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. saggyroy

    Funny. Catholics can cast out devils, but don't recognize pedo priests.

    May 22, 2013 at 5:51 am |
  2. Zakes Zambezi

    We live in truelly exciting times in terms of our Creator revealling his loving truth to us. This revelation is a golden blessing unto our lives.

    May 22, 2013 at 5:38 am |
    • yep


      May 22, 2013 at 6:48 am |
  3. GO_GOP

    To all those who think exorcism isn't real: It is very real; my brother over in Alabama was once possessed by a 450 year old demon and he was speaking in native American voices. Our pastor Robert ( a man with a deep connection with our Lord in heaven) exorcised him and defeated the demon. I have seen it with my own eyes. Seek Jesus.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:07 am |
    • grow up

      grow up there are no sky dadies or demons

      May 22, 2013 at 5:18 am |
    • GO_GOP

      Don't say like that my friend. If you get possessed by demons your life would turn upside down. I am praying for your soul and you should too.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:26 am |
    • M.A.P.

      Seek Jesus? Are you insane? I found myself, I don't need Jesus or any other imaginary beings.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:30 am |
    • Leif


      May 22, 2013 at 5:51 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      LOL! that's hilarious. you sure he wasn't 850 years old? i was possessed by the ben and jerry's demon once. it made me eat a whole gallon of chunky monkey.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:59 am |
    • Silly

      Really? Did you translate what your brother uttered? Geeeesh!

      May 22, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • markinator

      How did you know the demon was 450 years old? I think that most demons that possess humans don't live longer than 357 years. But you must have the inside track. Tell us about the native american voices he was speaking. Was the demon a native american? Is speaking native american worse than speaking Swahili, for example? Actually, my questions are rhetorical, and require no answer. Please try to remember to keep yourself medicated.

      May 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  4. ArgleBargle

    Oh, brother. Christ didn't need to perform any special gestures, or need holy water, etc. He simply commanded the devils to leave. Why would someone who was Christ's "representative on earth" need to do otherwise? They've turned a simple act of faith into a three-ring circus complete with robed clowns.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:31 am |
  5. Mike

    Exorcisms don't REQUIRE all the ceremonial trappings. The power isn't in the ritual. It's in the soul. Ritual is a focus. Prayers are a focus. Implements and Holy Symbols are a focus. None of that actually matters.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:23 am |
  6. Learn2Bible

    Exorcisms take more than a few minutes guys, more like weeks/months.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:12 am |
  7. Cindy

    There are a lot of people in this world who should be exorcised. This is a non-issue, folks.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:44 am |
  8. Eric

    "and it is understood that this power passes to the bishops who are the successors to the apostles, and priests the co-workers." Understood in some way that they spent quite some time dreaming up, I'm sure. Hallucinogenic drugs may have been involved in that little exercise. The seam goes for the whole concept of demon possession (most likely a giant early FAIL diagnosis of epilepsy) and exorcism.

    These people are CON ARTISTS. Wake up!

    May 22, 2013 at 2:13 am |
    • Eric

      seam -> same

      May 22, 2013 at 2:13 am |
  9. Cortanis

    You know what.... so what if he did actually perform a public exorcism. At least he could claim to be doing more for actual people than the last pope did and he'd be a bit more believable in the role of the pope. Note for any who may misinterpret my words, I'm not saying he actually did or that I think the church has any credability in the matter at all anyway.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:03 am |
  10. Pale Horseman

    A religion is not the opiate of the masses. It is an investment of time and energy to grow and develop your mind, your morals, and your skills.

    A bible with a God who lives in the Milky Way Galaxy and claims to be the Creator of the Universe pulling in more sheep (investment) for the earlier investors when there is no more investment left in an overpopulated world while the whole investment is sinking is a Ponzi Scheme of souls...

    Wait it gets better... He is not God; his name is Shem, and he is the leader of a tribe in the bible here on Earth. He has been lying to you for a long time, and his lies just cost him his existence. Also, all his followers are corrupted, and if they don't heal now, their existence gets erased from creation with their fearless leader Shem.

    May 22, 2013 at 1:24 am |
  11. Fritz Hohenheim

    Maybe Pope Franciscus has bad breath and the man simply fainted?

    May 22, 2013 at 12:43 am |
  12. Jerry

    So who is crazier; the man who believes himself to be possessed by a demon or the man who believes him & also believes he can cast the demon out? I think the first is nuts but the second is completely looney-tunes.....

