. chaz

    That makes him a Pentacostal...

    May 21, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
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.