Archives For Father Gary Thomas

That there is a thread of hostility and distortion against modern Pagan faiths within Catholicism is well documented. My own journey in exploring this murky territory started in 2006 when Catholic pilgrims attacked and threatened Pagans in Glastonbury, leading me to wonder what exactly is being taught to Catholic youth about our faiths.

“Maya Pinder, the owner of the shop, said: “We’ve had to hear comments such as ‘burn the witches’, we’ve had salt thrown in our faces and at our shop, people were openly saying they were ‘cleansing Glastonbury of paganism’.”

I truly thought this was just an isolated, ugly, incident. A few bad apples who took the whole “crusader” bit a tad too seriously and thought that cursing and throwing salt on innocent people was a laugh. However, over time I realized that this incident didn’t happen in a vacuum, and that the Catholic Church was becoming radicalized around the notion of “occult” practices through the process of reviving exorcisms. The idea of demonic possession, and that it can be caused by involvement with modern Pagan religions, has been re-mainstreamed within Catholic thought.

“The second level of demonic influence is obsession. At this level, there is still no sign of anything paranormal happening. The person starts to give in to the temptation. He may become reclusive and secretive as he becomes obsessed with the evil that he is entertaining. This evil may be in the form of occult activity, violent video games or movies, pornography, drug abuse, sexual perversion, sexual promiscuity, or obsession with power and violence.

That’s  Fr. Dwight Longenecker, and he wrote that for Patheos. Which, I am assured, is a rather mainstream and prominent site for religion coverage.

But perhaps I’m overstating my case? I don’t want to be accused of sensationalism, or raising a question over phantoms and rumor, so let’s turn to an article in today’s National Catholic Register,  the oldest national Catholic newspaper in the United States, owned by a popular Catholic television network.

“Evil has not fallen out of fashion. Exorcism is a rite developed — and promulgated — to meet a need that still exists, due to more people delving into New Age and occult practices. And, yes, satanic worshippers are a reality.”

That, folks, is the opening paragraph. This is a Catholic reporter writing for a Catholic audience, and we start with how “New Age and occult practices” are tied to evil, and by extension Satanic worship. Then, after a completely unsubstantiated aside about how Satanists are routinely stealing the host (blessed wafer) from churches to use in their diabolic rites, they trot out their expert witness.

“The Rite was one of a handful of movies about exorcism released in the last two years, and a short-lived television series on the subject also launched. But that’s far from the point, says Father Thomas. “There is a greater need for exorcism because there is a greater frequency of the practices of the occult, New Age and Satanism, both on the part of Catholics and other people alike,” he said. Conference speakers explained that  people begin experimenting with other traditions and rituals, often simply out of curiosity. They don’t realize that they are, at the same time, losing their spiritual center and turning away from God.”

That’s Catholic exorcist Father Gary Thomas, a Catholic exorcist who was featured in the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” (adapted into a feature film starring Anthony Hopkins). He’s probably the most famous Catholic exorcist currently making the rounds. Thomas is also believer in Ritual Satanic Abuse, despite the fact that the moral panic that held sway during the 1980s and 90s produced no credible proof of a underground network of Satanic abusers.

So what is the problem if some Catholics think we’re demon-haunted dupes who need a good old “power of Christ compels you” moment? Isn’t this just Catholics talking to other Catholics, using exorcism as a form of boundary maintenance of their own traditions? The problem is that rhetoric has consequences, and we don’t live in a world populated only by Catholics. When we are framed as evil and demonic, tensions can arise in the real world.

A Catholic parent who thinks Pagans shouldn't be able to use public parks.

A Catholic parent who thinks Pagans shouldn’t be able to use public parks.

“Two very different cultures met on one large open field and it led to some tense moments Saturday afternoon. For the fourteenth year in a row, Broad Ripple Park was home to the annual Pagan Pride Day, an all-day event that started early this morning to commemorate the autumnal equinox. Saturday was also a cross country meet for the Catholic Youth Organization which involved hundreds of kids and parents. It turns out the festival rented the field for the day and the CYO participants had to run around the festival. “They can do it someplace else. It is inappropriate here. It is embarrassing. I was outraged by it,” said one parent.”

