Twenty-nine years have passed since that day, June 29 1972. It was the Feast of Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles. It was the Feast of Saint Paul who brought the Gospel of Christ to the extreme corners of the West. On that day, June 29, Feast of the Patron Saints of Rome, Peters successor who had taken the name of Paul issued a dramatic warning. Paul VI spoke of Gods enemy supreme, that enemy of man called Satan, enemy of the Church. The smoke of Satan, warned Paul VI, has found its way into the Church through the fissures. It was an anguished warning that caused great shock and scandal, even within the Catholic world.
And what of today, 29 years later? Has that smoke been dispersed or has it continued to drift?
30DAYS went to see the man who has to do with Satan and his cunning every day. Its his job, almost. He is the worlds most famous exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, founder and honorary president of the International Association of Exorcists.
We also went to him because a few weeks ago, on May 15, the Italian Episcopal Conference approved the Italian translation of the new Rite of Exorcism. All it needs now for it to be used is the placet of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Is this a new weapon in the Churchs battle with the Enemy? Will it dispel, if it still hasnt been dispelled, that smoke which has drifted into the temple of the Lord? Nothing of the kind, according to Father Amorth. He will tell us that the war being waged for millennia rages on more angrily than ever. That the battlefront has now moved inside the house of the Lord. That the smoke the smoke has drifted in the most unsuspected directions.
At long last, the Italian translation of the new Rite of Exorcism is ready
GABRIELE AMORTH: Yes, it is. Last year, the Italian Episcopal Conference could not approve it because there were errors in the translation from the Latin. We exorcists who would have to use it took advantage of this to point out yet again that we were not in agreement with the new Rite on many points. The original Latin text is unchanged in this translation. A Rite so long-awaited has turned out to be a joke, an incredible cord that is tying us in knots in our work against the Devil.
Thats a serious allegation. What, exactly, are you referring to?
AMORTH: I can give you two examples, two blatant examples. At Point 15, it talks of evil in the sense of the evil eye and how we should conduct ourselves. The evil eye is an evil directed at a person through the Devil. This can be done in various ways, in the form of spells, curses, by voodoo and macumba. The Roman Rite explained how this had to be addressed. The new Rite, by contrast, categorically states that it is prohibited to perform exorcisms in these cases. That is just absurd. This evildoing is by far the most frequent cause of demonic possession and other evils procured by the Devil no fewer than 90 per cent. Its like telling exorcists to retire. Then, Point 16 solemnly states that exorcisms must not be carried out unless the presence of the Devil is ascertained. This is a masterpiece of incompetence because we can only ascertain if the Devil is possessing a person by performing an exorcism. Moreover, the editors did not realize that, on both points, they were contradicting the Catechism of the Catholic Church which advises exorcism both in the case of demonic possession and of evils caused by the Devil. It also says this should be done in regard both to people and things. The Devil is never present in things, just his influence. The statements contained in the new Rite are very grave indeed and very harmful. They are the fruit of ignorance and inexperience.
But wasnt it compiled by experts?
AMORTH: By no means, no. In these past ten years, two commissions have worked on the Rite the Commission of Cardinals who edited the Prenotanda, or the initial dispositions, and the Commission in charge of the prayers. I can say with certainty that no member of either commission has ever performed an exorcism or witnessed one. No member has even the faintest idea of what an exorcism is. There lies the error, the original sin of this Rite. No one who assisted with it was an expert on exorcism.
How can that be?
AMORTH: Dont ask me. During the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, every commission was assisted by a group of experts who worked alongside the bishops. This custom continued even after the Council every time parts of the Rite were reworked. But not in this case. And if ever there was an area where experts were needed it was this one.
So what happened then?
AMORTH: What happened was that we exorcists were never consulted. Furthermore, the suggestions we gave were received with a certain irritation on the part of the commissions. The whole thing really was paradoxical. Would you like me to tell you about it?
AMORTH: As the various parts of the Roman Rite were gradually being reviewed in keeping with the requests of the Second Vatican Council, we exorcists waited for Title XII to come up, the Rite of Exorcism. But it was evidently not considered a thing of relevance because years passed and nothing happened. Then suddenly, on June 4 1990, the ad interim Rite appeared to be tried out. It was a real surprise to us that we had not been consulted beforehand even though we had our requests all prepared well in advance of the revision of the Rite. We asked, for example, that the prayers be reviewed to include invocations to Our Lady that were completely lacking, and we asked for more specific prayers for exorcism. But we had been completely cut out. We were given no possibility of making any kind of contribution. But we were not discouraged. After all, the text had been produced for us. And we got down to work; this also considering that in his letter of presentation the then Pre- fect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, asked Episcopal Conferences to let him have, within two years, their advice and suggestions from the priests who will be using the Rite. I convened 18 exorcists from among the worlds most expert. We scrupulously examined the text and used it. We immediately praised the first part reassuming the Gospel foundations for exorcism. That was the biblicaltheological area certainly not lacking in experts. It was a new addition to the 1614 Rite, which had been composed under Pope Paul V. At that time, after all, it was not necessary to remind people of these principles. Everyone was familiar with them and accepted them. Today, this addition is vital. But when we got to the practical part in our scrutiny, the part that requires specific expertise, it was blatantly obvious that the editors had no experience at all. We made copious observations, article by article, and we submitted them to all parties concerned the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Episcopal Conferences, A copy was also delivered directly into the hands of the Pope.
How were your observations received?
