frame of the film ‘ The Exorcist ‘
Experts point to an exponential increase in requests for demon-expelling rituals, which are applied primarily to psychiatric patients and sexual minorities.
As the Spaniard reports, until this Saturday an unusual course was held in Rome; In fact, it’s unique in the world. Behind closed doors, more than 250 registered from 51 countries attend the XIII edition of the course of exorcism and prayer of liberation. To sit in the seats of the John Paul II Auditorium of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, a university led by the Legionaries of Christ, attendees must have overcome a rigorous selection process that showed their “Need for updating “, according to Vatican News. The subject in which these students are updated is the practice of exorcisms.
Many the idea of exorcism will evoke an image that begins in the Middle Ages to end at the time that passes The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), the chilling movie with the girl Linda Blair rotating his head and blaspheming. Error: “Although many people think of exorcisms as a relic of the Dark Ages, they are still practicing today,” says Spanish psychologist and skeptical researcher Benjamin Radford.
In fact, the chronology is different from what might be expected: Although exorcisms are practiced since ancient, it was not until 1614 when Paul V’s papacy formalized the ritual with official guidelines that remained virtually unchanged during Centuries. With the advent of modern times the practice was not abandoned; On the contrary, the ritual was adapted to the current language at the end of the twentieth century, mostly under the prefecture of Cardinal Spanish Eduardo Martínez in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the sacraments. The new rite was presented in 1999 by its successor, the Chilean Jorge Medina, who declared: “Whoever says that the devil does not exist is not a believer “.
Half a million possessed in Italy
The truth is that this update came motivated by the fact that not only the exorcisms continue practicing, but today their demand is greater than ever. Although the Catholic Church prefers to give these cases the slightest publicity, in Italy more than half a million people ask each year an exorcism. Applications have soared in countries such as France, the US or Ireland, where priest and exorcist Pat Collins speaks of an “exponential increase “. The International Association of Exorcists, approved by the Vatican in 2014, qualifies the situation as a “pastoral emergency “. A year ago Pope Francis exhorted the priests to resort to an exorcist when they suspect that a parishioner suffers “real and true spiritual disturbances “.
But what does “real and true” mean? The current doctrine of the Catholic Church invites to distinguish what it considers to be true possessions of mental illnesses. One of the sessions of the course has been about the “psychological, medical, pharmacological aspects “, with a session dedicated to the “differential diagnosis of the phenomena of spiritual order and other orders “. But to begin with, not even all the exorcists consider such a distinction to be feasible… without practising an exorcism, as noted in 1999 The Exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, Gabriele Amorth, on the occasion of the publication of the new guidelines.
And of course, for scientists such a distinction cannot be proved in any way, irrespective of the religious beliefs of each. “Many people benefit from religious conversion and feel comforted in finding a spiritual sense in their lives,” says psychiatrist James Harris, director of the Neuropsychiatry Development Clinic at Johns University. Hopkins (USA). But with regard to the difference proposed by the Vatican, Harris is blunt: “What is described as possessions are mental disorders, and not a separate category
From transsexuality to kidney diseases
As a result, according to Radford, exorcisms are often being practiced “to emotionally or mentally disturbed people “. Only often, because sometimes perfectly healthy people have also been administered. In 1977 a group of American researchers reported in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior how a transsexual man had been “healed by the faith” thanks to an exorcism practiced by a doctor who had expelled a total of 22 evil spirits. “Immediately after the session, John announced that he was a man, threw his feminine clothes (hiding his breasts as he could) and went to the barbershop to cut his long hair in a more masculine style ” the authors wrote.
But two years later, another team of doctors reported in the same magazine of another exorcism practiced in Finland to a homosexual man, with no other effect than to provoke nightmares by how terrifying was the experience. The authors of the report concluded that, if something served an exorcism in such cases, it was only to “Confirm the negative view of an individual about his behavior “, in order to create him “much more serious problems ” and, ultimately, “increase the discrimination to which Homosexuals and transsexual face. “
However, and although the current psychiatry does not contemplate these conditions as disorders, this has not served to abandon the practice of the exorcisms in cases of the most diverse, and not only in the Christian cults: A study of 2016 in Palestine with almost 300 patients of hemodialysis from renal disease showed that 17% of them had undergone an Islamic exorcism. But certainly the most common case is the application of these rituals to psychiatric patients diagnosed, because in many cases they are themselves who believe they are possessed.
Diabolical possession in Madrid
A notable case occurred in Madrid a few years ago, when the psychiatric team at San Carlos Clinical Hospital knew that a 28-year-old patient diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia abandoned her medication following the instructions of an exorcist who had Subjected. “The priests led the patient to believe that their psychotic symptoms were due to the presence of a demon,” the psychiatrists wrote in 2011 in the magazine BMJ Case reports. “We are surprised that in the 21st century and in Europe there are still experts and clerics who believe that some types of schizophrenia are due to demonic possession,” they added.
In their study, the authors themselves confessed the dilemma they encountered when dealing with the case. Finally they decided to contact the Archdiocese of Madrid to help them convince the patient to resume treatment, but the response they received stunned them: “To our surprise, the clerics assumed that the Psychotic symptoms of the patient were due to a malignant presence.
According to experts, the problem is aggravated by the fact that in many cases patients not only believe in possession, but also in their healing through ritual. After her eight sessions of exorcism, the Madrid patient described that she “slept deeper and felt more rested.” “In most cases, exorcisms are practiced on people with a strong religious faith,” says Radford. “As they work, it is mainly due to the power of suggestion and the placebo effect: If you think you are possessed and that a certain ritual will cleanse you, it may do so.”
But even this possible beneficial effect should not confuse those affected by mental disorders, says Radford, for whom the distinction proposed by the church between these conditions and the real possessions only fosters this confusion. “Using scientific jargon, the Vatican conveys the impression that the exorcism has proven its efficacy and is scientifically validated. ” The psychologist admits that each person’s beliefs should be respected, but “If someone chooses to see an exorcist, it should be in addition to, and not instead of a trained medical professional “.