Postage for Pakistan and other parts of the planet

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The simple point of today's readings

If you're like me, you look for a thread through the readings of the day. This morning, I lectored, and as I went to sit down, it was one of those time where I really didn't want to. I wanted to stand up there and proclaim the Gospel, as well, because there was so much rich fodder for exegesis. I could have preached for an hour on today's texts: Zep 2:3 & 3:12-13; Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10; and 1 Cor 1:26-31.

Since I couldn't then, let me give a little synopsis of what I took from the readings (because, of course, just everyone is interested in what lil' ol' moi has to say, right?). I know it can come off as hubris and pride, but each of us will have a different take on the text, and maybe mine is not what you heard.

The thread I saw through all the readings, including the Gospel, was this: We are not made for this world. We should, therefore, not put our stock in that which moth and rust will destroy.

We are to not only be humble and lowly, but we should expect that others will treat us this way. Through us, however, the "remnant" (an ever shrinking remnant, it would seem), God will use those called foolish "to shame the wise" and "the weak of the world to shame the strong" and "the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God."

What will we boast in? Our possessions? Heaven forbid, for if we do this, we loose a blessing, a blessing of happiness. How so? Because "blessed are the poor in spirit." Notice this does not say, "Blessed are the poor." Neither Christ nor the Church revels in poverty, extreme or otherwise. Poverty is not in and of itself a good by itself. It is only a good when it is accompanied by a loving reliance on God's providence. If it is a poverty that is bitter and relentlessly remorseful, then it is a poverty that profits us nothing.

Similarly, being rich is not ipso facto a one-way ticket to hell. It can be. However, if our wealth is pervaded by a sense of our helplessness before God and a proper fear of God, and we use the bounty He has provided to build up His kingdom on earth through ceaseless service of our fellow man, then it can be our way to exemplify "faith working through love." Thus, it can cover a multitude of sins and help us gain heaven, "for the kingdom of heaven is theirs."

Whether rich or poor, though, if our greatest possession is the kingdom of God, then we have everything and lack for nothing. This is what we should boast in, for "whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord." For it is the Lord Who "keeps faith forever," not our yachts or ATVs. It is the Lord Who "secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry ... [and] sets captives free." He "gives sight to the blind," "raises up those who were bowed down" "loves the just," and "protects strangers." He "sustains" the "fatherless and the widow ... but the way of the wicked He thwarts. The Lord shall reign forever ... through all generations." What or who on earth can do all of that? Our God is an awesome God. Alleluia! He is the one in Whom we should boast. Everything else is so much dust.

Be poor in spirit. Be detached from this world. If you have wealth, rejoice in the Lord, boast in the Lord. If you have poverty, trust in the Lord, rejoice in the Lord, boast in the Lord. Again, everything else is so much dust. In our hyper materialistic and consumeristic age, this is hard for each and everyone of us, granted. But it is often only that which is difficult that is worth doing. So pray for detachment, pray for humility, pray for a spirit that boasts only in the Lord. Then you will be happy, blessed, in beatitude.

God bless you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My interview with an exorcist

The national situation

It is estimated there are just 5-6 exorcists in the United States, and now it looks like there is one more in the Pacific Northwest. Why are there so few in this nation?

There are probably two dozen I can probably identify, I know that [one exorcist] put together a confidential list that had about 17, and since then, I’ve oriented two others. So there’s about, and certain dioceses have them but they’ve kept them secret. In fact, they’ve kept them so secret that people can’t get to them for help, which is very frustrating. I’d say there are two dozen, that’s probably fair, of those that are mandated.

By mandated, what do you mean?

Well, no priest can perform the solemn rite of exorcism without the mandate of their bishop. Every diocese canonically is supposed to have one, and for them to be legitimate, they are supposed to be mandated. Now there are times when a bishop can simply mandate or deputize a priest to be a mandated exorcist for a specific situation, but I’m talking of having one who is specifically mandated.

Now because each diocese is supposed to have an exorcist, why are there so few in this nation?

You’d have to ask a few bishops. My opinion is largely bishops have largely been skeptical don’t because largely they don’t know who to appoint or criteria how to appoint, or in a lot of cases some are ambivalent about – not all – but some are ambivalent about the reality of Satan. I can tell you it’s not true of every bishop, but I think some bishops are ambivalent about the personification of evil, that’s one thing. Some are afraid of who to appoint and how to go about appointing them. And I think that’s fair; I don’t think that’s a criticism. I don’t think that many bishops in the country knows what’s involved … some of them do because we’ve told them, but I think largely when bishop appointed me, he didn’t realize what it was really going to entail. And I know in talking with other guys, they didn’t know either.

What do you think he’s learned since then, now that he does now?

He realizes it’s a very import ministry, a very dangerous ministry, and it’s a ministry that takes an incredible amount of time and personal sacrifice. Because it does. The personal sacrifice and the time kinda go together but it takes tremendous amount of energy to do this         .

Why the current effort to get an exorcist in every diocese? What has changed?