This was in Indiana, after a Catholic event ran long, overlapping with a scheduled Pagan Pride event. According to one source, it was the Catholics, not the Pagans, who called the local news to complain about the incident. The Pagans, on the other hand, went through all proper channels to hold their event, and worked with organizers of the Catholic youth event to accommodate their event running long. The about-to-be-launched Pagan Newswire Collective Indiana bureau is currently writing up the story (their first) and I’ll feature it here once it’s up. It’s hard to read about this story and not think about the National Catholic Register piece posted today. It seems increasingly improbable that these two events exist in universes entirely unconnected. You can’t have an ongoing stream of rhetoric and anti-Pagan propaganda emerging from the clergy, and not expect it influence the laity.

If people who hold spiritual and religious power say something is bad often enough, people will listen. It saddens me that no prominent Catholics (that I know of) will step forward and say “enough” to this propaganda masquerading as a spiritual technology. I can only hope that cooler heads will prevail as Pagans and Catholics increasingly cross paths in our secular world.  Otherwise, the risk of families being torn apart, and tensions rising to the levels of Glastonbury in 2006, will continue to increase to the detriment of all involved. This demonic possession narrative has got to stop.

ADDENDUM: Here’s the full report from PNC-Indiana.

 

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time at The Wild Hunt looking at the revival of interest in exorcisms within the Catholic Church. The reason for this interest is the fact that many of these exorcists list modern Pagan religions, and interest in the occult, as symptoms of demonic possession.

“A lot of folks dabble in the occult, or they will be involved in practices that … classical Christianity at least would consider to be idolatrous.  People can get themselves involved in Wicca, or people will go see some sort of fortune-teller, or people will go to a séance, or they can go and they can learn how to channel spirits. …” Father Gary Thomas

“Father Euteneuer does not speak as a theorist. Since 2003 he’s had extensive experience ministering to those possessed by demons … Father Euteneuer told me possession is almost always a result of someone getting involved in some sort of occult practices, such as witchcraft, Wicca, tarot cards, and Ouiji boards. ”Harry Potter and these Twilight vampires glamorize the power of evil,” Father Eutenener explained, “and this has lead to many, many cases of possession among young people.” It may begin with a child or teenager simply “playing around” with the occult, but that seemingly harmless act is “opening a window” to possession.” Father Thomas Euteneuer

“No one knows why more people seem to be seeking the rite. Paprocki said one reason could be the growing interest among Americans in exploring general spirituality, as opposed to participating in organized religion, which has led more people to dabble in the occult. “They don’t know exactly what they’re getting into and when they have questions, they’re turning to the church, to priests,” said Paprocki, chairman of the bishops’ committee on canonical affairs and church governance. “They wonder if some untoward activity is taking place in their life and want some help discerning that.”Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Religion News Service correspondent Daniel Burke, writing for U.S. Catholic Magazine, explores the reasons for this spike in interest and practice of exorcisms within contemporary Catholicism. Burke quotes historian Nancy Caciola, who says that increases in exorcism usually happen during times of crisis and upheaval.

“Portable manuals detailing ever more elaborate and standardized rituals of exorcism proliferated during the papal schism of the 15th century, when two men claimed to be the rightful pope. The manuals surfaced again during the Protestant Reformation. “In general, exorcisms are associated with these turning-point moments when the church [feels] challenged in some way and tries to centralize power and clarify the delegation of authority from God down through the hierarchy,” Caciola says. The challenges now confronting the Catholic Church in the United States are legion: the sex abuse scandal, a secularizing society, and a restive flock that, studies show, loses one out of three adult Catholics, to name just a few.”

One of the ramifications of a “secularizing society” is increasing competition, no matter how small in stature. Paganism and “the occult” being ready made culprits and opponents for a reviving body of exorcists. Even still, this would only be a minor annoyance were it not for the fact that the “training” received by exorcists seems to point in ominous directions. Earlier this year media critic (and practicing Witch) Peg Aloi interviewed Father Gary Thomas, the brightest star among American Catholic exorcists, also interviewed in this U.S. Catholic Magazine piece, and found that he held some rather troubling ideas concerning who exactly he was battling.

