What is an Exorcism?
An exorcism is not an act of violence. It’s a form of prayer to cast out the devil from someone who is believed to be possessed. Exorcisms are not typical parts of modern practice for mainstream Christians, but they remain in traditional Catholic beliefs and practices.
There are two types of possession: Demoniacal possession and diabolical possession. Demoniacal possessions, which may be caused by other people who have taken control over the victim’s body or soul, can only be healed by an exorcism that typically involves a lengthy ritual with prayers and incantations before it is effective. Diabolical possession, which is caused by demonic powers, can be cured through prayers and fasting.
“Exorcism is not a part of my personal ministry as a priest,” said Father Halbert P. Havergal, pastor of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in New Berlin. “But if I have to do an exorcism – well, I will.”
Contrary to popular belief, modern-day priests don’t carry special holy water or incense when conducting an exorcism ritual. They perform the entire ritual from start to finish over a period of at least one hour in private, with prayers and incantations invoking God’s help in casting the devil out of the victim’s body or soul. During an exorcism, the victim may be asked to walk around and touch points of the room where the ritual will take place.
“It’s important that all the places are touched before we start,” said Father Havergal, 41, who was ordained a priest in 2004. “That way we’re sure not to miss anything. Otherwise you’ll miss something.”
Father Havergal says he has performed 16 exorcisms so far during his seven years as pastor at St. Anthony’s Church in New Berlin, some at other churches and some at his home parish in North Franklin.
There are plenty of misconceptions about exorcists, according to Father Havergal.
“This isn’t a Halloween thing,” he said. “Anyone can get possessed. It just happens more often to children than adults.”
Priests cannot predict which people will be possessed by the devil, Father Havergal said. But instead of trying to protect people from the possibility of demonic possession, priests are trying to confer God’s kindness upon those who are being invaded by evil spirits that don’t want to leave them.
“The reason we do an exorcism is because we’re not going to get rid of sin and evil in this life,” Father Havergal said. “We’re going to get rid of it in Christ’s name.
“No one knows when they’ll get the call,” he said. “But if we don’t do an exorcism, people will never be able to escape the demon that’s in them.”
Father Havergal, who holds a master’s degree in theology from the University of St. Francis and has helped cure family members of being possessed by demons, said the person being exorcised must participate. It can be difficult for priests to continue if someone refuses to cooperate. That person is asked not to speak during a ritual that uses scents, incantations and prayers with different words translated into Latin or Greek as well as prayers and incantations in English, Hebrew or Aramaic.
“This is a very simple ritual, but the devil can be very powerful,” Father Havergal said. “We don’t want to get in his way by forcing him out the victim’s body or soul. He’s got to come of his own.”
Father Havergal said one thing he has observed during an exorcism is that demons will take over people who don’t believe they are possessed by evil spirits. That, he said, proves that mental illness may have been present in their lives and that a lack of faith is often the immediate cause of demonic possession.
“I’ve never witnessed an exorcism where it didn’t work,” Father Havergal said. “Eventually you get the demon to leave. They don’t like being in that position of being forced to leave. There’s no violence involved, but people will usually ask for a blessing to help them afterward.”
Father Havergal told his story of casting out the devil from a 15-year-old girl who hadn’t eaten for four days and was so weak that she could barely stand. She had been possessed by demons for four years, and when Father Havergal performed the exorcism, she screamed “Stop!” and then fainted. When she came around, he said the devil was gone from her body and soul.
“She was able to eat and drink right away when she woke up,” Father Havergal said. “It was quite a celebration.”
For adults who are being invaded by evil spirits, Father Havergal says it is important that they not be too ashamed to come forward and acknowledge that they are suffering from possession. He says parents have the most work to do in protecting their children from unwanted demonic influences, because children often invite demons into their souls without realizing what they are doing. The remedy for preventing possession in children, he said, is prayer and a strong Catholic upbringing that teaches them to respect God and His power over all things – including demons.
“When children go to church, I always tell them: ‘Be good, be kind and be respectful,’ ” he said. “I’m not here to teach them how to be great believers and then leave them alone in the world. We’ve got to prepare them for life after death.”
Where can you get an Exorcism in the UK?
Father Paul Lambert is a Catholic priest from East London who performs exorcisms. He works with Father Stephen Austin, also a secular priest, who is the official exorcist for the Diocese of East Anglia in England.
Father Lambert said the rise in popularity of occult activities such as Ouija boards has resulted in an increase of cases of demon possession. In addition, he said many people are more willing to admit that they are possessed by demons than when he began performing Exorcisms more than 10 years ago. “When I first started doing exorcisms, hardly anyone came forward because they were so embarrassed,” Father Lambert said. “Now people come to us and call up on our website and say: ‘Please help me.’ ”
Father Austin told The Catholic Herald that he was having to perform an exorcism every other day on average during the summer of 2012. He said he has performed about 300 exorcisms since becoming an official Exorcist 13 years ago.
