Pope Francis' Exorcism Approval Isn't All That Surprising, Just Very Surreal
Don't you hate it when people tell you, "You watch too many movies"? Well in the case of Pope Francis approving exorcism as an official Catholic practice, you can tell them: "Nope, this is real." Sounds like a strange movie plot, but Pope Francis has legally recognized the work of the International Association of Exorcists — yes, such a thing exists — who claim to have saved people from evil in 30 countries. And it's good timing, because demonic possessions are reportedly on the rise. Great!
According to the Catholic church's newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy approved the statutes of the 250 priests in the association under canon law. "Exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer," Reverend Francesco Bamonte, the head of the association, told the newspaper.
The practice of exorcism has gradually been revived since Pope Francis began his papacy in 2013. Unlike his predecessors, Pope Francis is widely known for his old-school teachings and beliefs that frequently mention the Devil and evil forces. He even tried his hand at exorcism last year when he placed his hands on the head of a wheelchair-bound man who claimed to be possessed by demons. While presiding over Mass at the Vatican's chapel in April, the pope said, "Look out because the Devil is present."
If you're just tuning in now, this is not the synopsis of an Exorcist reboot. This is still real life, and it's about to get weirder.
Earlier this year, dioceses in Italy and Spain increased the number of exorcist-performing priests to meet the growing demand for the evil-ridding process. The surge in demonic possessions was reportedly due to more and more people exploring black magic, paganism, and occultism with the help of the Internet. In May, the Vatican even sponsored and organized a conference on exorcism, which was attended by more than 200 delegates from around the world, to address "the theoretical and practical implications of the ministry of exorcism."
But what exactly is real-life exorcism, and how does it differ from the horrifying scenes in The Exorcist (where most of our knowledge of the practice comes from)? Let's get to know the facts.
Who Are the International Association of Exorcists?
Although once thought of as a crazy offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church, the International Association of Exorcists have long been praised by Pope Francis. The association sends out quarterly newsletters listing potential possession cases to investigate further.
Within the Roman Catholic Church, a priest can only perform an exorcism with the permission of his bishop or local ordinary, and only after the patient is examined by a doctor and psychologist and no natural origin of the condition is determined.
How Does an Exorcism Work in Real Life?
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, an exorcism is "the act of driving out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, or things, which are believed to be possessed or infested by them, or are liable to become victims or instruments of their malice."
In an interview with the Writers Guild of America, Matt Baglio, author of The Rite, said that unlike Hollywood's version of exorcisms, "Most exorcisms are quite mundane and can last a very short time, sometimes only 20 minutes, with the person then going on about their day as if nothing was out of the ordinary."
And in stark contrast to that famous scene in which the priests yell, "The power of Christ compels you!", Baglio claims that a real exorcism is usually quite calm. "The exorcist is also very calm in the way he goes about praying," he says in the interview. "He isn’t shouting or yelling for dramatic effect."
But Real-Life Exorcisms Can Actually Be Similar to the Movies, Which Is Terrifying
Baglio said that while Hollywood may embellish exorcisms for dramatic effect, some details are eerily accurate. "I asked many exorcists about the accuracy of Hollywood films like The Exorcist. Most of them told me that the film is accurate," he told WGA. "Real-life exorcists have seen some pretty harrowing things (one saw a woman vomit up a live toad)."
According to Father Barry May of Perth, Australia, an Anglican priest, exorcist, and author who has performed dozens of exorcisms, the exorcisms you see in movies are actually not that far off from reality. He told ABC News Australia:
"I've been spat at, yelled at, grabbed at, sworn at, had people trying to rip my crucifix off my throat, gouge my eyes out, fighting, assault.... Forget the head spinning and the green vomit you see in the movies, but the rest of what you see in the movies is damn close to being real, it's not funny."
Images: Wikipedia; Warner Bros.