Peg Aloi: Do you believe there are a lot of satanic cults out there?

Father Gary Thomas: There are probably more than we think. In fact, I pray over a woman right now who is a satanic cult survivor.

PA: I need to ask this. Speaking as someone who has done extensive research on the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s: Do you think it’s possible your parishioner’s experiences are false, or that she may be lying, or delusional? Because despite many, many horrific accusations of abuse and murder and various other atrocities by satanic cults over the years, most of them by alleged “survivors” who claim to be former cult members, the FBI, after years of investigation, never found a single shred of evidence to suggest there is or ever has been an underground network of satanic cults in the United States.

FGT: I don’t believe that she’s lying. She had been seeing a priest in our diocese for a while and her memories stated to surface, and that’s how we learned of her involvement in the cult. But if even half of what she’s saying is true, and I have not found any reason to doubt it, in her system, if anyone exposes the group, they’ll be killed. There is a whole culture in terms of what these people tell their members.

What you are reading there are the seeds for a new Satanic Panic, the same sort of moral panic that imprisoned, terrorized, and ruined the lives of hundreds of people. Some spent nearly twenty years in prison on false charges, as documented in the chilling 2008 film “Witch Hunt”. Others, like the West Memphis Three, are still fighting for justice. The deeper you dig into these exorcists, the more problematic material you find. That they are enjoying a certain level of mainstreaming now may point to tensions and problems faced by modern Catholicism, but it also has the potential to do considerable damage to any group unlucky enough to become spiritually scapegoated.

Religion journalists, both secular and denominational, seem to completely gloss over the problems in modern exorcism rhetoric. If “occult,” “Wicca,” or “Paganism” were replaced with signifiers for any other mainstream religion or spiritual practice there would be international outcry and mountains of bad publicity. That there isn’t seems to either be a failure of journalists to understand that these priests are saying that some religions are fair game for what is, in essence, spiritual warfare, or they simply can’t believe that anything serious could result from the rise of exorcism. That this is simply a interesting trend piece. But for those who are named in the fear-mongering and half-truths, who have lived through one “panic” already, this rise in spiritual warfare, whether Protestant or Catholic, carries with it the threat of future panic and hysteria.

I have updates on several previously reported stories for you today.

No One Likes a Jedi at Census Time: Last week I reported on the “PaganDash” campaign, which is looking to encourage Pagans in the UK to stand up and be counted in the census, and use a uniform write-in for the census form. However, Pagans aren’t the only group looking to improve their numbers in the 2011 British census. British humanists and atheists have launched a campaign to increase the number of respondents that check “no religion”, taking aim at the Jedi census phenomenon from 2001’s census.

If your religion is of low enough importance to you to that you are willing to put in a religion from 3 good sci-fi films from years ago, and 3 more recent rubbish ones,please consider ticking “No Religion” instead. The data gathered is used to inform government policy, and was used by the last government to justify funding of religious community bodies over secular ones. For example, 2001 census data has been used repeatedly to justify an increase in the number of state maintained faith schools and the increasing level of government money spent on faith organisations. By ticking ‘No Religion’, you will ensure that the Government receives an unambiguous message about the number of non-religious people in the UK. Any other response may be manipulated into a response in favour of religion and publically funded religious organisations.”

The argument seems to have convinced  author and Boing Boing co-founder Cory Doctorow, who says “I’m convinced; we’re atheists and we will list ourselves as such.” There’s other campaigns going on as well, but I wanted to specifically mention the Jedi phenomenon, because I don’t think it just skewed atheist/agnostic numbers. I’ve long thought that those 400,000 “Jedi” also comprised a fair number of modern Pagans as well. In any case, this may be our last chance to get this right, because the UK is seriously considering removing the religion question entirely, with a spokesperson lumping Pagans in with the Jedi as “prank” responses.

Romanian Witches Win Tax Battle: It looks like all those spells and hexes worked. A controversial bill that would require psychics, fortune tellers, and practitioners of witchcraft in Romania be licensed, and tax their largely under-the-table income, has failed.