AMORTH: The reception was very cool indeed, and their effect null. We had drawn our inspiration from the Lumen gentium, which describes the Church as People of God. At Number 28, it speaks of the collaboration between priests and bishops and, at Number 37, it explicitly says in relation to the laity, moreover that by reason of the knowledge, competence or pre-eminence which they have, the laity are empowered indeed sometimes obliged to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church. That was our case exactly. But we had been ingenuously laboring under the illusion that the dispositions of Vatican II had reached the Roman Congregations. Instead, we found ourselves in front of a brick wall of rejection and scorn. The secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship said in a report to the Commission of Cardinals that their only interlocutors had been bishops, not priests or exorcists. And he added in reference to our humble attempt to help as experts expressing their opinion: We had to take account of the phenomenon of a group of exorcists and so-called demonologists who subsequently formed an international association and who orchestrated a campaign against the Rite. This was an indecent accusation. We have never orchestrated any campaign. The Rite was designed for us and yet no competent person had been invited to join the commissions. Surely it was logical that we would have had a contribution to make.
Are you saying that the new Rite is useless in the struggle against the Devil?
AMORTH: Yes. Their intention was to arm us with a blunt sword. Some effective prayers were cancelled, prayers with 12 centuries of history. New ineffective prayers were written in. But, luckily at the last minute, they threw us a lifeline.
What was that?
AMORTH: Cardinal Jorge Medina, the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, accompanied the Rite with a Notification. It states that exorcists are obliged to use this Rite but may still use the old one if they wish, on lodging a prior request with the bishop. Bishops must then ask the Congregation for authorization, which the Congregation will gladly provide, the Cardinal writes. Gladly provide? Thats a rather strange concession
AMORTH: Want to know how that came about? From an attempt by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and again by Cardinal Medina to introduce an article to the Rite Number 38 at the time authorizing exorcists to use the previous Rite. This was an undoubted maneuver in extremis to insure us against the great errors contained in this definitive Rite. But this attempt by the two cardinals was thrown out. At that point Cardinal Medina, who had grasped what was at stake, decided to give us this lifeline in any event in the form of a separate notification.
What consideration does the Church have of you exorcists?
AMORTH: We are very badly treated. Our fellow priests who are given this highly problematical task are seen as crazed fanatics. In general, they are only just tolerated by the very bishops who appointed them.
What has been the most blatant manifestation of this hostility?
AMORTH: We held an international convention of exorcists near Rome and we asked to be received by the Pope. In order not to add yet another audience to his already long list, we asked if we might simply be received in the public audience on the Wednesday in Saint Peters Square. We did not even ask to be mentioned in his special greetings. We made our request in the regular way, as Monsignor Paolo De Nicolò of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household will well remember. He welcomed our request with open arms. But the day before the audience, the same Mon- signor De Nicolò told us and I have to say with such embarrassment that it was obviously not his decision that we could not go, that we had not been admitted. It was incredibile. Here were 150 exorcists from the five continents, all priests appointed by their bishops in conformity with the norms of Canon Law which state that these priests must be prayerful, knowledgeable and of good reputation, the cream of the clergy, in short here they were asking to take part in a public Papal Audience and being thrown out. Monsignor De Nicolò told me that he would of course explain the reasons in a letter to me. That was five years ago and Im still waiting for the letter. It was certainly not John Paul II who excluded us. But, that 150 priests are barred from taking part in a public Papal Audience in Saint Peters Square says much of how the exorcists of their Church are obstructed in their ministry, how much they are frowned upon by so many of the ecclesiastical authorities.
You are locked in daily battle with the Devil. What do you see as Satans greatest success?
AMORTH: The fact that he has managed to convince people that he does not exist. He has almost managed it, even within the Church. We have a clergy and an Episcopate who no longer believe in the Devil, in exorcism, in the exceptional evil the Devil can instill, or even in the power that Jesus bestowed to cast out demons. For three centuries the Latin Church in contrast to the Orthodox Church and the various Protestant professions has almost totally abandoned the ministry of exorcism. So because they no longer perform exorcisms, or study them, and never having seen them, the clergy no longer believe in them. And they no longer believe in the Devil. We have entire Episcopates trying to counter exorcism. We have countries completely devoid of exorcists, such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. This is a shameful shortfall.
You havent mentioned France so is the situation there any different?
AMORTH: The most famous French exorcist, Isidore Froc, wrote a book entitled Exorcists. Who they are and what they do. It was translated into Italian by the Piemme publishing house and had been commissioned by the French Episcopal Conference. This book never once says that exorcisms are performed in certain cases and the author has said on French television on several occasions that he has never performed an exorcism and never will. Out of about 100 French exorcists, only five of them believe in the Devil and perform exorcisms. All the others send people who come to them to psychiatrists. The bishops are the first victims of this situation in the Catholic Church, whose belief that the Devil exists is fading. Before this new Rite came out, the German Episcopate wrote in a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger that there was no point in a new Rite in that exorcisms should no longer be performed.
So, its up to bishops to appoint exorcists?
AMORTH: Yes, when a priest is named a bishop, he finds that an article of the Code of Canon Law gives him authority absolute in the appointment of exorcists. The minimum one can ask of any bishop is that he at least witness an exorcism, given that he has to make such an important decision. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. But if a bishop finds himself having to address a serious request for exorcism one, that is, that does not involve a mental case and he does not provide for it, he is committing a mortal sin. And he is responsible for all the terrible suffering that the person endures, suffering that sometimes lasts for years or all his or her life and which the bishop could have prevented.
Are you saying that most of the bishops of the Catholic Church are in a state of mortal sin?
AMORTH: When I was a child, my old parish priest taught me that there were eight Sacraments, the eighth being ignorance. And the eighth sacrament saves more people than the other seven put together. To commit mortal sin implies grave matter but also full and deliberate consent. This failure by many bishops to help is grave matter. However, the bishops are ignorant of this so there is no full and deliberate consent.
