Theologian Mocks Upcoming USCCB Conference on Exorcism

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A well-known dissenting theologian is mocking plans by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to sponsor a special conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism in Baltimore this November just before the bishops’ semiannual meeting.

According to an editorial written by Fr. Richard McBrien for the National Catholic Reporter in which he refers to the conference as “embarrassingly dumb,” many interesting details about the sessions were revealed.

The conference is being sponsored by Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Bishop Designate of Springfield, Illinois who wrote in a May 18 letter that the conference is open to bishops and designated priests, including those to whom bishops have authorized to perform exorcisms.

“The conference will address not only the theological and scriptural foundations of the rite of exorcism,” the letter continues, “but it will also provide the necessary, practical insights into the many liturgical, canonical and pastoral issues associated with exorcisms and the church’s battle against the demonic presence in the world and the lives of the Christian faithful.”

The first afternoon session will focus on “the phenomenon of evil in contemporary culture; and responses and resources available to address the presence of evil, particularly through the use of exorcism,” Fr. McBrien reports.

In the evening, there will be a discussion of cases and responses “from a practical standpoint.”

On the second day of the Conference, a morning session will provide a detailed presentation of the practice and use of the rites associated with exorcism, strategies for pastoral care and “an examination of other phenomena related to the presence of evil.”

A special closed session for bishops only will follow in the afternoon and will present and discuss “matters of special interest to bishops related to the phenomenon of evil and the use of the rite of exorcism.”

In his editorial, Fr. McBrien mocks the idea of the conference by saying, in essence, that the Church has more important issues to attend to.

“One wonders if this session will address the scandal of sexual abuse of children and other young people by priests and the subsequent cover-up of such crimes by bishops themselves, their intimidation of victims and their families, their hiding behind lawyers, and their irresponsible movement of predatory priests from assignment to assignment, without any warning to potential victims or even to pastors,” he writes.

Sadly, Fr. McBrien sees no connection between the devil and the sex abuse scandal, or the need to strengthen and fortify priests to combat evil with all the tools the Church makes available to them.

The Conference is expected to be well attended.

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