“I am very disappointed, the bill was meant to prevent people from being deceived by so-called witches,” Liberal-Democrat MP Alin Popoviciu, who initiated the bill, told AFP. Under the text, fortune-tellers and clairvoyants were to be licensed, pay taxes and set up professional associations. “The bill angered many witches who threatened to cast a spell in order to make it fail. It seems they have succeeded,” Mr Popoviciu added.

It seems many feared that instead of protected people from witches, it would instead legitimize the industry, a view shared by some Romanian witches. Popoviciu has vowed to try again, but for now that status quo remains in place.

James Arthur Ray Trial Continues: The trial of New Age self-help guru James Arthur Ray, who’s charged with manslaughter after three people died during a sweat lodge ceremony led by Ray in late 2009 continues. These initial days are seeing the prosecution’s witnesses, including a participant who says Ray “dismissed her alert about the failing condition of a fellow participant,” and an ill-trained sweat lodge volunteer, who says she was not prepared to deal with individuals who were “burned, delirious and unresponsive.” Prosecutors also played an audio recording of Kirby Brown, one of three people who died.

“When we started the (Samurai) game, I was like you,” Brown said on the recording, which was made just before she and the other attendees entered the sweat lodge. It is a segment from recordings made during four days of Ray’s October 2009 Spiritual Warrior Retreat. “I was gonna be the hero, and I died right there before it even began.” Brown, 38, went on to recount the efforts she made to try to save her teammates in the game from sharing her fate, saying that she swallowed her own vomit in an attempt to lie perfectly still. Had she moved, Ray, playing the role of God, would have sentenced another of her team to death. “As I laid there dying and everyone was working, I kept sending my energy to them,” she said.

Defense strenuously objected to the tape being played, that is was “overwhelmingly prejudicial.” You can see why they don’t want that tape played, because it paints a portrait of a man who has utter control over his subjects. Meanwhile, if the comments section of my previous James Ray post are any indication, Ray’s defenders are spinning conspiracy theories and making excuses for their guru across the Internet. After all, once you’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on his “teachings,” I can’ imagine you’d want to believe he’s a negligent egomaniac. It will be interesting to see who the defense calls in this trial, and if they have more than signed waivers and conspiracies to keep their client from prison.

Sex Cult Leader Convicted: Colin Batley, 48, of Kidwelly, west Wales, was convicted of “11 separate rapes, three indecent assaults, causing prostitution for personal gain, causing a child to have sex and inciting a child to have sex.” Batley and his alleged followers were said to wear red robes and read from the Thelemic sacred text The Book of the Law (he had laminated pages from the book at his home), penned by influential occultist Aleister Crowley at ceremonies. Other sources said that all the women in the group sported matching tattoos. As I mentioned in my previous post, Batley claims to have “given up” reading Crowley and was now a Mormon.

“A man has been found guilty of leading a “satanic” sex cult from his home in a small Welsh town. Colin Batley, 48, of Kidwelly, west Wales, presided over a group that preyed on young children and held occult rites. He was found guilty at Swansea crown court of rape and carrying out perverted sexual acts on children and adults. Batley was the self-styled high priest of the group, which operated from a series of homes in a cul-de-sac in the seaside town.”

Four other members of the alleged group were also found guilty. There seems to have been enough testimony from both victims and “customers” to prove some sort of underage sex-ring was happening, what hasn’t been established is how sincere the “occult” elements were, or if they were just trappings of control used on their “recruits”. Nor, at this point, will we ever likely know the full story.

The Further Adventures of Father Gary Thomas: CNN has decided to do profile of Father Gary Thomas, a Catholic exorcist, and inspiration for the Hollywood film “The Rite”. As I pointed out in January, Pagan media critic Peg Aloi got Father Thomas on the record about some of his many retrograde views regarding Pagan religions and “Satanic” underground cults. Despite, or perhaps because of, these views being out in the open Thomas continues to tar other religious systems as pathways to demonic possession.

