Skip to comments.SPLIT OPENS IN CHURCH BETWEEN BELIEVERS IN PSYCHOLOGY & THOSE WHO SEE DEMON
Posted on 06/02/2007 7:21:40 AM PDT by NYer
An open conflict has erupted in the Church between exorcists who believe that demons can cause many maladies, especially mental ones, and psychologists who all but dismiss exorcism as a product of the Middle Ages, according to a new book by Los Angeles Times reporter Tracy Wilkinson.
The volume, entitled The Vatican's Exorcists, marshals a highly secular and often skeptical view of exorcisms at the same time that it presents fascinating facts on priests who administer the rite in places like Rome and those who have suffered from demonic oppression.
The conflict -- psychology versus demonology -- has penetrated the Vatican itself, with the Pope openly endorsing a recent meeting of exorcists while a congregation devoted to the liturgy has declined to officially recognize a group of exorcists.
At the center of the debate is Rome's "chief" exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, who has faced off against organizations such as the Italian Society of Psychopathology. The society scoffs at spiritual explanations for emotional and other disturbances, believing that medication can do more than deliverance. Indeed, at a recent conference, the world's largest pharmaceutical firms had booths to hawk their pills for depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, notes Wilkinson.
One of the lectures: "Exorcism versus Therapy."
The question: has psychology covered over evil afflictions with contrived clinical names, or are some exorcists mislabeling psychological abnormalities as demonic infestations?
While conservatives tend to believe that the influence of demons has been underestimated, liberals or those of a psychological bent decry those who see evil spirits "under every rock" (in the common cliche).
"I would get scared if I had seminary students who aspired to be exorcists," said one Jesuit, Father Gerald O'Collins, at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. "[The priesthood] should be about helping old and young, administering the sacraments, teaching the Word of God, and not going about exorcising demons."
Counters Monsignor Andrea Gemma of Isernia, a bishop who is also an exorcist: "The sarcastic skepticism among the world's pseudo-thinkers, and even among some Christians and religious teachers, is the fruit of disinformation and, therefore, superficiality, which becomes the very basis for the victory that the Evil One wishes to obtain, covered in silence. Some laugh at it. They mock it and think it's been blown out of proportion."
"A snapshot of the ambivalence of the Church toward demonic possession and exorcism can be seen in the foreward Father Benedict J. Groeschel wrote to the English language translation of [exorcist] Father Amorth's first book," writes Wilkinson. "As one reviewer put it, it was one of the most [lukewarm] endorsements known to the publishing world. A foreword normally tells people to read the book; Groeschel, a Franciscan priest with a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University, opens by admitting that he initially declined the request to write the foreward."
Most in the Church acknowledge both demonism and psychological illness as factors in oppression, depression, and anxiety. Indeed, the very definition of the word "demon" comes from the classical Greek daimon or daimnion, which means "mad."
But it is the degree to which a spiritual influence is involved that has caused the split. Father Amorth is criticized by intellectuals for seeing demonic influence in everything from horoscopes and the Ouija board to yoga and Harry Potter at the same time that the skeptics are castigated for ignoring a growing danger to the flock. In fact, a Ouija board figured into the famous case of possession portrayed in The Exorcist.
While Jesus taught that many afflictions, including brain disorders such as epilepsy, could be the result of a possessing entity, by the eighteenth century the exorcism rite began to fall out of favor. That came in the wake of the "Enlightenment" and "Age of Rationalism," which were accented by scientific and medical advances and eventually the field of psychology -- which many argue is not a science at all, but a philosophy.
At the same time that psychology is under increasing question, the number of exorcists -- at least in Italy -- is growing. Where there were only twenty exorcists in Italy in 1986, notes the book, today there are approximately 350.
In countries such as the U.S. and Canada, however, shortages of exorcists are dire -- largely because those nations are steeped in psychology, which has pinned clinical names on manifestations that for centuries were seen as having a spiritual component.
But a resurgence in exorcisms began during the pontificate of John Paul II -- who not only believed in the reality of possession but personally conducted at least several exorcisms. Although the current Pope, Benedict XVI, is widely viewed as more academic, rationalistic, and far less mystical than his predecessor, he chose a public audience during the first months of his papacy to praise a group of exorcists meeting in the Umbria region under the guidance of Father Amorth, notes the book.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Congregation for Divine Worship, which "disapproves of Amorth, according to a senior official there," writes Wilkinson -- indicating a serious divergence in Church thinking.
The basic rite of exorcism was penned in 1614 and remained unchanged for nearly four centuries. Only in 1999 was a new version -- missing some of the original verbiage -- issued under the title of "De Exorcismus et Supplication-ibus Quibusdam." Father Amorth argues that it watered the rite down. The new document formalized the requirement that specific exorcisms be authorized only by a bishop. Its delayed publication so long after the Council indicates, says the author, how unimportant exorcism is to many in the Church.
While the devil fell out of fashion after the Age of Reason, the author notes, and again after Vatican II, the Church under John Paul II taught that the devil is a "real and dangerous presence."
The late Pope's beliefs were buttressed by his own run-ins with possession. As Wilkinson recounts, a bishop brought a woman named Francesca before the Pope and upon seeing him, she screamed and convulsed, returning to normal only when the Pope said, "Tomorrow I will say Mass for you."
A year later, the woman was calm, happy, and expecting a child.