But is a persons faith still intact, which is to say, is a persons faith still Catholic even if he or she does not believe that the Devil exists?
AMORTH: No. Let me tell you a story. The first time I met Father Pellegrino Ernetti, a famous exorcist who served for 40 years in Venice, I said to him: If I could meet the Pope, I would tell him that I encounter too many bishops who do not believe in the Devil. The next afternoon, Father Ernetti came back to me to tell me that, that morning, he had been received by John Paul II. Your Holiness, he said, there is an exorcist here in Rome, Father Amorth, who would tell you if he met you that he knows too many bishops who do not believe in the Devil. The Pope replied bluntly: Anyone who does not believe in the Devil does not believe in the Gospel. That was what the Pope said and I say it again.
Again, are you saying that many bishops and priests are not, consequently, Catholic?
AMORTH: Let us just say that they do not believe a Gospel truth. So, if anything, I would stop them propagating a heresy. But, to be clear about this, a person is officially a heretic if he or she is accused of something and persists in the error. No one today, given the situation in the Church, is accusing a bishop of not believing in the Devil, or in demonic possession or of failing to appoint exorcists because he does not believe. And yet I could give you the names of so many bishops and cardinals who, on their appointment to a diocese, stripped exorcists of their faculty to perform the rite. Or there are bishops who openly say they dont believe, that these are things of the past. Why is that? Unfortunately, we have had the insidious influence of certain biblists and I could mention some illustrious names. We who are in daily physical contact with the other world know that this influence is evident in numerous liturgical reforms.
AMORTH: The Second Vatican Council asked that some texts be revised. Disobeying this command, they set about re-writing them completely with no thought for the danger of making things worse instead of better. So many rites came off badly from this mania to throw out the old and start from scratch, as if the Church to date had always conned us and as if only now the time had at last come of the great geniuses, the supertheologians, the super-biblists and the super-liturgists who know what the right thing is for the Church. This is a lie: the last Council simply asked that the texts be revised, not destroyed. The Rite of Exorcism, for example, should have been corrected, not re-written. It contained prayers born of 12 centuries of experience. Before cancelling prayers which are so old and which proved for centuries to be so effective, we should think long and hard. But they did not. All of us exorcists in trying out the prayers of the new ad interim Rite have proved that they are totally ineffective. But then again, the Rite of Baptism of children came off worse, too. It was totally re-worked so that exorcism against Satan has been all but eliminated. Yet, this always had such great importance for the Church that it was called the exorcism minor. Paul VI also publicly protested against this new Rite. The new Rite of Benediction is not as good now. I read every line of it, all of its 1,200 pages and every reference has been removed to the fact that the Lord must protect us from Satan and the angels must protect us from attack by the Devil. They removed all the prayers for the benediction of homes and schools. Everything used to be blessed and protected but, today, we have no further protection from the Devil. We no longer have any defences or even prayers against him. Jesus himself taught us a prayer of deliverance in the Our Father: Deliver us from the Evil One, Deliver us from Satan. This has been erroneously translated so that we pray: Deliver us from evil. The inference is generic evil whose origin we know nothing about. Yet, the evil we were taught how to fight by Our Lord Jesus Christ is a real person Satan.
You speak from a vantage point. Do you feel that Satanism is on the rise?
AMORTH: Yes, very much so. When faith falls away, superstition increases. To use biblical language, I would say that one abandons God and turns to idolatry. In modern terms I would say that one abandons God and turns to the occult. The fearsome decline of the faith throughout Catholic Europe implies that the people turn to occultists and clairvoyants and, meanwhile, the Satanic sects prosper. The cult of the Devil is proclaimed to entire peoples through the Satanic rock music of individuals like Marilyn Manson. Even children are not immune from this assault their comics teach them magic and Satanism. Seances are very common, in which the dead are summoned in search of answers. Today, people can hold seances by computer, telephone, television and recorders. Spiritist writing is popular. They dont even need mediums any more. This is do-it-yourself spiritism. Surveys have found that 37 per cent of students have played with a ouija board at least once. This is a seance proper. At a school where I was invited to speak, the pupils told me that they even did this during their religious instruction period with the teachers encouragement.
Do these things work?
AMORTH: There is no distinction between white and black magic. When magic works, it is al- ways the work of the Devil. All the forms of occultism, such as mass recourse to Eastern religious with all their esoteric connotations, are an open door for the Devil. And so he comes in. Immediately. I had no hesitation in saying that there was direct intervention by the Devil in the case of the nun murdered in Chiavenna (for which three teenage girls have been charged) and in the case of Erika and Omar, the teenagers of Novi Ligure, North Italy (Erika, 16, is currently being held in a Milan detention center on suspicion of murdering her mother and 10-year-old brother, with the complicity of her boyfriend, Omar, 17). Those kids were devoted to Satanism. Police in their enquiries found that, in both these cases, these youngsters were followers of Satan. They had Satanic books.
How does the Devil go about seducing men and women?
AMORTH: His strategy is monotonous. I have told him so and he admits it He convinces people that there is no hell, that there is no sin, just one more experience to live. Lust, success and power are the three great passions on which the Devil insists.
How many cases of demonic possession have you come across?
AMORTH: After the first hundred, I stopped counting them.
A hundred? But thats a lot. In your books you say that cases of possession are rare
AMORTH: And they are. Many exorcists have come across cases of diabolical evil only. I, however, inherited the clientele of the famous exorcist, Father Candido, the cases he had not yet resolved. Moreover, the other exorcists send the most resistant cases to me.
