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. German Franz

    If Atheism is religion than switching OFF the TV is a new Show !
    We have no "holy" books, no untouchable prophets, no crazy invisible guy who may be ALWAYS responsible for the good and has nothing to do with the bad. So go on your religious brainwashed people, by praying and thanking your god for survivors of tornados, instead of asking why your "Supergod" did not prevent any tornados at all. So while your god (who made the universe as you say) is also responsible for killing thousands in earthquakes and storms, tsunamis... you thank him for the hand of survivors. Just ask yourself how stupid this is. Religion is bad brainwashing nothing else.

    May 23, 2013 at 3:24 am |
    • mattindc

      Atheism is not a religion its a misguided state of mind but we'll pray for you friend.

      May 23, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • Reality

      More on the Three B Syndrome (Bred, Born and Brainwashed in religion):

      It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

      To wit:

      “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

      The Situation Today
      Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville

      May 23, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  2. EX catholic

    Charlatans! I saw the video, both this freak and the other priest were pushing on the boy. There were no convulsions or the kid going limb. The two men together probably put enough pressure on him to make him feel exhausted. There was no healing because it is IDOLATRY. IDOLATRY IS NOT Religion, IDOLATRY IS A VERY SERIOUS SIN.

    May 22, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
    • mattindc

      Did a priest pull a Sandusky Maneuver on you or something Mr. Ex-Catholic? Why so ANGRY?

      May 23, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • Ex catholic

      Charlatan papists like you make me angry! You are a disciple of Sandusky.

      May 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  3. Sunfire

    I like Pope Francis and may the Lord lead him especially the devils within the Vatican

    May 22, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
  4. EatYouAlive

    Pretty sure the pope just stole the poor mans wallet.

    May 22, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  5. Superhero

    We need more superheroes in our lives...

    May 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  6. Punchmaster

    Ooga booga! Shazam! Abracadabra!!

    See, I'm a Grand Poobah of the supernatural too.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  7. PrimeNumber

    The Church understood the difference between possession and psychosis a long time ago:
    "The too credulous are often deceived...lunatics often declare themselves to be possessed and tormented by the devil; and these people nevertheless are far more in need of a doctor than an exorcist."
    - Acts of the Synod of Rheims, 1583

    While science has been busy studying microbes and constellations, the Judeo-Christian tradition has been probing the human person and his psyche for many millenia. The above excerpt was written almost three hundred years before the birth of Sugmund Freud.

    May 22, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  8. Bible Humpers Unite

    If you can't explain it, a god did it.
    If you don't understand it, a god did it.
    If you need to kill someone, the devil made me do it!
    Humans are such fragile scared beings they need a super being overlord to keep them in line, oh and promise afterlife. I almost forgot the biggest lie.
    And now!

    May 22, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • Aacon

      Atheism is a religion,and you are howling it like so many others more than any Christian or Catholic preacher ever has on the internet in almost every section any religion is tolareted.You may not pay donations to your leader but guesswhat...He accepts them.Wish you and all howling their religion would do so to each other instead of trying to shove it down peoples throat.Now about the Pope.He means well.Probably one of the best persons to ever be Pope,a man trying to do good for the human race,ans all life.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • EatYouAlive

      Atheism is no religion and there is no leader... none... we buy books with our monies and LEARN...

      May 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  9. sly

    "No the Yankees are"
    "No the Red Sox are"
    "No the Yankees are"
    "No the Red Sox are"

    May 22, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      So the Yankees are forcing their beliefs into the public domain?

      May 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  10. Fearless Freep

    The catholic church is the mafia.
    The booty is your soul.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  11. Reality

    Only for the new members:

    As good students, you have read the reiterations of the "fems" (flaws, errors, muck and stench e.g. exorcisms) 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 2:54 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain


      May 22, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
  12. Ted Jones the crusader not for khrist


    Take heart though, as the hatred is proof in itself of the correctness of the Catholic church. Let the demons howl, remembering our Lord said 'they have hated me first.'
    Persecution complex? lol

    May 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  13. Stefan Gies

    If he had performed a real and effective exorcism, Christianity would be gone.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  14. PushingBack

    Perhaps the pope was simply trying to steal this man's katra.