In another case, a 19-year-old from the Italian town of Monza arrived for the Pope's public audience in Saint Peter's Square and "burst into shouts, spewed vulgarities, and writhed violently" when John Paul II appeared. Violent reactions in the face of holiness are commonly reported.
Difficult for the psychologists to explain have been the myriad of cases in which strange objects (especially pins) have been vomited; furniture has levitated; holy objects have been thrown or broken; a foreign tongue unknown to the victim is spoken (sometimes an ancient one); there is superhuman strength; and there is a radical aversion to the liturgy.
Results are seen with use of stoles, blessed salt, Holy Water, the Crucifix, and Scripture. Places too have to be exorcised. Many develop demonic problems after exposure to such occult practices as fortunetelling and seances, warn exorcists.
Despite such evidence, psychologists have sought to label demonic infestations with such terms as "dissociation," "neurosis," and "schizophrenia." More recently, cases have been cloaked with the idea of "bipolar" disorder, and also "multiple personality syndrome" -- in which several and even dozens of different personalities exist in a person and which sound more like what the Bible described as demons that were "legion."
Some assert that exorcism itself is simply a form of hypnotism that suggests to the "possessed" to act demonized.
Those who have suffered complain, however, that psychology's alternate method left them suffering and showing no progress in fighting what plagued them.
"I tell them to go to their own bishop, but they often tell me that those who have been appointed exorcists are the first ones who don't believe it," complains Bishop Gemma of Isernia.
In reality, indicate exorcists, infestations have intensified.
"Liberation these days is taking much longer, and there are more cases," says an exorcist named Father Gabriele Nanni. "We don't understand why. Is it a lack of faith in ourselves? In the Church? In the priests? We have been lowering our guard."
"A good hypnotist can make a patient bark like a dog," argue some researchers. Unintentionally, an exorcist makes the subject talk like the devil.
"Most -- but not all -- psychiatrists, psychologists, and other scientists dismiss demonic possession as a case of suggestible people acting on subconscious impulses or following the cues of a priest," writes the author.
Conferences at which psychologists denounce exorcism have increased along with the rise in European exorcists.
Bark like a dog?
"They always said it depends on you, on your mentality, the traumas you've had," complained one woman who was afflicted by an evil spirit and had tried a number of psychologists before getting relief from exorcism. "They always look at the material, not the spiritual. They always wanted to give me materialistic explanations, and it stopped there. The more we talked about it, the worse I got. They could not give me an explanation for what was happening."
Along with the mental distress, notes Wilkinson, the woman was accident prone; her home burned down and she wrecked a car -- "incidents she later came to understand were the work of the devil."
[resources: The Vatican's Exorcists, Spiritual Warfare Prayers, Interview with an Exorcist, and An Exorcist Tells His Story]
Perhaps this go around, we can leave beer out of the discussion.
Beer is just a little relief from the Catholic-bashing.
Fr. Amorth himself says that most cases presented as possession turn out to be psychological in nature and are referred for professional treatment.
The exorcists aren't denying that psychological cases exist. It's the mental health professionals that are having ten fits because a few cases are beyond (or outside) their ability to cure.
Wonder why they feel so threatened.
I’ll do my best. ;)
You're no fun anymore!
That is so funny...Thanks for the laugh
It’s worse than that. A priest, as a spiritual director, will remove much of the business that hired “friends” will do for hundreds of dollars an hour. The real disease will be the addiction patients have to the wacky mental neutering drugs prescribed.
This isn’t the first time “professionals” make a job out of human misery:
When Jesus arrived at the official’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd who were making a commotion,
he said, “Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping.” 16 And they ridiculed him.
When the crowd was put out, he came and took her by the hand, and the little girl arose.
And news of this spread throughout all that land.
Secular psychologists and big pharma will lose a lot of money because people have had enough with pop science and happy candy. We want the Presence of Christ. We need the Sacraments.
Agreed. The last fifty years or so has been a cruel joke on those who look to the secular mental health community for relief.
I have met Michael Brown - I was very impressed by him. Great speaker as well.
The secular world and the people who make their living in it prefer not to give spiritual credence to spiritual things.
They like all things to revolve around man, and that includes our disfunction, sin and mental illness. That way men can be the ones to resolve the “problem” .
There is an entire world out there that wants men to be god.
I once read somewhere that Jesus gave different instructions to his priests.
Oh come on! I can be lots of fun! It's just that some of those graphics take f-o-r-e-v-e-r to load, especially for us cheap dinosaurs still running ancient iMacs on dial-up. Just posting one thread can take up to an hour because of the graphic intensive hosting sites.
Alright ... have to be honest ... I'm not a beer afficionado. Now, wine ... well, feel free to post pix from the fruit of the vine. I do believe that is what was served at the Last Supper - not Black & Tan ;-)
There you go again, Joe, quoting Scripture and doing so in a balanced response. Do you realize just how great a gift you have been given! You are truly amazing and I thank you for the great contributions you bring to these threads.
I second that!
Thank you for posting that! I understand he is also an author.
Mike Brown is a convert and once lived in the RC Diocese of Albany. He is still keenly attuned to the antics that take place here. I visit his web site daily.
Then feel free to get a wee tad bit of the fruit of the vine! How about some Cabernet Sauvignon from the Colli Orientali district of Friuli Venezia Giulia, the best vines in Italy (and, imo, the world...)