And the most difficult case you have come across?
AMORTH: Im dealing with it now and have been for two years. It is the case of that girl who was blessed though it was not a proper exorcism by the Pope last October in the Vatican and which made headlines. She is under attack around-the-clock. Her torments are indescribable. Doctors and psychiatrists are baffled by this case. The girl herself is completely lucid and very intelligent. It is a very difficult case.
How does one fall victim to the Devil?
AMORTH: We can fall foul of the exceptional evils sent by the Devil for four reasons: if it works to the good of the person (in the case of many saints); persisting irreversibly in sin; because of a curse via the Devil; or by practising occultism.
What kind of phenomena are manifest during exorcisms?
AMORTH: I remember one illiterate farmer who spoke to me only in English. I had to have an interpreter. Some manifest superhuman strength. Some elevate so that even several people cannot hold them down on a chair. But we refer to demonic presence only in certain contexts.
Has the Devil ever hurt you?
AMORTH: When Cardinal Poletti asked me to become an exorcist I prayed to Our Lady: Wrap me in your mantel and I will be safe. I have had numerous threats from the Devil but he has never done me any harm.
Are you ever afraid of the Devil?
AMORTH: Afraid of that beast? Hes the one who should be afraid of me because I work in the name of the Lord of the world. He is only an ape of God.
Satanism is spreading more and more. The new Rite makes it difficult to perform an exorcism. Exorcists are prohibited from participating in a Papal Audience in Saint Peters Square. What exactly is happening here?
AMORTH: The smoke of Satan gets in everywhere, everywhere. Perhaps we were kept out of the Papal audience because they were afraid that all those exorcists might have cast out the legions of demons that have installed themselves in the Vatican.
Youre joking, arent you?
AMORTH: It might sound like it but I dont think it is a joke. I have no doubt whatever that the Devil is tempting the upper levels of the Church, above all, just as he tempts every upper level political and industrial.
Are you saying that here, too, as in every war, Satans aim is to capture the enemy leaders?
AMORTH: Thats the best strategy. It has always been so and especially when the defences of the enemy are down. Satan tries to apply this, too. But thank heaven the Church is upheld by the Holy Spirit: The gates of hell will not stand; this, despite the defections and despite the betrayals which should come as no surprise to us. The first traitor was one of the apostles closest to Jesus Judas Iscariot. In spite of it all, the Church presses along its path. It is upheld by the Holy Spirit and so all of the battles Satan wages can only bring partial results. The Devil may, of course, win the battles, even important battles, but he will never win the war.
Originally published June 2001 30DAYS, No. 6 - 2001.
Background and further information:
Spero News published “The Smoke of Satan in the House of the Lord” interview with Rome’s chief exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth written by Stefano Maria Paci for 30Giorni, since there are various English translations of the article floating on the internet — and the majority of them are unapproved.
The Spero News article is an official translation of that interview as provided by 30Giorni.
Described as the Vatican’s chief exorcist, Father Amorth has said that he has held over 50,000 exorcisms - some of those cases, he says, took only minutes, others much longer.
Despite Father Amorth’s high number of excorcisms, most readers may be more familier with his name in conjunction to past criticisms of Pottermania.
“Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil,” Father Amorth has been quoted as saying. According to Father Amorth, J.K. Rowling’s books make a false distinction between black and white magic. Amorth says that distinction “does not exist, because magic is always a turn to the devil.”
Father Amorth has written two books: An Exorcist Tells His Story, and An Exorcist: More Stories.
Some readers may remember reports of Pope John Paul II in the autumn of 2000 holding an impromptu exorcism upon a 19-year old Italian woman who had flown into a rage after an audience in St Peter’s. At the time, Father Amorth explained to the press that the young woman - who has been possessed since she was 12 years old - had been in the front row. At the close of the act she had begun to shout in a “cavernous” voice. Pope John Paul II, who performed three exorcims while Pope, prayed over the woman for a half hour, and ordered the demon to leave.
Father Amorth, the president of the International Association of Exorcists, said the demon refused.
Incidentally, while Father Amorth was not present at the papal exorcism, he too had failed to cast out the demon on the previous day with the very same girl.
According to a Beliefnet article, Pope John Paul II was alerted to the situation as “security personnel struggled to restrain her ‘superhuman’ efforts to break free.” Father Amorth is quoted in that same article as explaining that Pope John Paul “hugged this poor little girl, tried to console her, and promised that the next day, Thursday morning, he would celebrate his Mass for her,” Father Amorth said. Father Amorth said that after the girl met with the pope, Bishop Danzi and he performed another exorcism that lasted for two hours,” the article noted, adding that Father Amorth said that during that exocism the demon mocked the pope, saying, “Not even your [church] head can send me away.”
What some people may not know, however, is that young woman continued to be seen afterward by Father Amorth.
When asked what was the most difficult case that he had ever come across in the 2001 interview by Stefano Maria Paci, Father Amorth answered: “Im dealing with it now and have been for two years. It is the case of that girl who was blessed though it was not a proper exorcism by the Pope last October in the Vatican and which made headlines. She is under attack around-the-clock. Her torments are indescribable. Doctors and psychiatrists are baffled by this case. The girl herself is completely lucid and very intelligent. It is a very difficult case.”
Some readers may not be aware that following World War II, Amorth was a member of the new Christian Democrat party. In fact, he was a a deputy in that party, with Giulo Andreotti its leader. Andreotti went on to become seven times prime minister of Italy, while Father Amorth turned to the church.
