There are approximately 150 Catholic priests in the United States who practice exorcism, an ancient practice to rid people, places, and objects of demonic influence.
There is even a protocol for exorcisms and more information provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Dispatch spoke about the practice with a specialist in religious studies, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus and an Indiana priest, the Reverend Vincent Lampert, who said he performs thousands of exorcisms a year.
Lampert, who works in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, will present “Exorcism: The Battle Against Satan and His Demons” at St. Matthew Apostle Church on Friday, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus. Its discussion, free and open to the public, begins at 7 p.m.
Read on for interesting facts about exorcism, from details about how popular culture influenced Catholic behavior around it to how it’s practiced today.
1. The movie “The Exorcist” changed the way Catholics talk about exorcism
The 1973 film “The Exorcist,” based on an actual 1949 exorcism, changed the view of the practice and increased demand, according to Joseph P. Laycock, associate professor of religious studies at Texas State University.
“For most of the history of the Catholic Church, exorcism was meant to be this kind of private matter, a kind of way to help people that was meant to be kept low key,” Laycock said.
Then, in 1972, shortly before the movie was released, Pope Paul IV said the devil is real, not a fashionable piece for the movie, Laycock said.
“He said one of the most important things we need a church for is protection from the devil,” Laycock said.
2. The number of American Catholic priests trained as exorcists has grown exponentially.
Lampert began performing exorcisms in 2005. At that time, there were only about 12 Catholic priests in the United States performing the ministry.
Today there are about 150, he said.
The number of priests offering exorcisms has increased because more people believe they are dealing with demons, Lampert said.
“Because people believe, there has to be a way where it can be explored,” he said. “More priests have been assigned to this ministry just to let people know the church is listening.”
3. Exorcists deal with four types of demonic possession
The four types of demonic activity that require an exorcism, according to Lampert, include:
- Demonic Possession: A demon using someone’s body as his own. It’s rare.
- Demonic Infestation: The presence of evil in a place (like a haunted house) or object (like a voodoo doll or ouija board).
- Demonic Vexation: Physical attacks on a person’s body, such as cuts, bites, or bruises.
- Demonic Obsession: Demonic attacks on someone’s mind. It can be the devil trying to get inside someone’s head so that everything they think or experience is filtered through the presences of the demonic.
4. The Diocese of Columbus does not have a priest assigned to exorcisms
The Diocese of Columbus does not have a priest designated as an exorcist, but it can bring in someone from outside the diocese to perform the prayer if needed, according to Jason Mays, a diocesan spokesman.
However, the bishop of Columbus, Earl K. Fernandes, was trained as an exorcist in Rome. In a previous interview with The Dispatch, Fernandes said exorcisms are covered in the Bible, where Jesus constantly performs them.
“(It’s) part of the proclamation of the kingdom of God,” Fernandes said at the time. “So it’s a sacrament in the church. It’s part of a healing ministry.”
5. Exorcists consult medical and mental health professionals
The bishops’ conference states that it is part of the exorcist evaluation process to put any potential subject through medical and psychological or psychiatric evaluations. Lampert said he has professionals on call to assess those he works with, or he could consult with a practitioner the person seeking the exorcism already works with.
“The majority of people, by the time they contact me, have self-diagnosed,” Lampert said. “But the church has to take those steps. … I have to come to my own conclusion about what’s going on.”
6. Exorcism was used as a political tool
Some priests have used the exorcism prayer for political purposes, Laycock said, such as “exorcising” political issues like same-sex marriage or, in one case, the entire 2020 election — because the priest thought it was. was fraudulent and that former President Donald Trump had won.
He said exorcism has become “too political” lately.
“It’s a political function to say, ‘This thing here is evil. It’s not just us who disagree,'” he said. “It’s quite toxic.”
7. Exorcists see the occult as entry points for the devil’s influence
Popular culture offers many entry points to the occult, Lampert said. The devil can work on people’s imaginations through things like literature, TV shows, the entertainment industry, haunted houses, spells and magic, he said.
Lampert isn’t suggesting people stop consuming entertainment involving the devil and the occult, but he said such things can help people cultivate a relationship with evil if people don’t understand the consequences.
“I think the danger is when a lot of people don’t know their faith and expose themselves to all these demonic things,” Lampert said.