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. Colin

    I wonder if they teach Exorcisms 101 at Harvard or Yale Divinity School? Can you believe those insti.tutions still exist? I wonder if the other faculty treat them like the "special needs" kids are treated at school.

    May 22, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      It would seem so. I've seen the small bus they use.

      May 22, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  2. lordkid

    People,any true born again Christian has the power to cast out devils, we have been commanded to do so....

    May 22, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • Colin

      Where is that commandment?

      May 22, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      One of the B-list commandments. Along with washing feet and handling snakes.

      May 22, 2013 at 8:22 am |
    • Science

      Hey lordkid

      Sort of like the SNEEZE ?..................casting out the red horn-y thingy or the 666...beast ?

      What is that phrase.....lordkid you say after the sneeze ?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:14 am |
  3. Honey Badger Don't Care!

    Of course the pope didnt performe an exercism. Since there are no demons and no devil there is nothing to exercise.

    May 22, 2013 at 8:09 am |
    • Peace

      but his followers follow him,, with cash

      May 22, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • Science

      Honey Badger Don't Care!......................666..............the beast is also the red horn-y thingy..............and the RCC is

      really limp on this one.


      May 22, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  4. AntiChrist

    You can say that the pope didn't perform and exorcism, but he did something. The pope knew that putting pressure on the kids head, pushing him down in his chair, was creating a reaction and he continued regardless.

    The catholic church is a giant, the stolen wealth, the stolen souls, that only and act of God can bring to its knees.

    May 22, 2013 at 7:58 am |
  5. Jacques Lafortune

    Actually, what the priest whispered in the Pope's ear was something like this: "Dear Holy Father, this is the man we have planted for you to show your power. Just put your hand on his head and mutter a few things, and he will be cured. We have trained him on how to react. Go ahead. There are millions watching on TV. "

    May 22, 2013 at 7:51 am |
  6. junkypimp

    he must of thought they were asking about "exercise".

    May 22, 2013 at 7:47 am |
  7. Alex

    As far as I'm concerned, exorcism is abuse of the mentally ill.

    May 22, 2013 at 7:45 am |
    • Victim of catholic priest pedophilia

      calling people sinners is the same

      May 22, 2013 at 8:11 am |
  8. Enough of the Vatican

    No more news from the Vatican. Unless they want to actually help the "natives" they converted to the white man's religion and return all the natural resources they stole. Like that will happen. The Church is a political organization. Enough of the Pope.

    May 22, 2013 at 7:44 am |
    • Gorsh

      No more news from the secular American government, unless they return the lands stolen in their genocidal wars of conquest against the natives. Sadly, the secular American government was far better at population annihilation, so there aren't many natives to give the land back to.

      May 22, 2013 at 8:02 am |
  9. myself

    if i choose to believe in God...that's my choice. if you choose not to believe in God...that's your choice. why all the nastiness?

    May 22, 2013 at 7:36 am |
    • Gorsh

      Because some people believe that their faith based belief system is proof of their own intelligence. You see, they believe things without evidence, which is called faith and just as any dogmatic, closed minded zealot they must attack those who reject their faith claims.

      May 22, 2013 at 7:41 am |
    • richunix

      So, here is a question. What is your deity name? Rmemeber the word God comes from the 6th German word Gott.

      May 22, 2013 at 7:41 am |
    • Peace

      because christians and muslims have destroyed human live in their sick interest for centuries. We are all tired of it!!!!

      May 22, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • EdwardTr

      You are right there should be no nastiness. Our problem with religion is how you try to incorporate your moral standards into the legal system. This that not mean that we should throw away all our values but we should stick to the Humanist values because they are the ones that are common across all of humanity.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Francisco Decastro

      That's what I'm saying. I believe in God and that is how I feel. That is my faith. When someone does not believe in God, it does not bother me at all. It only bothers me if they come to me and start an argument. But it makes no sense that my belief in God bothers someone who doesn't share he same thing. People think differently then others, or people live differently, this is all part of life.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  10. lie like a catholic

    guess someone told this pope that 'exorcisms' aren't in. Today it's money laundering and corruption.

    May 22, 2013 at 7:31 am |
  11. lie like a catholic

    looks like this pope ignored the cover ups in his church too. And the cathoholics said he'd be different and address it to help thousands of abused children world wide.

    This popes a liar as the rest of the religion is a huge lie.