In an interview Gyles Brandreth of The Sunday Telegraph, Amorth said that from the age of 15 he had known that the Church was his true vocation. “My speciality was the Madonna. For many years I edited the magazine Madre di Deo (Mother of God). When I hear people say, ‘You Catholics honour Mary too much,’ I reply, ‘We are never able to honour her enough,’” Amorth says in that interview, before explaining how he became the Vatican’s lead exorcist.
“I knew nothing of exorcism - I had given it no thought - until June 6, 1986 when Cardinal Poletti, the then Vicar of Rome, asked to see me. There was a famous exorcist in Rome then, the only one, Father Candido, but he was not well, and Cardinal Poletti told me I was to be his assistant. I learnt everything from Father Candido. He was my great master. Quickly I realised how much work there was to be done and how few exorcists there were to do it. From that day, I dropped everything and dedicated myself entirely to exorcism.”
Interestingly, Father Amorth says it is possible to sort out fakes and neurotics, from real cases of possession.
“By their aversion to the sacrament and all things sacred. If blessed they become furious. If confronted with the crucifix, they are subdued.” “But couldn’t an hysteric imitate the symptoms?,” says in the Telegraph interview. “We can sort out the phoney ones. We look into their eyes. As part of the exorcism, at specific times during the prayers, holding two fingers on the patient’s eyes we raise the eyelids. Almost always, in cases of evil presence, the eyes look completely white. Even with the help of both hands, we can barely discern whether the pupils are towards the top or the bottom of the eye. If the pupils are looking up, the demons in possession are scorpions. If looking down, they are serpents.”
“Demons are wary of talking and must be forced to speak. When demons are voluntarily chatty it’s a trick to distract the exorcist. We must never ask useless questions out of curiosity. We but must interrogate with care. We always begin by asking for the demon’s name.”
“And does he answer?” I ask. Father Amorth nods. “Yes, through the patient, but in a strange, unnatural voice. If it is the Devil himself, he says ‘I am Satan, or Lucifer, or Beelzebub. We ask if he is alone or if there are others with him. Usually there are two or five, 20 or 30. We must quantify the number. We ask when and how they entered that particular body. We find out whether their presence is due to a spell and the specifics of that spell.
“During the exorcism the evil may emerge in slow stages or with sudden explosions. He does not want show himself. He will be angry and he is strong. During one exorcism I saw a child of 11 held down by four strong men. The child threw the men aside with ease. I was there when a boy of 10 lifted a huge, heavy table.
“Afterwards I felt the muscles in the boy’s arms. He could not have done it on his own. He had the strength of the Devil inside him.
This article was orginally published at 30Days.
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AN EXORCISM STORY
Jan 5th, 2006 by Father Joe
The Mount Rainier (Cottage City) Maryland Case
THE NEWS BREAKS
The Washington Post article in 1949 proclaims, Priest Frees 14-Year-Old Boy Reported Held in Devils Grip. Almost immediately the story was picked up by the other news services and magazines. Who would think that such a thing could still happen, and in all places, modern-day America? The story has been told and retold.
Picture Here of an Oriental Demon
Unable to get access to archdiocesan records, William Peter Blatty produced his fictionalized account that resulted in a blockbuster movie of 1974. One priest lamented at the time, It is tragic that the devil should prove so popular with people when they seem so disinterested in God. The conclusion of the film was most lamentable in that the young priest exchanges his body for that of the child as a host to the demon and then throws himself from the window. If the story had been true, one could logically contend that the devil was really after the priest the entire time. In other words, the devil really won and the rituals and intercession of the Catholic Church were proven impotent. Fortunately, such portrayals are restricted to the movies and the real story shows that the power of Christ and of his Church can still vanquish the demonic.
HOW IT REALLY STARTED
Unlike the movie, the story surrounded a young boy who was born June 1, 1935. He and his parents lived just outside Washington, D.C. in Cottage City, not far from Mount Rainier, Maryland. (Some sources claim a popular Mount Ranier location as the site of the boys home. The house at this location has has been torn down and a dance studio is now on the site. The diary gives the Cottage City location, instead. I do not feel it appropriate to give the full address. However, since Catholics in the past identified themselves by their parishes, we might still call this the Mount Ranier Case. The boy converted to the Catholic faith and claimed St. James parish as his own in Mount Ranier.) The first signs of trouble started on January 15, 1949. He was thirteen years old. While his parents were out that evening, he and his grandmother heard a dripping sound in the house. It only lasted for a brief period and then a picture of Jesus on the wall began to shake as if something had bumped into it. When his parents had returned home, a definite scratching noise could be heard under the floorboards next to his grandmothers bed. This sound of scratching was repeated each night from about 7:00 PM until midnight. Logically, the family figured that there must be a rodent problem. An exterminator was called. However, despite taking up the floorboards and wall panels to spread poison, the sound did not cease. Indeed, the disturbing noises became worse.
Some ten days afterwards the noises ceased and all believed the rodent to be dead. Nevertheless, the boy was under the impression that he could still hear the scratching noises. Three days later the sound became audible to the rest of the family again.
The exorcist writes: When the sound became audible again, it was no longer in the upstairs bedroom but had moved downstairs to the boys bedroom. It was heard as the sound of squeaking shoes along the bed and was heard only at night when the boy went to bed. The squeaking sound continued for six nights, on the sixth night scratching again was audible.
