A global rise in exorcisms and a manual for the ritual

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TWH – A series of reports that range from silly to disturbing suggests a global rise in interest in exorcisms and their practice. The rise appears multi-modal, but the cause remains unclear. Nonetheless, the use of exorcisms can have lasting and brutal consequences.

There is a trade for exorcist services, ranging from the ridiculous to the very serious. One real estate company is offering exorcisms as a “free service.” The exorcism “will be facilitated initially by a remote video call between the homeowner and our exorcist, who will be able to diagnose the issue (if there is one) and offer advice on how to deal with any paranormal activity. In the case that a home visit is required, the homeowner and exorcist can discuss costs moving forward.”

Andrea del Sarto, detail from the mural “Liberation of the Woman Possessed by the Devil” at the Basilica of the Annunciation of Mary, Florence, Italy, 1509 [public domain]

Last week, some Derbyshire residents called firefighters to a ceremony comprising a small group of people “dressed in religious wear undertaking an exorcism.” (They were burning sage.) And recently the exorcism of Princess the dog caught the attention of MSN News. Princess was not happy at being commanded to “Let it out in the name of Jesus” and then “Sueltala en el Nombre de Jesus.

Unfortunately, the light-hearted representations of exorcisms often overshadow a very sinister side to the practice.

Earlier this year, the U.K. government released an inquiry into the rise of exorcisms. It noted that an “industry of exorcisms” is now present in society. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) continues to collect evidence on allegations of abuse in religious organizations and settings.

Sadia Hameed, the director of Gloucester Sisters, claims that folk traditions like exorcisms are becoming more prevalent, according to the Telegraph. Gloucester Sisters assists victims of “harmful traditional practices including honour-based violence, forced marriage, and FGM [female genital mutilation].”

“When I was younger, [exorcism] almost didn’t even exist,” said Hameed. “You might have had someone that would pray and blow on you or pray on some water and give you that water to drink, but now, we’re seeing this industry of exorcisms happening in the UK.”

At the same hearing where Hameed spoke, other organizations representing survivors of exorcism from Muslim, Sikh and South Asian groups claimed that religious authorities engage in a “willful lack of understanding” regarding what constitutes abuse. Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, told the inquiry that “the ritualised healing that takes place is often a pretext for sexual abuse.”

Moin Azmi, the vice-chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board in the U.K., insisted that sexual abuse is “not a rampant issue” within the Muslim community.

“The sentencing within Islam is so, so severe,” said Azmi, “that it gives shudders down somebody who even thinks about sexual abuse, and if that’s the foundation of how Muslims think then the majority – I’m not saying that there aren’t sexual abuses – I’m saying the majority have a particular view of this issue.”

Statistics from the Local Government Association show that abuse of children based on faith or belief (including black magic, witchcraft, and spirit possession and black magic) increased by over 500 cases from 2016 to 2019.

Religious leaders and their communities have also used exorcisms against vulnerable minorities. Kenya Citlalli, a trans woman in Mexico, told Millenio yesterday of her experiences with conversion therapy that included church exorcisms meant to “cure” her of being trans.

Reports of such forced exorcisms are found worldwide. In another example, a Catholic priest, Fred Bachour, came out as gay after having attempted to heal himself through exorcism. “It’s not easy to believe in a god when people tell you God doesn’t like us,” Bachour told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year.

Embed from Getty Images

Meanwhile, in Rome, the secret ministry of exorcism has released a new manual to conduct the ceremony.

The Vatican released the exorcism manual to provide an authoritative and modern understanding of exorcism and the ministry.

“If an untrue image of the exorcist’s ministry has spread among the general public,” said Fr. Francesco Bamonte, president of the International Association of Exorcists, “this is due not to the discretion with which good exorcists proceed, but to the lack of professional honesty” in the media.

The organization began in 1990 with six priests. The Vatican affirmed the organization in 2014. They now have about 800 members worldwide. Priests must have ecclesiastical permission to join the group. They circulate a newsletter to discuss their practice and strategies for handling troublesome cases.

Bamonte explained that the manual is available commercially to the public via the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. A dicastery is an official congregation of the Holy See, composed of religious and lay members and overseen by the Pope.

According to reports, multiple divisions within the Holy See reviewed the manual. The Congregation for the Clergy reportedly examined the new guidelines in consultation with and with contributions from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the most ancient of the nine congregations of the Roman Curia.

The manual, now titled Guidelines for the Ministry of Exorcism, was released earlier this summer and is available in Italian from Amazon Italy. Bamonte explained that they have made the guidelines available “for the good it could do among the people of God, and to offer a useful text to clarify many obscure and confused points and […] act as a counterbalance to many publications that emphasize the sensationalist aspects of diabolical action.”

Bamonte told the Italian news site Avvenire that the ministry exists “only from what Jesus said and was the first to do, giving the apostles and their successors the mission to continue his own work,” rather than from “fears of witches.”

Nevertheless, the guidelines explain that practices such as Witchcraft or even the belief in superstitions may become pathways for demonic influence.

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the Pope’s vicar general for the diocese of Rome, wrote the preface of the new guidelines. He distanced Catholic exorcism from other similar practices. He wrote that in some circles there is “a peremptory to describe the Catholic exorcism as if it were a rough, violent reality, almost as obscure as the practice of magic, to which you want to oppose it, but, ultimately, ending up putting it on the same level as the occult practices.”

“When implemented in situations of real diabolical possession and according to the norms established by the Church – inspired by genuine faith and necessary prudence,” added De Donatis, “it manifests its salvific, positive character, characterized by a living experience of purity, light, and peace”.