“The increase in demand has been going on for about 10 or 12 years,” Father Austin said. “In 2000 there were three priests in England authorized to do exorcisms; now there are over 100 of us. There are about 25 priests in England who will offer the sacraments to those who want them.”
Father Austin said he does not perform exorcisms on children, but he does say Catholic prayers with them and protects them from any evil influence. He said parents should also teach children that the devil exists and that God is the one true Power in existence. “We have to be careful we don’t teach our children to have an idolatrous view of God, such as ‘God works in mysterious ways,’ ” Father Austin said. “That’s something I talk to parents about all the time.”
Father Lambert says he became a priest for exorcism after learning ‘more and more’ about Satan through his studies at Oxford University. His special training in exorcism is a course of study taken by priests from all over the world.
“The course is based on the work of Father Gabriele Amorth who is the chief exorcist for Rome,” Father Lambert said. “He’s been doing it for 70 years and has dealt with over 160,000 cases.”
Father Amorth said he has been told by Pope Benedict XVI to continue doing his job in fighting evil following the German-born pontiff’s decision to retire at the end of February.
Father Lambert said he once traveled to London to help Father Austin after a priest in Coventry had asked for his assistance during an exorcism-related emergency.
Father Lambert said the exorcism in Coventry lasted about three hours.
“I was told that the demons were trying to kill the person they had possessed,” he said. “They kept saying, ‘We’re going to tear you apart now.’ When that happened, I recited an exorcism in Latin and they said, ‘Stop that. We can’t stand Latin.'”
Father Lambert, who is also a spiritual director and conducts spiritual retreats at St. Joseph Parish in Louisville for priests from around the country, said Father Austin has been busy performing exorcisms during his term as archbishop of Toledo and notices a difference between those performed by Father Austin and others he has seen elsewhere. “Father Stephen is a good exorcist,” Father Lambert said. “He does a good job and knows what he is doing. He learned his craft from the best.”
Where can you get an Exorcism in the USA?
Father Malachi Martin, a Jesuit priest who performed exorcisms for many years, said the Catholic Church should reconsider the role of exorcists. He said there are “real” cases of possession and that “apart from faith healing, no other practice of the Church is as much based on faith.”
Father Martin said there is a place in every city where an Exorcism can be carried out by a priest. The church has allowed some priests to receive special training so they can carry out an Exorcism if necessary. In most cases, Exorcists are priested trained specifically for this purpose or those who have experience in carrying out exorcisms.
According to Father Martin, if a person is possessed by the devil, they must be given an exorcism. He said in some cases a person will experience symptoms such as convulsions or a loss of consciousness. People may also suffer from paranoia or hallucinations and have other psychological disorders. Some people are not able to leave the house for days after having been possessed by the devil.
“You have to understand that there are demons,” he said. “The evil spirits are real and they do exist.”
One of the books Father Martin wrote was titled “Ritual Magic,” which he said was a manual for performing demonic conjuration, which involved calling up evil spirits and using them for certain tasks such as divination.
Father Martin said some religious orders of nuns and monks, such as the Lladrana Monastery in Spain, perform exorcisms. Others include the Catholic Church’s Sisters of Mercy and the Servants of the Paraclete in France.
“Among all religions there are communities that understand more about demons than others,” he said. “In most cases there is a real presence of evil, and only an exorcism performed by a priest can get rid of it.”
Places that do Exorcisms
The Catholic Church has the most Exorcists in the world. Exorcisms are performed by many priests and nuns, as well as other religious orders such as the Sisters of Mercy and the Servants of the Paraclete.
In addition to religious orders, some people will call in an Exorcist if they feel they have been invaded by evil spirits.
Others may go to a member of their parish or to a medical practitioner who can recommend an Exorcism if he or she feels it is necessary. In general, however, people who have been possessed by evil spirits will seek out an Exorcist for help.
Theologians, priests and pastors may also perform Exorcisms. But it is not uncommon for laymen to perform an Exorcism if they feel their faith is strong enough. When a person feels they are being invaded by demons, he or she will seek out the help of someone trained in the art of exorcism, as well as a spiritual director and/or pastor.
Sacred exorcism rituals have been performed by many exorcists over the centuries including: Saint Peter Damian (1072-1173), St. Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622), St. Gregory the Great (ca. 540 – 604) and Pope St. Pius V (1475-1521).
Good sources for finding an exorcist or a Catholic Exorcist include the following:
Vatican website for The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith – home page: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/exorcism_overview.htm