It appears that the invitation for this spiritual invasion was inadvertantly initiated through a favorite aunt of the boy. She had died in St. Louis two weeks prior to the first registered phenomena. It developed that the aunt of the boy and his parents had used a Ouija board, and this probably gave the devil his first entrance. Many religious authorities are convinced that such a so-called toy actually offers an invitation to evil spirits. Aunt Tillie had been an enthusiast of spiritualism. Suspecting something supernatural in the sound of marching feet, the boys mother asked (according to the exorcistss journal): Is that you Aunt Tillie? She obtained no verbal reply and continued: (evidently aware of the methods employed by spiritualists) If this is you, knock three times. There were waves of air striking the grandmother, mother and boy, and three distinct knocks were heard on the floor. The mother asked again: If you are Tillie, tell me positively by knocking four times. Four distict knocks were heard.
As time went by, it became evident that strange occurrences and sounds seemed to follow the boy.
* An orange and a pear flew across the entire room where he was standing.
* The kitchen table was upset without any movement on the boys part.
* Milk and food were thrown off the table and stove.
* The breadboard was thrown onto the floor.
* Outside the kitchen a coat on its hanger flew across the room.
* A Bible was thrown directly at the foot of the boy but did not injure him in any way.
* His desk at school moved about on the floor similar to the plate on a Ouija board. This latter evidence of telekenesis forced the boy to quit school because of embarassment.
Things became increasingly worse at home. On one occasion the coverlet of the bed was pulled out from under the mattress and the edges stood up above the surface of the bed in a curled form as though held up with starch. When the bystanders touched the bedspread, the sides fell back to normal position. It was also stated that At first everybody, including the boy, took it as a kind of joke, but it became more than a joke. Soon thereafter, the word LOUIS was written in deep red on the boys ribs, seeming to indicate that some invisible force desired that the boy travel to St. Louis where the his favorite aunt lived.
THE LUTHERAN MINISTER
His mother called a minister of her faith, a local Lutheran pastor. He was dubious about the whole matter. Although suspicious of the chest message, written upside down as if self-inflicted, he requested that the family come to his home. What happened next struck him as defying any natural explanation. His offer to keep the boy over at his home was accepted. It was the 17th of February in 1949. At about 10:00 PM, they decided to go to bed. The room contained twin beds. After about ten minutes, the boys bed began to vibrate. The headboard was banging against the frame.
The minister reported: It made a lot of racket. I thought he was shaking it but he was making no visible movement. Seeking a practical remedy to the situation, he placed the boy in a large overstuffed chair and sat beside him. Slowly the chair began to tilt upon its side and the minister had to grab it before it fell over. The good pastor insisted that there was no way the boy could be pushing the chair over since his legs were thoroughly tucked beneath him. He then placed the boy on a scatter rug upon the floor. Certainly, this would resolve the matter for the night. But no, the rug moved slowly until it got to the wall and then it stopped. The poor clergyman was utterly befuddled. I remember thinking he must be doing it himself but I realized later that would have been impossible. There was no movement of his body. The boy was delivered home the next day. Because of his Protestant theology, the ministered sought a natural explanation. Unable to come up with one, he categorized the whole incident under unknown forces.
FROM SHRINK TO WITCHDOCTOR TO PRIEST
A psychiatrist from Georgetown University was called in but refusing to believe in the phenomena he simply reported that the boy was normal but somewhat high-strung. The family complicated matters further by calling a spiritualist. However, his incantations for dispelling spirits failed. Indeed, the situation became more grave.
Having a relative married to a Catholic, the boys mother described the situation to him. His response was If what you say is true, then you should consult a priest. The family called the nearby parish, St. James Catholic Church. The boys father made an appointment to talk to one of the priests. The clergyman gave him various sacramentals: holy water, blessed candles, and some recommended prayers. Once when the mother had sprinkled the holy water around the room, she placed the bottle on a dresser and it was picked up by the spirit and smashed. When one of the candles was lighted, the flame shot up to the ceiling, and the candle was extinguished for fear that the house might be set on fire. The suggested prayers seemed to make the phenomena worse. Deciding to call back the priest, the clergyman heard a great crashing sound. The mother of the boy told him that the telephone table she was using had broken into a hundred pieces.
This anxious situation refused to end and matters grew more tense. The priest, Fr. E. Albert Hughes, went to the chancellor of the archdiocese. He was warned to move slowly and not to leap to rash judgments. The young priest explained that he had done as much. After a meeting with the archbishop, Most Reverend Patrick A. OBoyle, he was authorized to initiate the exorcisms. Fr. Hughes resisted, hoping that an older and more experienced man might be chosen instead. He understood that this should be done by a very holy man because the devil is wont to expose the sins of the priest; so the Father went to Baltimore and made a general confession. But the devil is the father of lies, and there is a theological opinion that he is unable to reveal sins that have been forgiven.
The archbishop insisted, the young priest had to offer the ritual. It would prove a terrible miscalculation. Between February 27 and March 4, the boy was moved to Georgetown University Hospital. A young man and altar server who was known for his abilities in high school football was drafted by the priest to assist him. This young man is still with us and is a leader in the local Knights of Columbus today. He told me that he had a terrible struggle to hold the possessed boy down. That he could spit across the room with deadly accuracy. At one point he lost his patience and even slugged the other boy to keep him under control. He saw himself as the popular priests body guard. The priest made him go to confession and pledged him not to tell his mother and friends the details of the encounters. They tied the hands and feet of the boy to the bedposts. He reacted violently to the ritual. Loose items in the room crashed to the floor. The bed shook uncontrollably. Strenuously the large server sought to hold the bed down. The victim was a small boy and yet he possessed incredible strength. The priest warned his young assistant not to enter into dialogue with the boy, only to give the required responses to the ritual words of the priest. Strange words came forth from the restrained boy, supposedly Aramaic, a form of ancient Hebrew. Previously the boy had taunted the priest in Latin. Objects were thrown around the room. The boy growled like an inhuman animal. Then it happened. Somehow the boy had gotten a hand free of the restraints. He secretly tore through the heavy mattress and ripped out a metal spring. The server responded to the words uttered by Fr. Hughes in the ritual. At the conclusion of the Lords Prayer, the boy attacked the priest and tore a gash into the clerics arm from his shoulder to his wrist. Blood exploded over everything. The ritual prayerbook was caked in the priests blood. He screamed out. The exorcism had ended in failure. The priests life was saved by the doctors and his arm had a long track of a hundred plus stitches. He would have lingering problems with the arm and it would visibly drag at the consecration during Masses.