    May 22, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • Hmmmm

      And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues;

      May 22, 2013 at 12:39 am |
    • YBP

      Each day, the Pope casts a spell over a bread-like wafer and wine, transforming it into 2000-year-old human flesh and blood. Is it any wonder that he also casts out evil spirits? This strikes you as odd?

      May 22, 2013 at 1:19 am |
    • Richard Bergstrom

      So, he can cure the sick, but still wears glasses...

      May 22, 2013 at 1:22 am |
    • Guest

      "the second is completely looney-tunes"

      No, the second is not nuts at all. He and people around him are in for the money. And they get it. A lot!

      May 22, 2013 at 3:20 am |
  13. ankenyman

    It was a blessing and perhaps a test to see if the guy was possessed. He looked like he had a possible demonic reaction to the blessing.

    May 21, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • Ituri

      The fact that you are on a computer, on the internet, clearly in an educated nation and not illiterate, makes it all the more ridiculous that you believe in demonic possession. Honestly, I'm ashamed for people like you.

      The kid got excited, and clearly has physical problems. Don't embarrass yourself, or insult a disabled person, by claiming they are freaking possessed.

      May 21, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
    • Fritz Hohenheim

      And how exactly does a "demonic possession" look like? How do you distinguish it from a seizure? If there is a distinction or hysteria, where does the knowledge about it's symptoms come from? How can it be tested? And no, I dont count some chickenscratch somebody scribbled on a parchment and that hundreds of years later was put in a book as "knowledge"

      May 22, 2013 at 12:47 am |
    • YBP

      I think that those who have replied to this comment have missed the sarcasm.

      May 22, 2013 at 1:21 am |
  14. sim namore

    Be vehwey quiet, I'm huntin' wabbbits. It's wabbit season.

    May 21, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
    • Bugs

      Duck season!

      May 21, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
  15. brian

    Priests place their hands in strange places – which is a major problem for the Church today.

    May 21, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Reality

      FEAR, SHAME and GUILT and COVER IT ALL UP, a standard response across the board with the "walking with god clerics" now forever walking with the common man–

      Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

      Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

      Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pedophilia are married.

      Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy "I did not have s-ex with that girl" Clinton, John "Marilyn Monroe" Kennedy".

      Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger "I am so sorry for getting caught" Woods.

      Neither is being an atheist or pagan or football coach since pedophilia is present in all walks of life.

      If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of "neithers" they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pedophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women, football coaches), divorce for adultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Paterno et al Clinton, Cardinal Law) or child endangerment (Paterno in abstentia, Sandusky et al, Lynn) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder ("Kings David and Henry VIII).

      May 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  16. rob0rah

    The movie was "till this day" is and was the scariest movie I ever saw. I bet is it for most people my age!

    May 21, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • rob0rah

      Especially for Catholics!

      May 21, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
    • JOHN Fitz

      Yep, it would have been about 1970 or thereabouts, I was about 19, and yep, it terrified me for years, profoundly, almost crazily. The only time I got a bit passed it was when I saw the parody of it...now that was really funny and shook loose the fearful ghosts. true.

      May 21, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
  17. sly

    That's so cool ... man, a real exorcism, and the Big Pope Daddy did it! Yee Haw ... I love it when we can return to our innocence of the 60's. Wow! Bet that scared the Devil out Him!

    Yeah ... we won't be seeing any Bush family for awhile.

    Just kidding folks ... gosh, y'all gotta have a sense of humor on this stuff – it's all entertainment!

    May 21, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
  18. Nate

    If I were Hawking I be convulsing too if some man in a strange hat and dress put his hands on my head.

    May 21, 2013 at 10:17 pm |

    hindu atheist, ignorant self centered are no different than pigs, secular, self centered by nature, always happy in hind, filth of mud, in human case, hind filth of hinduism, illegality.

    hindu atheist, ignorant self centered are no different than pigs, secular, self centered by nature, always happy in hind, filth of mud, in human case, hind filth of hinduism, illegality.


    May 21, 2013 at 9:59 pm |




      May 21, 2013 at 10:26 pm |

      hinduism illegality of hindu atheists, crook self centered is exposed. living example of mind set of a hindu secular, crook self centered, denier of truth absolute GOD on display..

      May 21, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • STFU

      wow I am impressed, Mohammad A. Dar has beautiful family, all seems happily enjoying poool.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  20. Bob

    Get the broomstick!

    May 21, 2013 at 9:52 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.