    May 22, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • DJ

      You are ignorant. This was not a rite of exorcism, merely a blessing for a poor soul in need of compassion. The pope is a kind and gentle man, and a great leader that is doing the work of God.
      All of your ignorant and meaningless comments show the ignorance and hatred people have towards God's one true Church whose authority was granted from Jesus Christ himself.

      May 22, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • Peace

      the pope has no authority on anything,, except the voodoo believers who follow the lunatic. Proof that some people will follow anybody or anything.

      May 22, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  12. Gorsh

    So many sad, angry and pathetic little people here. I do feel sorry for you; what an empty life it must be.

    May 22, 2013 at 7:14 am |
    • richunix

      Not really, they are just sharing there opinions as you have shared yours.

      May 22, 2013 at 7:20 am |
    • lie like a catholic

      An overwhelmingly number of scholars and scientist believe religion is just silly. You feel sorry for them? Or might the truth be the other way around?

      May 22, 2013 at 7:25 am |
    • Gorsh

      The amusing thing is, I never said who I thought was sad and bitter. You might examine your lives if when someone mentions sad, bitter and angry people, you get defensive.

      May 22, 2013 at 7:33 am |
  13. ronvan

    And the arguments go on! WHO can prove or disprove THEIR side? NO ONE on this planet! As I have said before it is Beleif & Faith! Both sides can use these two simple words! WE, try to explain deviant, horrible, crimes, as "he is pocessed by the devil", he is pure evil, etc.. Where are the exorcisms for these people? While I have faith & beleive in my Lord & Savior, it does not mean that I have given up on asking questions. Things happen that cannot be explained. We hear stories about "super human" strength in helping others or loved ones. What about people in comas, for years, that all of a sudden wake up, "healed"? Doctors, now doing things, that were only dreams. And what about the "human mind"? They still do not know ALOT about it. WHO is to say that when the pope touched this person that their mind "healed" itself?

    May 22, 2013 at 7:14 am |
    • Science

      Hey ronvan.................and the old pop kicked the angels with pitch forks of the team last xmas................so

      that means no fairy in the sky either ?

      May 22, 2013 at 7:21 am |
    • lie like a catholic

      disprove aliens did't create us in one of their experiments. Or prove it. In all cases, religion is no different.

      Religions/aliens,, no difference. Oops,, I guess it's more likely aliens since we exist, others must exist too. Unless we are totally closed minded. If if close minded, religion would make better sense for you.

      May 22, 2013 at 7:24 am |
    • richunix

      try understanding "argumentum ad ignorantium – "appeal to ignorance;" whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa." before you make such bold statements. Faith & Belief are based solely on fanatsy, nothing more.

      May 22, 2013 at 7:24 am |
  14. JAB

    I thought Italy's super hero had super powers. The guy didn't even get out of his wheelchair and dance a jig. Very disapointed.

    May 22, 2013 at 7:14 am |
  15. Reality

    As good students, 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 7:03 am |
  16. lie like a catholic

    Some people will believe anything. Give the church money and be resolved of sin. <– that's what the catholic church promoted at one time.

    May 22, 2013 at 6:53 am |
  17. yep

    but the pope belongs to an organization that does witchcraft. Whether he did or didn't, is meaningless. All voodoo. This church is the last one that should tell anyone what is morally right or wrong.

    May 22, 2013 at 6:45 am |
  18. Derek

    Mythology lives.

    May 22, 2013 at 6:42 am |
  19. Bootyfunk

    Exorcism = Molestation

    priest: "ma'am, your child is possessed by a demon."
    mother: "oh my! what can be done?"
    priest: "i can exorcise the demon."
    child: "i'm not possessed, i just have the stomach flu."
    mother: "what can i do to help?"
    priest: "just shut the door on the way out. you will hear lots of noises as i remove the demon, grunting and painful shrieks. don't open the door. and make sure no one disturbs us."
    child: "please don't leave me alone with him..."

    May 22, 2013 at 5:57 am |
    • yep

      In Syracuse, NY about 5 years ago a mother complained to the diocese that her child was abused by a priest. The diocese said she was possessed and required an exorcism. She went to the FBI,, thankfully. I know the agent she spoke with.

      May 22, 2013 at 6:47 am |
  20. Lizard Lance

    Exercisms turn evil people into lizards.

    May 22, 2013 at 5:51 am |
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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.