As an interesting aside, the young server in this episode was struck in the eye by the afflicted boy. He would develop a black eye and it was joked that maybe the priest had struck him. When the priest mysteriously left the parish, only he knew the true reason. The good priest would need to recuperate from his terrible encounter and injury. After this event, collegues of the priest say that Fr. Hughes was never quite the same. He became more quiet. He was intensely reserved about what had happened. One remarked that it was as if he was a haunted man. He died in 1980.
The sources are clear about this next point. Up to this time everything had been obsession, that is, exterior to the boy, but as soon as the exorcisms began, real possession began.
THEY GO TO SAINT LOUIS
The boy expressed a desire to go to St. Louis, and since they had relatives they could visit there, the family left with the hope of leaving their troubles behind them. Unfortunately, the problem with the boy did not improve. Different displays were witnessed by two aunts of the boy, four uncles and four cousins. The printing No School was seen by four people. The swaying of the mattress, the upsetting of bedroom furniture and the scratching on the mattress were observed by the entire group . . . Phenomena indicated that the spirit was not the devil but the soul of deceased Tillie. The spirit confirmed again to all present that she was Tillie by moving a heavy bed two or three feet wih no one of the bystanders near the bed.
Again a priest was consulted. Fr. Raymond J. Bishop, S.J. from the univesity came to the house on March 9. from the closest Catholic parish was consulted. He blessed the entire house, and used a special blessing in the boys room and on his bed. A second-class relic of St. Margaret Mary was safety-pinned to the extreme border of the pillow. Shortly after the boy retired, the mattress on his bed began to move back and forth in the direction of the bed uprights. The boy lay perfectly still, and did not exert any physical effort. The movement in one direction did not exceed more than three inches, the action was intermittent and completely subsided after a period of approximately fifteen minutes. The next day, similar things happened. The relic was thrown to the floor. The safety pin was open but no human hand had touched the relic. The boy started up in fright when the relic was thrown down.
EXORCISM & BAPTISM
The next day, Friday, March 11, the priest who would perform the exorcisms visited the family. Fr. Bishop had in turn contacted Fr. William S. Bowdern, S.J. from St. Francis Xavier Church. He was shaken by what he observed. He brought additional relics and a crucifix. Shortly after the boy had retired at 11:00 PM, he called downstairs that he had been frightened by a strong force that had thrown some object against the mirror in his bedroom. With safety pin openned, the relic of St. Margaret Mary had been thrown against the mirror and the sound was like a pellet striking the glass. Another occurence was a cross mark scratched on the boys left, outer forearm. The pain was similar to that produced by a scratch of a thorn. The cross remained evident for approximately forty-five minutes. The family telephoned the priest in Washington, and after a few days, the priest in St. Louis brought the case to his archbishop (Archbishop Ritter) and was authorized to continue with the exorcisms.
The symptoms of possession seemed to get worse and not better with the new exorcism attempts begining on March 16. The seizures took place in the evening when the boy went to bed and would last from 8:OO to 12 Midnight or 1:00 AM, intermittently, and then the boy would go off into a perfectly normal sleep for nine or ten hours. It was decided a few days later to recite the prayers earlier so that everyone could get more sleep. Nevertheless, the seizures were unabaited and started about 9:00 at night and lasted until 2:00 or 3:00 AM.
Sometimes as many as ten people were required to hold the boy during seizures. He would tear the sheets and pillows to shreads, as well as the shirts and undershirts of thos who restrained him. He was utterly wild, hitting and kicking. He even broke the nose of one of the assisting Jesuit students. One incident had him scratching the exorcists arm so badly that he could not lift it for a number of days.
Coming out of a seizure he would complain of feeling very hot and would ask for a glass of water. After one of the seizures in the beginning, he said that the evil spirit seems to carry him down into a pit about two hundred feet deep where there were intense heat and vile evil spirits. In the beginning also he semed to be in a long, dark cave with a tiny bit of light at the far end; as the exorcism progressed, the lighted end seemed to grow larger and larger, in one of the exorcims, the spirit, in the body of the boy, pointed to one of the priests who were assisting and said: What is the use of you being here; you will be with me in hell in 1957.
A few days passed. The boy asked to be baptized. It should be noted that his father had been baptized a Catholic and that some of his cousins in St. Louis were Catholics. Once consulted, the parents were agreeable. The boy was instructed and preparations were made to baptize him in church. On the appointed morning he rose, took a shower, ate his usual breakfast and set out for the church in a car driven by his uncle. Just before reaching the church the boy grabbed his uncle by the neck and said: You S.O.B., you think I am going to be baptizd, but you are going to be fooled. The uncle was just able to seize the emergency brake and avert a collision by an inch. It was realized that to baptize the boy in the church would create a scene, so he was taken to the third floor of the rectory, which stands in back of the church but faces Lindell Boulevard. Every time he was asked: Do you renounce Satan and all his works? he would go into a rage. Only after several hours of repetition was the boy able to reply: I do renounce Satan and all his works. Then it required several more hours to get the water poured on the boys head.
