Chicago Archdiocese Appoints
Full-Time Exorcist
By Ernest Tucker - Religion Reporter
For the first time in its 160-year history, the Archdiocese of Chicago has appointed a full-time exorcist, who said his task is to "heal those afflicted by the Evil One."
The archdiocesan priest, whose identity was withheld by the Roman Catholic archdiocese to protect his privacy, was appointed without fanfare nearly a year ago by Cardinal Francis George at the encouragement of a French cardinal.
Possession victims often exhibit one or more of these traits which distinguish it from illness, church experts said. * Exhibition of superhuman strength. * Knowledge of languages outside a person's training. For instance, if someone who never studied Latin begins spouting phrases in that tongue. * Hidden insights into a person's private life, or past sins. * Aversion to all things spiritual: holy water, the mass, a crucifix or Jesus' name. In confirming the appointment recently, George said he did so because he felt it was needed.
The priest, speaking through an archdiocese representative, said he is reluctant to appear publicly because, "I collaborate with a number of health care professionals, as well as officials of the archdiocese. Confidentiality is of utmost importance in my work, so I prefer to be low-key and quiet about it."
The veteran Chicago priest has not performed any public exorcisms here, although he participated in at least nine while in Rome, according to an archdiocese representative. He is currently meeting with a dozen people who have sought his help.
Whether any of them could qualify for the ritual is unclear. For now, there is no documented record of any exorcisms taking place here, according to Chris Spoons, an archdiocesan spokesman, possibly because they would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Exorcisms, which are centuries old in the Catholic church, are rituals involving prayer, blessings and the command for the devil to leave the possessed person in the name of Jesus.
Public interest in exorcism is almost certain to be revived with the re-release Friday of "The Exorcist," a 1973 blockbuster about a priest's battle for the soul of a girl possessed by the devil. The re-release comes on the heels of a reported "failed" exorcism by the pope recently.
"There will be an explosion of interest, yet the church retains a skepticism about this," said the Rev. Robert Barron, an archdiocesan theologian and spokesman on exorcisms. "I've heard that about 95 percent of those who present themselves for exorcisms are not really subjects. They are very rare."
Still, Barron said it was important to note that even though unusual, having exorcisms is healthy because it acknowledges that there is a realm "of reality beyond what we can see. A world of angels and devils, fallen angels."
However, the Rev. James LeBar, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of New York who was appointed by the late Cardinal John O'Connor, said there has been a "large explosion" of exorcisms over the last decade. He said he has seen New York's number go from none in 1990 to a total of 300 in the last decade.
"As people lose their respect and reverence for life, spirituality and human beings, the devil can move in," LeBar said. "He can attack them by possessing them, and rendering them helpless."
There are times when a victim can be overwhelmed by the devil, LeBar said. More often, there are other lesser attacks by evil, the most common being plain temptation to sin, he said.
An exorcism is a specific ritual for which exorcists are trained.
"They command demons . . . in the name of God that they should depart and no longer injure human beings," the Chicago exorcist said.
There is no fixed duration of time for the healing, or any guarantee for success. As such, the reported effort by Pope John Paul II last week was not a "failure," LeBar said, because treatments can last decades.
Exorcising the devil
"He summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God."
--Luke 9:1
The casting out of devils can be traced back to Jesus Christ for Christians. Not only does Jesus himself tell the Tempter to get lost, but Christ charges his closest followers to go forth and cast out demons--in other words, perform exorcisms.
Yet for most, the idea of an exorcism seems mysterious.
And its lurid depiction in the 1973 hit "The Exorcist"--which will be re-released Friday for another dose of the head-spinning, pea-soup hurling, possessed little girl played by actress Linda Blair--is sure to rekindle talk about what it involves.
"I'm heading for Alaska," joked the Rev. James LeBar, one of four exorcists working in the New York Archdiocese. "People are already calling suggesting people who might need exorcisms."
The vast majority of them are not suffering from anything like devil possession. However, LeBar seconds the opinion of the man who appointed him, the late Cardinal John O'Connor, that the movie was an accurate portrayal of what the priest who performed the ritual said he witnessed. The film supposedly was based on an actual exorcism in St. Louis of a Lutheran boy.
And while LeBar said he hasn't had quite that dramatic of an encounter, he does note that things can become supernaturally unsettling.
"In one or two cases, there was an extraordinary amount of gagging," LeBar said. "But not in such voluminous and colorful ways as in the movie."
Officials could not provide a number of exorcisms that are performed.
Exorcisms, while a valid ritual within the Roman Catholic church, have been somewhat de-emphasized from their heyday of the early medieval era to the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, experts said.
That might be changing. Several dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Chicago, have appointed exorcists recently. The Chicago exorcist was appointed Sept. 29, 1999, the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of exorcists.
"At present, there would be two major trends in terms of the value of exorcism. One believes in a devil who is a person, who really exists, and who can as a matter of fact possess people," said the Rev. Eugene Lauer, co-director of the Hesburg Center at the Catholic Theological Union here. "There is also a strong contemporary trend that maintains the devil, or an evil spirit, is a personification of the evil tendencies and evil directions that are inside the human condition."
Lauer estimated that American Catholics are probably about evenly divided on the concept of evil.
The more modern viewpoint that evil is not wrapped up in an actual devil resonates across other denominations.
"I think possession is often a mental phenomenon," the Rev. Robert Thompson of the Baptist Lake State Church in Evanston, who is head of the Council for the Parliament of World Religions. "That which is demonic is not always as sexy or exotic as it's depicted by Hollywood. Like racism is demonic."
Mindful of that, exorcists often require the would-be possessed to get both a medical and psychological exam.