First of all, Bishop Paprocki calling the meeting is what’s kinda changed things, but Bishop Paprocki had to have had a light go on, too. We have a conference every year for exorcists, and there are usually a few bishops who go to it. The woman who’s run it really has kept the media out of it, entirely. And I don’t blame her. She’s really been the one behind the scenes who’s made this happen. She’s been the one and an old priest from Scranton, Msgr. John Esef, they got the conference off the ground. And it’s really b/c of them that we are where are now. Usually 3-4 bishops who come and I think Paprocki coming and seeing what’s going on decided that it was important that this get on the bishops’ agenda. So you say why all this now? Well, there’s more and more who Catholics involved in idolatrous and pagan practices. That’s really why there’s more demonic activity, there’s the absence of God in the lives of a lot of people. You read these surveys that say 80 percent of the people believe in God. Well, what do we mean by that? I think for a lot of people, they believe in the concept of God, but most Americans today, they’re not even churched. And I think we’re becoming more and more of an unchurched nation. President Obama a while back, he said we’re no longer a Christian country, and a lot of people got ticked. Now, I’m not an Obama fan, but he’s right; we’re not a Christian country. We’ve taken God out of every possible mention in public society. The nation has a religion but no one wants to talk about it, it’s called secularism. That’s what it is. We’ve replaced it with moral secularism; that’s the state religion. You can teach anything you want in the public schools, but how dare you mention God. It’s moral secularism.

Bishop Paprocki says he’d like to see an exorcist in every diocese. What are the practical impediments to this happening?

Well, it’s really not his call to get an exorcist in every diocese. John Paul II mandated it two months before he died. So Paprocki has no real authority. Neither does the Bishops Conference. They’re a bunch of independent contractors. They can say, “Thank you very much,” and go on about their business. So he doesn’t get to mandate. He’s just simply trying to bring this topic to the bishops in hope they’ll comply with mandate of the late John Paul II. He’s not mandating anything. He can’t.

It seems one impediment are prominent priests such as Father Richard Vega, the president of the National Federation of Priests Councils, who recently said, “People are talking about, are we taking two steps back? My first reaction when I heard about the exorcism conference was, this is another of those trappings we’ve pulled out of the past.” How can even bishops who want to go forward with John Paul II’s mandate achieve their goals when even prominent priests say such things?

That priest is delusional. He ought to go back and read the Scriptures. That’s an asinine comment. Lots of the younger priests are much more open to the reality of Satan than guys of my vintage and older. And I think it’s largely b/c of formation. So, with all due respect, I don’t take the head of the NFPC all that seriously. First of all, he’s one voice. Secondly, if he and those like him don’t believe in the reality of Satan, then they’re in a heretical mode. These guys are all real quick to judge until they see what we see, and then they might get a little dose of reality. And if he doesn’t look at the world them and what he sees around them in terms of the havoc is Satan disguised. They’re not going to see Satan face to face w/all calamities involving the upheaval in the world in the same way they will as when they see someone who has a diabolical attachment and is manifesting. They don’t see the demon b/c the demon is a pure spirit. But they must be blind if they don’t see what’s going on in world around them and see that Satan is at the heart of much of tumult in the world.

In your experience regarding those who believe, as Fr. Vega and others apparently do, that your ministry is a “silly relic of the past,” …

Where’s he located?

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

That’s what I would expect. That’s the archdiocese I was making reference to. They don’t believe they have any cases, and I’ll tell you why. The former moderator of curia is now a diocesan bishop. And I had a situation where a man from his diocese felt he was being demonically oppressed. He came and saw me. We petitioned the bishop for an exorcism. [This bishop] sent me such a snotty, backhanded letter, I told my bishop, “I’m not doing this.” It was so rude. One comment he made in there was, “In all my years as moderator of the curia, never once had a case of diabolical activity.” And then I recently had a situation in Santa Barbara, where they couldn’t get any help, so they came up to see me. Well, of course they have no cases in Los Angeles, they have the exorcist so sequestered away that, even if he exists, no one can get to him. It’s awful. That poor family has gotten no help at all. And I have continued to kind of coach them from up here, but Vega and his ilk are out to lunch. [Dissenting theologian Fr. Richard] McBrien wrote an article on the subject, too. It said a lot about him. It was the most disrespectful, demeaning article written by a theologian I have ever read in my priesthood. He was so disrespectful. There had to be other things going on when he wrote that article.

Well, Father, why do you think in spite of the compelling testimony of you and others who do this work, why do you think they believe this way?

That’s a good question. I honestly don’t know. It could be a reaction to the institutional Church. I’ve never talked with such people as McBrien or Vega. I would love to, though. Those kinds of comments are just rude and they’re untrue. I don’t know why, if it’s out of fear or out of denial. You’d have to ask them

Well, in your experience, is it a prevalent problem that priests and even some in the episcopate who no longer seem to believe in Satan?

I think so. Amongst more of the generation of priests that were sorta just post-Vatican II. I’m not knocking the Second Vatican Council, but a lot of things in the formation of priests just disappeared following the Council. I think sin became and still is very vague. The categories of sin have become very blurred, and so it doesn’t surprise me that the whole notion of Satan has become blurred if sin is blurred, because the two are related. But I would remind anybody, look at the cross. The paschal mystery is why we continue to gather as church. If there’s no Satan, then the cross is a hoax because that’s why Jesus Christ came, to defeat Satan, who made his presence known in the Book of Genesis and manifested himself as a serpent. If there’s no Satan, the whole economy of salvation is up for grabs. Why did Jesus come? He came because humanity had fallen from grace, and Satan had a stranglehold on the world. Otherwise, what’s the point of needing God? Certainly, there is sin separate from Satan, but at its core, Satan is inspiring sin. Now, we all have free will, so it isn’t just that “Well, I did it because Satan told me to.” We all have free will. That’s also true when people bring others for purposes if they think there is something demonic, whether there is or isn’t a matter of discernment. But unless people willing to be ministered to, I can’t really help them. So people’s free will, God doesn’t interfere with that, but it’s just not sin, but has a demonic attachment to it, even if it’s benign. Free will is exercised. There is such a thing as temptation.