“A lot of folks dabble in the occult, or they will be involved in practices that … classical Christianity at least would consider to be idolatrous.  People can get themselves involved in Wicca, or people will go see some sort of fortune-teller, or people will go to a séance, or they can go and they can learn how to channel spirits. …”

Father Thomas also mentions an ongoing exorcism case where the client is “suffering from a very unique psychological disorder,” but also, it seems, “been exposed to satanic cults.” He truly seems to think that both are true, and the question is which method to use in treating the client. What I find disappointing is that this is a man labeling an entire religion, Wicca, as a pathway to Satanic possession. Had he done so with Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Mormonism the reporter would have no doubt called him on his statement. Yet, reporter Tom Foreman’s response is “a vision of politician Christine O’Donnell fills my head.” Proof once again that the press just doesn’t “get religion,” it can’t even properly grapple with the topic of modern Pagan religions in a mature and level-headed manner.

That’s all I have time for today, have a great day!

A few quick updates on previously reported stories.

Who’s the Victim? Talk radio host Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, came under public scrutiny last week for a hateful anti-Native editorial that claimed American Indians were “morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil” because theycontinue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition”. After waves of criticism, the AFA took the editorial down, perhaps realizing that their star pundit had gone too far. However, rather than an apology, or even some sign of contrition from Fischer over his editorial, he has instead posted a new editorial claiming Americans aren’t “mature” enough to have the conversation he wants to have, and essentially stating that he is the true victim on his talk radio program.

The column generated an incredible amount, so much intense, vitriolic and profane reaction – in fact, we had the woman here that monitors comments, she had to say “look, you have to get somebody else to do this, the things that people are saying about Bryan are so vulgar, they are so vile, they are so profane, they are so blasphemous, I can’t take it any more.” That’s how much hate there was, and yet we’re the ones that are accused of being the hatemongers.

Nothing like playing the “we’re the real victims here” card, is there? But just to recap, here’s a video of Fischer reading from his controversial editorial, along with some bonus triumphalist rancor.

Does that sound like a victim? Someone who is trying to have a “mature” discussion? Or does it sound like someone speaking from a place of power and privilege about a people he most likely has little first-hand knowledge of? I guess his form of Christianity means never having to say you’re sorry.

James Arthur Ray’s Bad Business: With jury selection starting today, and trial slated to begin on March 1st in the matter of three deaths that resulted from a sweat lodge ceremony led by New Age guru James Arthur Ray, NPR’s Morning Edition looks at the “fading aura” of Arizona’s spiritual tourism market.

But business has dropped for many of them, including bookstore owner Luci Guadreau. A retired teacher, Guadreau has had to dip into savings to keep Golden Word, her store of spiritual and metaphysical books, afloat. “I literally see people walking around with their cell phones, adding up prices, and deciding which of the things they’re going to buy,” Guadreau said. “When we first got here I did not see [that] at all.”

The debate now is whether the drop-off in spiritual dollars comes from the recession, or from Ray’s “negative energy”. A question that was recently taken up by the New York Times as well. The NPR report also notes that Angel Valley Retreat Center, where the now infamous sweat ceremony was held, has been hit with 10 lawsuits from sweat participants, and family members of the victims. The facility has seen a 50% drop in business last year.

Some Bad Press For the Exorcism Business: It couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune time. Just when Catholic exorcisms were having their mainstreaming moment thanks to Anthony Hopkins vehicle “The Rite,” and the subsequent media outreach by real-live exorcist Father Gary Thomas, along comes a exorcist sex-scandal from one of the practice’s most outspoken proponents. Father Thomas Euteneuer, a star in the Catholic pro-life activist ranks, and vehement anti-Pagan exorcist, recently admitted to having sexual relations with at least one of his clients. Politics Daily religion reporter David Gibson looks at the fall-out of this scandal, and how it has shaken the Catholic right.

Some of Euteneuer’s avid disciples continue to praise him as a prophet who confessed to a single and very human failing, while others feel betrayed and say the priest and his organization are so hypocritical they have hurt the sacred cause of protecting the unborn. Critics also say that the full story of Euteneuer’s misdeeds has still not been told, and that policies on exorcism must be tightened to prevent further abuses.

“In my opinion, from now on, for the good of the faithful, all exorcisms should be done in the presence of at least one other person besides the priest,” Matt Abbott, a Catholic columnist for the conservative website RenewAmerica.com, wrote in an e-mail. “That person, or persons, should be vetted by the Church and law enforcement and should not be a personal friend of the priest performing the exorcism.”