Indeed, the Archdiocese of Chicago's exorcist--who has asked for anonymity since being appointed by Cardinal Francis George--notes that Jesus "always distinguished between the reality of physical and mental illness and that of demonic possession."
"We as a church continue to follow Jesus' model of diagnosing, so that the cure is accurately related to the cause of suffering."
That reflects what LeBar said. Exorcisms are not magic bullets. They are considered a last resort. Sometimes a demon will surrender quickly. At other times, treatments last for decades.
One thing seems common for victims: fear of the holy.
"In general, people possessed have an aversion to spiritual things," he said.
Yet despite the increases, it is unlikely the Catholic church will advertise its service. LeBar said he's an exception.
"The church has been concerned about sensationalism," said the Rev. Robert Barron, archdiocese expert on exorcism. "But it's been around since the earliest days."
Belief In Ritual Ancient And Global
By Brenda Warner Rotzoll - Staff Reporter
As long as there have been human beings who believe in supernatural power there has been the belief in exorcism, the driving out of evil spirits or devils.
The exorcist may be a priest, shaman, witch, or a medium such as a small child. He or she may lay on hands and say prayers in a private room, or lead ritualized public dances to end demonic possession and restore a person to physical and-or mental health.
"It's all over the place," said the Rev. Martin Marty, a Lutheran minister and analyst of religion in America.
Marty said exorcism is a smaller part of Western religions than it is of religions in most other parts of the world. The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians and Greeks had professional exorcists, as did early Jews and Christians. Witch doctors in some African societies and shamans among Native Americans were exorcists.
Marty noted that godparents in many Christian faiths are asked, on behalf of the child they sponsor, to renounce the devil and all his works and ways. "That's a very mild version of exorcism," he said.
The jinn or genies of the Arabian Nights are part of Islamic belief, Marty said. Some are good, some bad, and if you rid one person or place of them, they may appear somewhere else.
Many peoples who did not yet have a written language were animists, believing all nature is animated, Marty said. Such beliefs have been found in much of Africa and Asia, and among Native Americans.
Exorcism in these religions is usually associated with dancing, Marty said, with "much ritual, many dances, often fire, smoke, haze, mist or fog" to help drive the evil spirits away.
In China strings of firecrackers are lit at Chinese New Year and at events such as store openings and boat launchings to drive away demons and ensure happiness and prosperity.
Papal attempt unsuccessful
Even the pope can't claim 100 percent success when performing exorcisms.
Earlier this month, Pope John Paul II carried out an impromptu exorcism on a teenage girl after she began "screaming insults in a cavernous voice." As told to an Italian newspaper by Father Gabriele Amorth--the pope's chief "Satan-buster"--the incident occurred during a general audience in a packed St. Peter's Square.
After the 19-year-old Italian girl began shouting, she was constrained by Vatican guards. She was said to have displayed "a superhuman strength" as she battled them.
A papal official intervened and sought to calm her, but she reportedly began insulting him.
The pope talked to the girl, exorcised her and prayed with her, assuring her he would say a mass for her.
But it appeared afterward that the pope's intervention had only a temporary effect on the girl.
Daily Telegraph
This is in regard to the paragraph, "Signs of Possession", in the article, "Chicago Archdiocese Appoints Full-Time Exorcist". I realize the list of traits is probably incomplete, and does not represent a fully qualified diagnosis as indicated elsewhere in the article. However, the simplified nature of this list veritably invites dangerous misinterpretations, and therefore a few questions.
"Possession victims often exhibit one or more of these traits which distinguish it from illness, church experts said."
* "Exhibition of superhuman strength." Like Samson? Or the little granny who lifted a car off her grandchild? Martial artists?
* "Knowledge of languages outside a person's training. For instance, if someone who never studied Latin begins spouting phrases in that tongue." I have met two, otherwise very normal, people who suddenly "acquired" a language. I guess the Pentecostals are in deep doodoo; and I guess they would heartily disagree. And what is this reference to "spouting"? Does it mean that you also eject vile bodily fluids upon the listener? Would it be better merely to speak? How intense is our collective need for an arch-enemy?
* "Hidden insights into a person's private life, or past sins." People's private lives are only private as long as everyone agrees to pretend that they don't see. Psychologists may be crazy, but I have yet to meet one who is possessed; and they are merely children at the tip of the Knowledge iceberg. By the way: since all insights take place internally, all insights are, by nature, hidden. Speaking about the insight occurs externally; but the speech and the insight are two different things. To specially label an insight as "hidden" is to imply that, to some degree, it is clandestine and therefore pernicious; but if we are merely operating within our Design Specifications, then this implication is intentionally misleading. There are certainly a lot of people for whom it is hell to be read; but, while humiliating them may be evil, reading them is not.
* "Aversion to all things spiritual: holy water, the mass, a crucifix or Jesus' name." ALL? Translation -- aversion to all things Christian. Extrapolation -- if it's not Christian, then it's not spiritual. Corollary -- if it's not Christian, but it's spiritual, then it's evil. The last time I checked, supremacy was not on God's list of Commandments. Did you know that God is not a Christian? Or a Buddhist? Or a Taoist? Or whatever? Yet within most major and minor religions of the world are people who believe there is only "One Way". What if all the world's chemists declared that all the physicists, mathematicians, astronomers, and doctors were insane? And likewise, the others made similar declarations? On the other hand, what if they all cooperated, each according to his gifts? These differences are a comedy, a tragedy, and a beauty. We are only as evil, or as good, as we want to be.
Yes. I have seen people under the influence. Make no mistake -- they were not themselves. Some, who earnestly desired to shed their chains are now free. Others still earnestly desire slavery. It is not God's will, but theirs. Remember? That's also part of the Design Specifications.

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