Who ya gonna call for exorcism?

Vatican students told of banishing demons over the phone

Demons are being cast out over the phone, according to an Albanian priest speaking in Rome this week at an annual Vatican course about exorcism. Exorcism is the practice of evicting demons from a person, or place, they are believed to have possessed.

From about 50 countries, around 250 participants – mainly priests – are attending the course dedicated to a controversial practice which Catholic Church officials claim is on the rise.

“There are priests who carry out exorcisms on their mobile phones.” – Cardinal Ernest Simoni

With the course involving a step-by-step guide to exorcism, as well as sessions on witchcraft in Africa or the difference between mental illness and demonic possession, one of the first speakers grabbed attention. “There are priests who carry out exorcisms on their mobile phones. That’s possible thanks to Jesus,” said Cardinal Ernest Simoni, an 89-year-old Albanian priest who described reading prayers of exorcism (in Latin) over the phone.

While Simoni’s comments fit into our technology-obsessed times, they reportedly came as a surprise to some church leaders. One of the events organisers, Professor Giuseppe Ferrari, noted that conducting exorcism remotely might be dangerous for the person who is possessed, due to the violent reactions they can have.

“Priests pray with people on the phone to calm them down, but if you are not there you cannot control the physical aspects,” said Ferrari. “Some exorcists say it is effective. Whether it is orthodox or correct, I couldn’t say.”

“The number of exorcisms has definitely increased over the years …” – Giuseppe Ferrari

The annual conference at the Regina Apostolorum pontifical university is the only one of its kind in the world and has been running for 13 years. Each year, the number of participants grows, as has the cry for help with demonic possession. For example, during the past decade, the number of people seeking exorcism in Italy has reportedly tripled to half a million.

“The number of exorcisms has definitely increased over the years, as the requests to carry out exorcisms has increased,” said Ferrari.

“Demand is growing, absolutely,” agreed Father Anthony Barratt, a British priest based in the USA. “I think it is partly due to the internet, which makes it (satanism) so accessible. Films and television programmes are also a factor.”

The Bible recognises warfare within the spiritual dimension of life (see the New Testament letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6) but exorcism remains a disputed practice.

Only Catholic priests with a license or their bishop’s permission can perform exorcisms. However, others can assist during the process which involves the reading of the ‘Roman Ritual of Exorcism’ (Pope Leo XIII put it together in 1884).

The Vatican has called for every Catholic diocese must have a priest trained as an exorcist. Albanian priest Simoni noted that doctors should be consulted about people suspected of being demonically possessed – and exorcisms only undertaken when no medical reasons are offered for their behaviour.

“Discernment is important,” he said.