Will the still-secretive Catholic exorcist community actually adopt anti-abuse reforms in the wake of the Euteneuer scandal? We’ve seen how slow-moving the Church has been with its sexual abuse crisis, will they learn their lesson this time and act swiftly to create an ethical guide towards Catholic exorcism? One that provides direct oversight to the ritual? As for Euteneuer, expect him to lay low for awhile, especially since there’s been wide talk of “additional allegations” against the priest. On a personal note, I can’t say I’m too sorry to see an anti-Pagan hater pulled to the sidelines. Between that and the revelation that Father Gary Thomas is a Satanic Ritual Abuse believer, one who thinks that being a Pagan or Witch “immediately disqualifies” you to run for public office, perhaps this latest exorcism boom will stay in the theaters.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Here’s something that doesn’t come along every day. Media critic, scholar, and practicing Witch Peg Aloi interviews Father Gary Thomas, a Catholic exorcist who was featured in the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist”. That book has since been adapted into a feature film starring Anthony Hopkins, and Father Thomas has been getting interviewed quite a bit in the process. Aloi’s interview is excerpted at The Boston Phoenix, but an unedited version, which features direct questions regarding the priest’s feelings regarding the occult, Wicca, polytheism, and indigenous spiritualities can be found at her blog The Witching Hour.

PA: So, in your view, polytheistic traditions are unacceptable, or evil? Does that include Native American spirituality, which is polytheistic?

FGT: It depends on your vantage point when you’re asking the question. I would say that anything that is outside the realm of the Supreme Being is polytheistic. But that term is not necessarily pejorative. Native Americans have their own religious culture, it doesn’t make them bad, but quite honestly, it’s opening them up to a spirit realm that could be very dangerous.

PA: I wonder if you also make a distinction between what you consider occultism and the modern earth-based spiritual traditions, such as Wicca or neo-paganism. And I should tell you that in addition to being a film critic and a media scholar, I am also a former Catholic, and I’m now what you’d call a neo-pagan, or a witch.

FGT: The occult is not the same thing as the satanic. So people who are involved in Satan worship are not the same thing as those are involved in Wicca, but we (priests, presumably–PA) would say Satanists are Satanists. I don’t even consider pagans in the same ways as I would consider those involved in the new age, but I think it’s fair to say the occult can be a doorway to the satanic.

The whole interview is a treasure trove. A rare chance for a Pagan to directly question a Catholic exorcist. As readers of my blog may know, I’ve been keeping track of the recent revival of interest in the rite of exorcism within the Catholic Church, and its undertones of spiritual warfare against non-Christian (specifically Pagan) faiths. Specifically chilling is that Father Thomas, and by extension I would hazard to guess other Catholic exorcists, still believes in Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA).

PA: Do you believe there are a lot of satanic cults out there?

FGT: There are probably more than we think. In fact, I pray over a woman right now who is a satanic cult survivor.

PA: I need to ask this. Speaking as someone who has done extensive research on the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s: Do you think it’s possible your parishioner’s experiences are false, or that she may be lying, or delusional? Because despite many, many horrific accusations of abuse and murder and various other atrocities by satanic cults over the years, most of them by alleged “survivors” who claim to be former cult members, the FBI, after years of investigation, never found a single shred of evidence to suggest there is or ever has been an underground network of satanic cults in the United States.

FGT: I don’t believe that she’s lying. She had been seeing a priest in our diocese for a while and her memories stated to surface, and that’s how we learned of her involvement in the cult. But if even half of what she’s saying is true, and I have not found any reason to doubt it, in her system, if anyone exposes the group, they’ll be killed. There is a whole culture in terms of what these people tell their members.

This interview is essential reading, and I urge everyone to head over there. Kudos to Peg Aloi for not only landing this interview, but for asking the tough questions I’m sure many Pagans have wanted to ask this new generation of exorcists. For more on Father Thomas, do check out this profile in The Catholic Spirit where he outright says that dabbling in witchcraft “immediately disqualifies” you to run for public office. This movie, and its resulting publicity, may be a hidden gift to our community, as it is illuminating a very secretive subculture about their motives and world view.