    May 22, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  15. stvps40

    Believe...don't believe..the simple answer is NO ONE knows. I do think religion is the biggest SCAM in the world. I also know
    I've had some very intense SPIRITUAL events in my life,beautiful and moving events. Maybe I'M not intelligent enough to grasp these answers,but I am smart enough to admit, I do not know these answers,how could anyone?

    May 22, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  16. richunix


    I hope you realizre that the Book Of Revelation is a Gnostic Gospel and was attribute to (written by) John of Patmos not John the Apostle and is Apocalyptic. Written by Greek scribes in Konic Greek during the 4th century CE, The only reason it was in included in our current canon was the original Apocalyptic Gnostic Gospel of Peter was too hard to understand. During the early church and when doctrine was just forming both Athanasius and Tertullian, decided that the current Gospel of Peter was not written by Peter, even though it was used by the Middle-Eastern early church (still used by Greek Orthodox church) and the belief was that the Book of Revelation was probably written by John son of Zebedee. In 367 CE Athanasius issue a letter declaring these books and only these books will be read and all others are consider heresy. It was the “Proto-Orthodox” Christian of Rome, that decided what books you have and the really funny thing, the current Bible DOES NOT (closely) match the earliest known writings.

    May 22, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  17. Joe

    That's nothing. Now if he could cure the 'gay' that would be something to talk about.

    May 22, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  18. Matt

    I wonder what would happen if all the invective heaped on the Catholic Church here were dumped on gays and welfare recipients instead. Would CNN supress the hate speech?

    May 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Joe

      Or perhaps towards Ted Turner's faith of choice. I believe they have entire organizations dedicated to eradicating that type of hatred and intolerance when it's turned towards their own faith.

      Take heart though, as the hatred is proof in itself of the correctness of the Catholic church. Let the demons howl, remembering our Lord said 'they have hated me first.'

      May 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • PushingBack

      LOL, and you wonder why religions get the attention they do these days?

      May 22, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • eli

      Are you saying that the Catholic church gets hated on more than gays? Are you crazy. I do not know a person that has been killed because they are Catholic. We all know a few gays that have been. Organized religion in most cases are the same as organized crime rings. Very few churches are left that are true.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • JFCanton

      Get the perspective right: we "know of" gays who are killed because they are gay. Very few of us know them personally. But one could say the same of Catholics in some parts of the world.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • Aaron

      eli- a secular German internation study two years ago found there were about 150,000 religious hate murders in the world that year- over 80% were Chrisitans being murders for their faith.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  19. Gorsh

    It is really very simple. There is no evidence for the existence of God. There is also no evidence for the creation of the universe by random forces.From a cosmological perspective, there are either an infinite number of universes or ours came to exist against nearly infinite odds able to support life (unlikely without agency)

    So, believe what you want to believe. If you choose one or the other it is an act of faith not reason. To bash another's faith based belief is hypocrisy in the extreme.

    May 22, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Joe

      That's far too sensible Gorsh. Instead let's devote endless argument to determine who is the most uneducated. It's almost comical how the intellectually challenged 'scientists' with their two-hour public school class regarding evolution take on the evangelists with their equivalent lack of understanding of their own professed faith. In the end, we're all dumber for having participated.

      May 22, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      There is nothing hypocritical in saying we do not know, such as atheists do.
      To say that they do know, is the religious take, and they cannot. it is that basic difference that is the argument.
      I don't care when someone says that they believe in a god , but they could be wrong...that is rare in the extreme

      May 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  20. be honest

    hey, it's the voodoo prince

    May 22, 2013 at 12:41 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.