If one does not believe in the existence of Satan, is one even Catholic?

[Belief in the existence of Satan] is an article of faith.

How do exorcists see their position within the Church?

I don’t think we’ve discussed this. I think, first of all, exorcists don’t see their role as publicly prominent. The only reason I’m even talking to you is because of the meeting. In general I wouldn’t be talking about this. I don’t think we see ourselves as celebrities. We see ourselves in a healing ministry. That’s what this is.

The role of an exorcist

From a purely clinical, definitional standpoint, what is an exorcist? What does an exorcist do?

An exorcist is a Catholic priest or a bishop who is involved in using the name of Christ to break a relationship between a demon and a human being.

What does that involve?

Are you talking about a process? An exorcist doesn’t just come in and do the rite. There’s a whole discernment. An exorcist has to discern carefully the experiences of the person who claims a diabolical attachment and determines whether or not anything satanic is present.

How does one become an exorcist, and what is the training involved?

The bishop has to appoint you, it’s that simple. And the training is negligible. This is the whole point of the meeting was to alert the bishops, and then we have to create a formation training process/experience for priests to embark in this ministry. Right now, all we have is the yearly conference, but it’s not a training. It’s much more a series of presentations on this subject. There’s a course in Rome, which I attended, and then I trained under an exorcist for three-and-a-half months. In the US, we have none of that, absolutely none of that. I’ve oriented two exorcists recently, but I mean, we’re talking they had two days each. I told a bishop who’s a friend of mine when he finally decided to appoint an exorcist, that priest came here for two days. The same thing is true in another diocese. I told their chancellor when she asked whether I would train their guy, “I can orient them, but training takes months. But I can at least start. We don’t have anything.” Now those two guys are going off to Rome and take the course, and I’m arranging for them to work with an English-speaking Italian exorcist.

Why do you think your bishop chose you?

Well, he did but he didn’t. He asked another priest first, but that priest politely declined. Then that priest told me he’d declined, and I said I’d be willing to do it. It was kind of a half-baked, volunteer approach. It wasn’t something I sought out, but it was just that he asked this priest and the priest didn’t want to do it, and he told me, and I said, “I could do that; I could be exorcist” not knowing what that was going to mean. So the bishop said, because I was getting ready to go off for sabbatical, “There’s a course in Rome you can take.” So I did. And when I was taking that course, it was very clear to me, “I gotta find someone to work with.” I asked Cardinal Levada, “Do you know any English-speaking exorcists in this town?” He checked into it for me, and he said there’s none. But another American priest taking the course, and he was working with a priest attached to the Scala Sancta, this 85-year-old Passionist who was doing exorcisms in the sacristy every day. And through them, I found someone, so I worked with him.

Nationally, how many exorcisms are requested and performed each year?

I wouldn’t have a clue about how many are done here. I can tell you that in Italy, 500,000 exorcisms.

Five hundred thousand? Not just requests, but actual exorcisms.

That’s what I’ve been told. I was told that at the course. Someone in authority mentioned that. Let me tell you why: Twenty-five percent of people practice the occult, 25 percent.

How many are requested of you, and how many do you actually perform?

In five years, I’ve probably met with 100 people. Most of the time the stuff people come with is mental health stuff. They think it’s demonic, but it’s not. In Catholicism, we’re very, very careful. The prenotanda in the solemn rite of exorcism clearly says you have to have assistance and you have to discern them carefully. I get lots of calls, but I don’t do them on demand. I’ve required the whole discernment. In five years, I’ve performed exorcisms on five people. Now that’s a rough estimate. I see lots of people, and a lot of times, it’s mental health stuff. I have a psychologist, psychiatrist, a medical doctor, and two priests on my team. So we’re very deliberate about all this.

The nature of possession

What is the difference between diabolic harm or oppression and diabolic possession?

Well possession,  people get those terms mixed up. Possession refers to complete takeover of a body by a demon. Oppression and obsession are lesser degrees of diabolical involvement or intrusion. Sometimes they’re used interchangeably. There’s another category I call diabolical harassment where there’s not been any kind of demonic intrusion into someone’s body, but it’s much more of a harassing spirit. Obsession would be where people would be very, very depressed, and feel very heavy and a sense that there’s some evil around or within them. An obsession would be where people would have very obsessive thoughts that they can’t be really freed from having to do with the demonic, and those things can be in the form of dreams or thoughts. That’s the stuff you have to tease out. If you go to your doctor, he or she can’t help until you say, “I’ve got these symptoms.” So when people come and say, “I need an exorcism,” I don’t just praying the rite. I first say, “Tell me what brought you here,” and then I let them tell me. Then we really trace back when did all this start? We talk about life experiences and their background. A demon just doesn’t show up; he has to be invited in. Someone else has to invite them in. Demons just don’t show up. People always ask me, “Am I going to be possessed?” and I say this, “No, as long as you have a sacramental life, a prayer life, and a faith life, you have nothing to worry about.” Demons always looking for a lack of relationships that a person has or broken relationships a person has. That their entre, many times.

When determining whether to perform an exorcism, what specific signs indicate beyond doubt that this is something supernatural and not something originating from the person himself?