After the rite of initiation, things became calm and quiet for a couple days. However, then the demonic business started up again and worse than before. Some of the phenomenon was quite peculiar. One was the amount of spittle that the boy could discharge: there would be half-a-pint at one time. At times he would ask for a glass of water and it would be given to him, although it was known what would happen. It would be spat back on the bystanders. While the priest read the exorcisms, two others would hold a towel in front of his face to protect his glasses, but it was useless; the spittle would go under the towel, over the towel or around the towel and strike directly on the priests glasses, and the boys eyes would be closed the whole time. Another phenomenon was excessive urination. During the seizures the boy would utter the vilest obscenities, curses, blasphemies and ribald songs, all in a high falsetto voice that was off key. It is noted that at one stage, the exorcist had to protect himself with a pillow, for the boys head moved like a cobra, aiming non-stop with spittle for his face.
The exorcist and the family returned to the Washington, D.C. area. The boys parents were at wits end and were suffering from sleep deprivation. Fr. Hughes tried to get the boy committed to a sanatorium or hospital in the Wasington-Baltimore area, but none would take him. It was decided to take him to the Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis. He was given instructions in preparation for his first communion. The hope was that receiving the Eucharist might bring the possession to an end. When the time came, it was impossible to get the Host near his tongue, but finally, after several hours, they succeeded in placing it on his tongue and three times he spat it out. Eventually success was achieved. This was on April 2, the first Saturday of the month, a day dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. The title was explained to the boy and he showed great interest. But the seizures continued.
WHAT IS YOUR NAME?
During the exorcism, the priest asked for the first time its name. What is your name and when will you depart? The response was simply Shut up, shut up. Later, in answer to the question of his name, the words, Hell, Spirit, appeared in red letters on the boys chest. In reply to the question of departure, red numbers: 4, 8, 10, 16, some Roman numerals, appeared on the boys body. He said: I will not go until a certain word is pronounced and this boy will never say it. There also appeared a red arrow extending from the boys throat to the bottom of his abdomen, and it was thought that the spirit might go out by the way of urine, as has happened in some cases.
An appendage to the diary tells us that the boy would greet the priests with filthy, foul obscenities, fluently answer the exorcists questons in Latin, a language he had never studied. One day the boy was sitting in bed reading about Our Lady of Fatima with the book on his knees when he was thrown into a seizure. He threw the book across the room. On another occasion, he was given a glass of milk and threw that across the room. On one of the final days, a Jesuit scholastic gave the boy a plate of chipped beef. He grabbed the plate, jumped to one side of the room, and threatened to brain anyone approaching him. While one asistant approached him from one side, the scholastic crawled under the bed to seize him. The boy threw and smashed the dish of food against the wall.
LIBERATION AT LAST
Despite hope that the possession would end during Holy Week, it continued through Easter Sunday with particularly violent seizures. The worst day of all was April 18, Easter Monday. The exorcist and his assistants were becoming completely discouraged.
Suddenly, at 11:00 PM, a new voice was heard from the boy; a beautiful, rich, deep bass voice exclaimed: Satan, Satan, go, now, now, now to the pit where you belong, in the name of DOMINUS (the Lord). That was the word and at that moment the boy felt a tearing sensation in his stomach, relaxed and lay perfectly quiet. He described what has happened. He saw a brilliant figure, visible from the waist up, clothed in a close-fitting white garment which had the appearance of scales; the hair was long and flowing in a wind; the right hand held something like a flaming sword or light pointing downward. It was St. Michael the Archangel. When he spoke, the evil spirit rebelled against going until the word Dominus was spoken and at this moment the boy felt the tearing sensation in his stomach. Then at some distance down he saw some evil spirits standing at the mouth of a cave from which flames issued. Then the spirits reluctantly withdrew into the cave, the opening closed and across it appeared the word: Spite. Thus the possession was ended.
The diary tells us that the exorcist and his assistants observed some severe fasting, mindful of the admonition of Christ that some devils can be driven out only by prayer and fasting. There had been at least twenty exorcisms performed. One Jesuit involved remarked: Only be examining the record after possession was ended, was it possible to see the meaning of the replies (the red marks on the boys body). The numbers may have been the days on which certain spirits departed from the boy, if there were actually more than one in his body.
The Jesuit priest has since passed away although his assistant, the then scholastic is still with us, Walter Halloran. The young server who tried to help Fr. Hughes has desired to remain anonymous. An interesting side note, George (the server) tells me that when the boy returned to Washington, he could not remember the active possession episodes. The possesed man is still living and there has been no trouble since. He married and had a nice family. Life went on.
A FEW ADDENDUM NEWSPAPER CITATIONS
An aunt of the boy said in a New York Times article from August 1972: (Upon the boys visit to her home) All of a sudden the mattress starts going, just raised up in the air, and down, up and down, and my sister hollered for me, . . . oh I tell you that mattress just raised both of us right up in the air . . . . I happened to have a table against the wall with a vase of flowers on it and I got out but as my nephew tried to leave, that table actually flew in front of the door and would not let him out . . . . In the same article it quotes what a Jesuit priest confided to him, I assure you, Gene I saw this with my own eyes the boy did not tear the Ritual book, he dissolved it! The book vaporized into confetti and fell in small pieces to the floor!
Okay, maybe this story should not have been told?
The staff writer Jeremiah OLeary reported in the Evening Star that the boy spoke an unknown language that sounded similar to Hebrew. A professor of Oriental languages from Catholic University was called in and he was shocked to discover the words coming from the boys mouth were in Aramaic, the language spoken in Palestine in Jesus day.
Allen, Thomas B. POSSESSED. New York: Doubleday, 1993.