Exorcism Goes Mainstream

Exorcism was once a secretive rite that priests rarely mentioned and the faithful only learned about from scary movies. But an uptick in the need for exorcisms, along with increasing scientific recognition of spirit possession, appears to be bringing this ancient rite into the mainstream.

A recent opinion piece, written by author Lynn Hightower and appearing in the Los Angeles Times, notes that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders now recognizes “spirit possession” under the category of “Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” (DDNOS).

The category of DDNOS is included for “disorders in which the predominant feature is a dissociative symptom (i.e., a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment) that does not meet the criteria for any specific dissociative disorder.”

Another description, although not an official diagnosis, is dissociative trance disorder, which includes “single or episodic disturbances in the state of consciousness, identity, or memory that are indigenous to particular locations and cultures. Dissociative trance involves narrowing of awareness of immediate surroundings or stereotyped behaviors or movements that are experienced as being beyond one’s control. Possession trance involves replacement of the customary sense of personal identity by a new identity, attributed to the influence of a spirit, power, deity, or other person and associated with stereotyped involuntary movements or amnesia…”

These secular descriptions affirm thousands of years of testimony from exorcists who claim to have witnessed the same manifestations in the possessed. These inexplicable behaviors include the use of previously unknown foreign languages, the ability to twist and contort the body into unnatural positions, inhuman strength, severe aversion to anything sacred, and the feeling of having one’s personality replaced by another internal being.

There was a time when exorcism was secretive, even denied, but not anymore. As Hightower discovered, there are now plenty of exorcists who are bringing this ancient rite to the attention of the faithful, beginning with the late Father Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist of Rome, who was very outspoken about the increased need for exorcism among the populace as well as the Church’s responsibility to meet these needs.

The Church’s response has been increasing exponentially over the years, beginning in 2004 when St. John Paul II sent a letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith mandating that every bishop is to select and train an exorcist for their diocese. This directive was followed up by directive from Cardinal Robert Sarah, former prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stating: “Every diocese must not only have one but you are to supply me the name of that priest”. In the same year, the school of theology at Regina Apostolorum, one of Rome’s most prestigious pontifical universities, devised a special program to educate its students on Satanism and to also train a new class of exorcists. Since that time, the Vatican has worked in conjunction with the International Association of Exorcists on conferences that have attracted hundreds of priests from around the world.

This increase in awareness has been aided by the number of exorcists who have been coming out of hiding in order to help the faithful discern the machinations of Satan in the modern world.

For example, Father Vincent Lampert, an exorcist from Indiana, is on YouTube, as well as Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, author of Diary of an American Exorcist, who has a website and blog and also offers an app filled with specific prayers the laity can use to protect themselves and their families from demonic harassment. The book, The Rite, by Matt Baglio, documents the training and experiences of Father Gary Thomas, a California based exorcist. Father Michael Maginot from the diocese of Gary, Indiana, was involved in the widely publicized exorcism of Latoya Ammons and her children.

High profile events such as the exorcism rite prayed by Portland’s Archbishop Alexander Sample in 2019 over a city park used for violent racial justice protests, and a similar ceremony conducted the same year by San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone outside a church where a statue of Father Junipero Serra was toppled, has also increased awareness of both the existence, and the combative nature, of Satan.

Making this ministry more visible to the public has not only helped those who are in need of deliverance and exorcism, it has also dramatically increased the workload of the priests involved.

As Hightower documents, she was in contact with an exorcism team at a Southern California Catholic church where she was told that since the pandemic, more people have been experiencing forms of spiritual attack and that “the team is overwhelmed with its current workload.”

Unfortunately, most of these cases do not require exorcism but may indicate a need for simple deliverance, and/or mental health care. The Church and the mental healthcare field work closely together and the once common skepticism about exorcism on the part of the medical establishment has now become reversed.

“The exorcists are the skeptics now,” Hightower writes. “Baffled and frustrated psychiatrists have turned to exorcists seeking help for patients whose torment does not follow the path of schizophrenia or delusional disassociation and does not respond to treatment.”

Richard Gallagher, MD, author of Demonic Foes: My Twenty-Five Years as a Psychiatrist Investigating Possession, Diabolical Attacks, and the Paranormal, is an ivy-league educated, board certified psychiatrist at New York Medical who is the world’s foremost authority on demonic attacks. The book documents his personal journey of transformation from skeptic to believer to expert and is filled with riveting details about actual cases involving people who were genuinely possessed.

The fact that exorcism is becoming more mainstream may increase the workload of the world’s exorcists, but it’s also shining a new light on an ancient practice that has brought healing and hope to millions throughout the centuries.

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