A number of things. First of all, if a person begins speaking in a language they have no competency in, that’s one sign. Another sign would be foaming at the mouth as a result of prayers of deliverance. Another could be extraordinary strength a person normally doesn’t have. Another could be a serpentine appearance for no apparent reason.

You mean they’re coiled like a snake would be or slithering like a snake?

Yeah, and they would begin to take on the appearance of a snake. They still retain human form, but their body language would become very serpentine. The rolling of eyes in response to sacramentals such as crucifix or holy water or even presence of priest or the Eucharist. The Eucharist will send them right over the edge. That’s the amazing thing. I tell the people in my parish, if demons believe in Real Presence shouldn’t we? I’m telling you, I’ve brought the Blessed Sacrament, and the people want to go jumping out windows. It’s not them, it’s the demons.

How prevalent are the various forms of obsession and possession in Catholic families today? Are there numbers or percentages available?

Not that I’m aware of. Even though it’s public ministry, there really are no statistics. It’s like going to sacrament of reconciliation. It’s a public ministry, but it’s celebrated privately. This would be the same. I try to be very discreet with anybody who comes in, and so does my staff and only staff who need to know are told anything. Usually I do the exorcisms in the church, privately in the reconciliation room with always another priest present, at least. I never do anything alone, maybe interview, that’s about it. But we really try to exhibit a lot of discretion.

Why do you always have another priest? For reasons of prudence or is it because of something else?

Well, it’s a variety of things. One is prudence for sure. You don’t’ know how the person will respond. Secondly, there’re issues of litigation in terms of how to personally treat that person. Sometimes person may go into a trance and how did they get there if they don’t remember? It’s for the protection of the recipient of the exorcism and for the priest. That’s why.

If you compare the former rites of the Church with their revisions (e.g., blessings, baptisms, etc.), you notice that in times past, prayers against Satan were a common feature. Has their removal been effectively inconsequential in your observation or has it had real, practical effects, and if so, what are they?

I can tell you that the old rite of exorcism, the prayers have much more punch to them than the prayers of the new rite, which is why I use them in English. Fr. Amorth has been very vocal about this.

In 2000, noted Roman exorcist Fr. Gabriel Amorth expressed his displeasure with the revised ritual. For instance, at the time, it evidently said to not perform an exorcism unless absolutely convinced one is dealing with a demon. It also supposedly prohibited performing an exorcism in cases of spells, curses, etc. He such things, “would likely ... prevent us acting against the demon.” Is this view prevalent amongst exorcists? If so, are steps being taken to address these issues?

Well, yes and no. I mean, again, this is based on ignorance of bishops. In Rome, the former apostolic administrator Cardinal Ruini, when I was living in Rome, he had given all the Italian exorcists the indult to use old rite. In this country an exorcist who wishes to use the old rite is supposed to have his bishop contact the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and ask for permission to do so. And they’re readily given, but because the new rite supersedes the old, you’re supposed to use the new rite. Now the new rite is only in Latin, Italian, and Spanish. The new rite has not been promulgated in English. I had four years of Latin in high school. I’ve used the new rite, but it’s very hard to pray the prayers in Latin. It’s not a language I have a great proficiency in. But I can pray those prayers with much more vigor and meaning in English. Why is the old rite in English? It’s still an approved rite, but you’re supposed to get the permission of the Congregation to use it.

Do you agree with Fr. Amorth's assessment that the revised exorcism rite “is unusable in the struggle against the demon”?

I can’t blame him. I have a translation of the new rite in English, however it’s not approved, and I don’t use it except to have an understanding of what the Latin was saying.. At our meeting, they said that some people have been using the new rite in English, unapproved, and that’s very dangerous. The danger is that it’s not approved, and so not going to have any weight. So when the rite of exorcism was adjusted, it was the last of all the rites in the Church that was revised by Rome since the Vatican Council. Amorth and the guys in Rome, they think the new rite is just weak. I mean, if you read the old rite in English, and the new translation in English, it’s “limpy-esque.” That’s not a real word. It’s not very efficacious. Now that is a word, and that’s their criticism. And quite honestly, none of those people were ever consulted, which I thought was amazing. How you would change prayers and not even talk to the experts who use the prayers all the time. I was rather incredulous, myself, and it’s a bit arrogant, with all due respect. I don’t blame those guys for being ticked off.

How do demons gain access to souls, and what are some of the quickest ways for them to do so?

Well, they don’t get access to souls, they gain access to bodies. They don’t control souls, they control bodies. Like I said before, I’m always listening for a doorway. The involvement in pagan practices and practices of the occult and practices of the satanic are sort of the classical ways. Sexual abuse …  80% of the people I see have been sexually abused. It all goes back to the whole thing about relationships. Sexual abuse is a doorway for a demon. Now just b/c sexually abused doesn’t mean they’re going to have a demonic attachment, but it’s a wound of the soul. So what often times has happened is and then been involved in practices of the occult, that’s where the risk increases.

What about curses?

Well, I’m personally very ambivalent about curses. The reason is … I’m not saying they don’t exist, but the power of a curse often times is in those who believe in it. I’ve worked believe had believe they’ve had curses put on them. And I do think there are people who do have power to put those curses on another person. Those people have made demonic pacts. However, unless you know all those things, you really have no way of knowing curse or not. Now Fortea’s been at this longer than I have. But when people say to me, “I’ve had a curse put on me,” I’ll ask, “What do you know about it?” “I don’t’ know anything.” “Do you know someone who knows how to do that?” “No.” “Has anyone ever come to you and threatened to put one on you?” “No.” “Well then I think the chances of a curse are really next to none.” I’ve had people who told me lots of things about the people who have put curses on them, well, I have taken them seriously. They claim the person is a witch, this person did certain things to them, this person threatened to do certain things to them. That’s different. But if you have no way of knowing anything, I just don’t automatically assume that it is.

In a famous possession in Iowa during the 1920s, a young woman's deceased father who was evidently in hell willed her to be possessed and, if memory serves, even was one of the beings possessing her. Some say this sort of thing is impossible. Based on your experience, is it possible for a non-angelic/demonic being to either possess or make a possession happen?

Well, I would say yes, but it’s very rare. I had one situation where we expelled, delivered a spirit of a human being out of a person, but that person had also had demonic attachments, and so he was very open. In this case, the spirit was of a man who was a pedophile, so I would say yes, but I would say it’s very rare.

Who is most likely to become possessed? Is there a demographic profile of the typical person to experience possession?

It’s more often than not women. I think women have much more of an affective sense to them, where they’re much open to the spiritual than men are. Again, that’s an opinion. But in my experience, most people who come to me – and this is not an opinion – are women, not men. That was true in Rome, too. When I was in Rome, most who came to see Fr. Carmen were women. Not all, most. Probably like 70-30 percent, probably that’s what I get, too.

From your experiences, do you perceive that Satan has a different, concerted strategy in our age to steal souls that is different than what he has done in the past?

No, I don’t think so. Satan’s goal is to attract as many children of God away from grace as God as possible. See, Satan’s already lost. He’s already been defeated by the cross. God allows him to operate within boundaries, within limits (for God’s greater glory, actually). But I don’t think his tactics have changed. What’s happened is, why there might be more of a prominence at this time, more and more people drawn to paganism drawn to occult drawn to idolatry, and fewer and fewer people drawn to sacraments. The Sacrament of Reconciliation has fallen into such disuse. Even at the conference, the power of the sacrament of confession where people renounce their sins and embrace of conversion and a life in God or at least attempt to, well, I think if you’re very oblivious of even the notion of personal sin, after a while conscience development do you have? A lot of parents today in terms of their children, they have no critical eye of faith to even recognize the dangers their children are in. A lot of this is going on Internet, btw. There are lots and lots of demonic websites. And the music and the entertainment today are oftentimes performed by people who are satanic.

How does one protect themselves from possession, especially from curses?

If you have a strong faith life, a strong prayer life, a strong sacramental life, you have nothing to worry about. Now the curse thing, I’m just ambivalent on. I have prayed over people, and two of the people on whom I performed exorcisms claimed to have had curses put on them, and based on what I saw, I think it was very plausible, because they told me lot about the people who had put these curses on them. They were very heavily into witchcraft, and very heavily into … the people who had done this knew people who had power. There are some people who do have power.

Is it difficult for someone in the occult to become possessed

Again, you want to be very careful about using the word “possession.” Possession is very limited category. It refers to a demon completely taking over the body of a person. It doesn’t mean that that’s what’s going to happen. If people tap into the occult world, they’re opening a doorway. Is the occult world Satanic? Not in and of itself, per se, but it’s opening a doorway. It’s tampering around in the spirit world, and you do not know who’s going to show up. So when get into wicca or black magic or white magic or psychics or séances or Tarot cards or spells or all that other idolatrous stuff, they don’t know what’s going to happen. They’re tapping into a realm they know nothing about, most of the time. If they suffered from physical or sexual abuse and they do it, I think the chances of something demonic or something of the spiritual realm affecting them increase. Because you’re tapping into a realm, and if you have a soul wound, you’re taking a risk. Now I had someone here the other day who has suffered a lot of physical abuse, and I don’t think it’s demonic, but this person does. And when he told me he’d been physically abused for five years from the time he was 13 til the time he left home at 18 by both parents, where there were physical assaults, not just a spanking or a slap but physical punching and being beat up, well, that’s a wound of the soul. And so it just means that the risk increases. It doesn’t mean someone automatically is. It just means the risk increases. I think it’s important to say that so someone doesn’t think ‘I was sexually abused at six years old, and now I’m going to be possessed. It doesn’t work that way. It’s why what I do is very inexact. Every case is different. You know, the woman who comes to me and says, “I played Ouija board 18  … once, and now I’m having obsessive thoughts, and I thought saw a demon or I saw a shadow,” that it is. I tell people all the time, “Don’t automatically assume it’s demonic because you saw something or experienced something you can’t explain. There might be other reasons.

There is a lot of superstition out there. My point is to not make people fearful, it’s to make people vigilant. To go back to Fr. Vega, those kinds of comments simply say there is no intelligent evil around. And quite honestly? That’s a denial of the veracity of the scriptures. Jesus was an exorcist. He primarily did two things in his public ministry: He taught and he healed. Now, not every healing was an exorcism, but in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, there are plenty of places where it is very clear, the word is demonia. It is not an illness, it’s a demon. So to deny Christ was involved in exorcisms is to deny the veracity of the scriptures. John Paul said something to the effect that to deny the existence of Satan is to deny the Gospel. And recently, Benedict XVI talked about the priest sex scandal as being inspired “by the evil one.” The Tablet raises its eyebrows about him mentioning the evil one as responsible for the clerical meltdown, but I think he’s absolutely correct.

Is committing frequent serious sin (pornography, adultery, etc.), even with the sacrament of Confession, opening a doorway?

Pornography is a doorway. You’d have to ask another exorcist about adultery. I wouldn’t say adultery alone would be a doorway, but it’s obviously incredibly destructive. Usually the people involved in adultery that’s really promiscuity and pornography, it has an addictive quality to it, versus the person occasionally looking at it or having an affair. But I think people who either are constantly having affairs or adulterous relationships, or are involved in pornography where it’s an everyday thing. But addictions of any kind can be – not are – can be a doorway, but it’s coupled with other things. Drug use alone isn’t going to invite the demonic in, but drug use coupled with the occult could.

Can the devil/demons possess a person but remain hidden, so that even the person is unaware? At what point is a person aware that they are possessed?

Sometimes people have some kind of diabolical attachment, and they like it. Others see it and they don’t. It’s a hard question to answer. Sometimes people like the fact that they have the relationship with the demonic because it gives them what they want. It gives them what they want. There are people who have demonic attachments who don’t come and see me because they like what they have. Or people who are involved in satanic cults, they like that. Unless like the woman I see every two weeks. She was born into it, so she finally left it. She wasn’t happy about being in it, but she was born into it through no fault of her own. There are people who don’t like what’s going on but stay under threat of death. People who leave the cult often times are killed.

Is it true demonic beings cannot enter holy grounds, whether of their own desire or invitation?

They would have a huge aversion. A lot of times when people who have a demonic attachment and are trying to rid themselves of it, go to church, they experience tremendous pressure not to. When they go, the physical manifestations that occur will drive them out. A demon would want to at any cost stay away from the holy.

What happens to those who are possessed yet never get help

People who are fully possessed unless a perfect possession where there’s been a complete integration, where the person who has fully accepted the demon … Most of time the people who who come to me have either done something and now realize they have a realization they don’t want, and they want to get rid of it. Those are the people who come to me. But if they don’t get help, they’ll simply continue to deteriorate, both physically and mentally, not just psychologically.

The rite itself

When preparing for an exorcism, what tools do you bring, and how would you set up the room?

The tools are very simple: holy water, stole, book of deliverance, a crucifix, the rite of exorcism, and that’s it. And we just use the reconciliation room, with three chairs and a lit candle.

How do you prepare yourself and the person for the process?

I just simply try and stay in a state of prayer. I don’t fast, primarily because I’m a diocesan priest, so it isn’t like I just do this all day. I’m sometimes going from one ministry to the next. But I don’t eat much before I do one of these . I try to do them on weekends or at a time when there are the fewest people around the parish, nothing until the late afternoon, after school is out or on the weekends.

We always start out with some type of centering prayer and then I begin with blessing them and everyone in room with holy water.

During the exorcism of possessed persons, what kind of phenomena occur?

All the things I already mentioned to you: the rolling of the eyes, the inordinate strength, the speaking of a language they have no competency in, the serpentine body. They don’t all happen at every exorcism or even every prayer of deliverance. Sometimes there are no manifestations. But  where there are manifestations, they don’t all occur, but usually several of them occur or all, but usually not all

Have you ever engaged a demon in conversation in exorcism?

No, other than, “What’s your name” and “In the name of Jesus, get out,” no. You don’t.

Have you ever encountered Satan himself?

Once or twice, or at least what appeared to be Satan because he identified himself as such.

Is it true exorcists find the exorcism prayers are more effective when said in Latin?

I’ve heard that. I don’t know how true that is, but I wouldn’t deny it. I’ve been told hate they hate to hear Latin

How do you know if the exorcism really worked?  How do you prevent the demon from returning?

Once the manifestations stop, that doesn’t necessarily mean the demon has departed. You continue the exorcism prayers for a time. That might mean the person comes back again because demons try and hide, they try and convince the exorcist they haven’t left. Demons enter through the senses – the eyes, the ears, the mouth, and the nose – I can tell through the eyes. I can see the presence. The only analogy is if you look into the eyes of a person and they look like they have coke bottle-like contact lenses, you can tell the presence within the presence. But they’re very devious and they want to hide, and so I just continue to look at the eyes after the manifestations have stopped. Because sometimes it’s just a ploy.

What has been your most difficult case to date?

The one I’m on now, a man I’ve been exorcising for two years. And he’s better, but he’s not fully delivered. There’s a doorway we just can’t close. This guy, no matter how many times we deliver him, the next he comes back, there’s another demon or two or three.

Boy, that’s just like what Our Lord talks about in the Gospels.

Yeah, it is. But see, in his case, the first two times we delivered him, he ignored all of my admonitions and continued to do nothing. And so the third time he came to see me, he was so far over the top b/c he hadn’t done anything. The demons had been removed, and the house was all tidy, and they came back seven-fold. And I have to say in that case, they did.

Have you ever been frightened by a demon during an exorcism?

No. I’m not frightened. You really can’t be frightened. I give them a certain amount of respect because they’re more powerful than me alone. The only thing that makes me not afraid have Christ on my side. I would be, if I didn’t, but God is more powerful than any demon.

Has one ever harmed your person?

Well, you get attacked. My celibacy attacked all the time.

How’s that?

Sexually, because of the intensity of sexual temptations. Sometime incredibly spontaneous, out of absolutely nowhere.

But no one during an exorcism hasn’t punched you or thrown you across the room or anything.

No, I’ve never had something that dramatic. I had people who will push the cross away or push me away or do mischievous things with the book, but no.

Does the demon know the priest’s sins?

Yeah, they supposedly they do. I’ve never had one who’s told me my sins. I always go to confession, though. I go to confession monthly, and if there’s anything I feel I need before an exorcism, I will go to the other priest who is with me.

What is the most surprising thing you have learned in the course of doing an exorcism?

I think simply the presence of a pure spirit and its power.

From your battles against the diabolic, what has made Satan's job of attracting souls easier?

When people participate in activities that are antithetical to will of God and the life of Christ. I think Satan has a field day when people are involved and embroiled in all kinds of deviant and other kinds of unspiritual, unChrist like activities, whether it’s really a conscious decision to follow Satan or not. Look at the world and the kinds of behaviors and attitudes people hold toward personal conduct, how I treat my wife, my neighbor, my children, my coworkers, to a head of state declaring war or acting dictatorially and oppressing people. I think whatever people are involved in that is ungodlike brings joy to Satan.

In your battles against demons and Satan, what is your greatest weapon?

It would be Christ, the invocation of Christ. That would be my greatest weapon.

Judging by news reports and interviews with police, it seems that in certain areas, interest in the occult in general and Satanism in particular have increased greatly. One thinks of places like Turin or even Bologna, where the cardinal archbishop has taken away permission for Communion in the hand because so many hosts were being taken from Mass for use in satanic rituals. Are these localized phenomenon or do you perceive that Satanism is spreading?

I couldn’t give you an educated answer. I don’t think so much conscious Satanism is spreading, but I think conscious paganism is spreading. A denial of God is spreading. But I wouldn’t per se say there’s so much an allegiance toward this other intelligent being. I think it’s much more an allegiance toward self. It goes back to Adam and Eve when the serpent said, “Eat the fruit and you will become like gods. That’s much more manifest than an allegiance to something else, this allegiance to self.

What about the occult in general, for instance, séances or the so-called New Age movement?

A prominent Evangelical recently said, “Evangelicals do not need a rite of exorcism, because to adopt such an invention would be to surrender the high ground of the Gospel.” All you need, he says, is the name of Jesus. How would you respond?

One thing I would say is our Church, the authority of our Church teaching rests on the primacy of Pope, who is the successor of Peter, and Peter was the one who was given the keys to kingdom. And so we’ve had an unbroken line succession from Peter to the present in terms of teaching authority, and that teaching authority is essential to fighting Satan because this is, a) dangerous work and b) the chances of abuse are very rampant. And I think – and this is no knock to Evangelicals – but I think when you have people simply freelancing, I think the chance of abuse goes up. Whereas, I think in our tradition with our ritual and our solemn right, we have something that militates against abuse. You gotta know what you’re doing. I was on the phone yesterday with a priest and I said, “You have to be very careful with what you’re doing. And you don’t know what you’re doing. You have to be very careful with how you approach this person.” And I told him, “You need to get someone else involved who has more experience with this than you.”

But let’s say you were on a deserted road with no stole, no holy water, no ritual book, no crucifix, assuming this person has a demonic possession and not just attachment, and you’re convinced of this, is it sufficient to simply have the name of Jesus?

Could I pray those prayers and would they have effect? Yes. But I think it takes more than just saying, “In name of Jesus Christ,” I command you to leave. We have a rite that’s recognized even by the demons recognized as legitimate. So I might be legitimate, and I’m not suggesting that a person or I wouldn’t say “In the name of Jesus Christ,” but I probably would pray other prayers, even if they were spontaneous prayers of deliverance. But those prayers are not the same thing as the official rite of exorcism. Other people are trying to expel demons just like Roman Catholic priests are. I’m not suggesting they don’t have legitimacy. All I’m saying is that the rite and authority of the Church go hand and hand, because the teaching authority has been passed down from the Tradition going back to the very beginning of the Church Petrine Tradition, as well as danger of abuse. And the abuse can take the form it might not be a possession or an oppression or it might not have any diabolical attachment at all. Even sometimes it’s very clear to me there isn’t anything diabolical in a spontaneous kind of prayer, where I’m not doing an exorcism, I’m just doing deliverance prayer, I will say, “For any and all evil and unwanted and unidentified spirits that might be coming against this person, I command them to leave in the name of Jesus,” there’s no harm done in that. There could be good done in that. And ultimately, it’s Christ Who’s the exorcist, not me.

Exorcism frightens many people, because they fear Satan and his power. They fear that they could become possessed. What would you say to all who read this interview, but especially this group of people?

Don’t be afraid of Satan. Respect the power of evil only insofar as it does exist and it has limited power, but to remember Christ is more powerful than anything Satanic.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What has helped me regarding chastity

Recently, I've had cause to teach my CCD kids about chastity, and it's lead to two insights I'd never had before.

The first derives from the fact that I used to think chastity and abstinence were the same thing, that is white knuckling it until you got married and sex became "legal."

Abstinence and chastity, however, while related, are vastly different, sorta like my cousin who's at best agnostic and is a biology professor in Illinois, whereas I'm a practicing Catholic who writes, edits, publishes, and does sales for a living. Abstinence is, well, abstaining. That can involve white knuckling it if it is not informed or animated by the virtue of chastity. Chastity is a gift. It comes from love, defined as the constant, ceaseless willing of the good for the object of that love. Thus person who loves says, "I will never do anything that isn't for your ultimate good, either in this life or the next. And since sex outside of marriage is not for anyone's good (nor is sex inside of marriage when it is lust wrapped up in shiny giftwrap), I will give you the gift of not doing something that is bad for you. I also love me enough that I will give myself the gift of not doing something bad for me."

This is not to say that sex is bad. It's not. It's awesome. It's beautiful. It's holy. It's powerful. It's bonding. The mystic saints write that sex is the closest thing humans can get on this side of heaven to an ecstatic, mystical union with God. Think it's coincidence that those Bernini statues of St. Teresa of Avila or Bl. Ludovica Albertoni in ecstasy make them seem like they're having orgasms? Think again. Again, sex is amazing.

But sex is a glue, a glue meant only for husbands and wives. It is a language of the body that says I give myself to you completely. I give you a love that is free, faithful, total, and fruitful each and every time, because the second I stop doing that, I introduce division into our marriage, and that is not good. When we're not married and have sex, we're making our bodies say things they cannot really be saying. Because outside of marriage, sex -- that is, our intimate, complete gift of self to another -- cannot be, cannot ever be free, faithful, total, and fruitful. Without anyone of those components, it is a lie (so is contraception, but that's another post).

Chastity, which enables abstinence, says, "If I can't give myself to you in a way that's free, faithful, total, and fruitful, then I will love you (and myself) enough to abstain until I can. And if that time never comes, so be it. Praise God."

So that was the first insight. The second was that pre-marital sex is adultery before the fact. Is the person you're dating right now -- or the persons you dated before you got married -- for sure the person you will eventually marry? I was engaged at age 22. I no longer have any contact with that woman besides the fact that we're "friends" on Facebook. She wasn't the woman I ultimately married. Thus my relations with her were adulterous, because I was making love to someone who was not my wife. Even if I'd become a priest, it would have been so because then, as an alter Christus (another Christ), my bride would have been the Church.

The Church has so much wisdom in leading us away from sin and toward God, but in our pride and unbreakable desire to have absolutely everything our way, we will ourselves into thinking she is all wet behind the ears. And ultimately, we are the ones who are wet, wet with tears because of the regrets that sin invariably brings. When will we learn?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One reason why abortion happens

On the heels of the March for Life and the Roe v. Wade anniversary, I thought the following reflection appropriate.

When I was in college, I dated and fell in love with a raven-haired beauty. She was gorgeous, smart, fun, and in love with me. Not having a good moral formation, I saw no reason to keep chaste with her. To me the proscriptions of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general against premarital sex were inane and made no sense. Of course, it's not like I took the time to learn why the Church taught as it did. All I knew was that I wanted to engage in sexual intercourse, and the Church was saying no because it just wanted to spoil my fun, by golly. Ergo, Church be stupid.

Well, one beautiful May evening, my girlfriend and I made love. Thankfully, I remember few acts of such congress with her, but this one, it's almost like I have a video of it playing in my head. At the time, I knew something special was happening, but I thought it was just that our love was growing deeper.

Several weeks later, I learned that it wasn't that our love was growing deeper, but rather there was something growing deep inside of her: A baby. When she told me, I was fearful. I was shocked. I was a little bewildered. For a brief second, I thought to myself, "OK, abortion." I was in college, over a year from graduation: How would I support a baby? But it was just that: A moment. It came and passed, and I pushed the idea out of my head as being utterly, ludicrously wrong. The end doesn't justify the means.

The problem was that she kept on that track, the abortion track. She was a nursing student, and she was not about to let a baby interfere with her plans to get her degree. Fine, I said, we'll put the baby up for adoption. No, she replied, I won't have my child being raised by strangers. Is there nothing I can do to change your mind? I asked. Well, if you tell my parents, they'll be sure I won't go through with it. However, the second you do, we are through. I will never speak to you again.

And because I loved the concrete, tangible, beautiful reality of her more than I did the child growing within her, I said nothing. I was mute.

Today, I think she's an oncology nurse in southern California. I don't know, really. Is she married? No clue. Does she have children? Ditto. Our love began to die with the abortion. And so I traded the life of my child for a relationship that, ultimately, meant nothing. It was a gut check moment, and, frankly, I failed.

Sometimes, I fantasize about going up to her parents' door, knocking, and telling her mother, "Your daughter's pregnant, and I'm sorry for that, but she wants to abort our baby and says the only way she won't is if you know about it." Sometimes I fantasize about saying, "Look, you do this, and I'll go to the media." (Her uncle is a prominent Catholic.) But they're fantasies. ephemeral shades and spectres that both haunt and are futile. They don't send me back in time. They don't undo the damage done. They simply mock me.

So let's look at the factors that led up to this:
  • Poor formation on my part. Had I understood the beauty and gift of chastity, I may have still fallen, but maybe I wouldn't have. But my rejection of Church teaching absolutely led to my falling into sin. (Catechists, do your job. Be not afraid.)
  • My girlfriend's seeing her career more important than the life inside of her.
  • My seeing my relationship with her more worth saving than my baby boy.
Life is made of gut-check moments. I watched a movie this past weekend, The Stoning of Soraya M., where the village mayor prays to God for a sign if this stoning is not His will. God gives him two, and only with the second one does he see that these are signs. He looks furtively around him, the raging mob on his right, the evil, scheming mullah on his left. He is about to step forward, when the mullah grabs his arm as if to say, "Let it go forward. This must happen." And the mayor steps back. It was a gut-check moment.

When life presents us with these moments, it is so hard to make that step in the right direction. Hard but necessary. How many babies like my son would have been saved had their fathers stepped up? I can't answer that question. All I can say is that there is one less beautiful person alive in this world today, and that will always make me very sad.