He’s Baaaaaa-aack!

by Jimmy Akin

in The Church

Fr. Gabriele Amorth, that is.

A reader sent me a link to

THIS ARTICLE ON A RECENT INTERVIEW THAT FR. AMORTH GAVE
(CHT to the reader!)

and I was considering whether to blog it when I noticed that the same article was linked on the Drudge Report, so just about every other person in the world will see it, and I knew I had to deal with the issue.

First, let’s deal with the material in the article itself: The headline is a claim by Fr. Amorth expressing a personal opinion of his that Hitler and Stalin were possessed.

Is that true?

Well, maybe.

They were both the leaders of massive, unimaginably inhuman movements that caused millions of deaths and untold suffering. They both were enraptured by evil, dehumanizing ideologies whose consequences were written in blood.

Is it too far to think that the devil might take a special interest in influencing such gentlemen? Of course not. To the contrary. I think it would be quite reasonable to think that the devil took a lively interest in influencing both of them and spurring them on to greater and greater evil.

Did this amount to full-blown possession, with personality displacement and all that?

I don’t know. All I can say is that it wouldn’t surprise me, but I would be hesitant to give interviews expressing the opinion that they were actually possessed unless I had pretty clear evidence of that and not just conjecture based on a knowledge of how much evil they did.

Which leads to the question: What kind of evidence does Fr. Amorth have? I don’t know. The article doesn’t say. and I don’t have access to the original interview, which was probably in Italian anyway.

Not having any indication of whether Fr. Amorth has specific evidence of possession, I then find myself asking whether Fr. Amorth is the kind of individual who would be careful that he had solid evidence before making such claims.

No. He’s not.

This is evident in the article itself from the following quotation:

"I am convinced that the Nazis were all possessed."

Huh? Really? All of the members of the Nazi Party? Without exception? They all had full-blown cases of possession with personality displacement? Even the teacher in B16′s school who helped him avoid attending Hitler Youth meatings?

The fact is that Fr. Amorth is an individual given to making sweeping statements that are not firmly grounded and that are subject to a credulous mindset that is too ready to see possession (full-blown or not).

How else can one explain his claim–in his book An Exorcist Tells His Story–to have performed thirty THOUSAND exorcisms in a nine year period? That’s nine exorcisms PER DAY for nine years–Sundays included!

If this claim is remotely accurate then the man is a walking exorcism factory.

It is simply impossible to reconcile this claim with the Church’s requirements for the performance of exorcisms, which include (among other things) diligent evaluation of the individuals to be exorcised to determine that they are not simply suffering from psychological illness.

One more recent report indicates that the number of exorcisms he has performed had risen to 50,000 as of 2001.

It is therefore very difficult to place much weight in claims made by Fr. Amorth on such matters.

Which left me scratching my head about one claim made in the article, that Pius XII attempted to have a "long-distance" exorcism performed on Adolph Hitler.

I couldn’t take Fr. Amorth’s word for this, of course, but I did some independent research, and it seems to be true. I’ll have more info on that when I can get it.

Oh, and I should mention something else about Fr. Amorth. He is often credited–as he is in the article–as "the Vatican’s chief exorcist" and (somewhat more colorfully) as "Benedict XVI’s ‘caster out of demons.’" This is not true.

There is no "chief exorcist" position at the Vatican. Fr. Amorth is a priest of the Diocese of Rome who happens to be one of a number of exorcists there. He is the most well-known and prominent of them, but this does not give him the position of "chief exorcist of the Vatican."

MORE INFO ON FR. AMORTH FROM ED PETERS.

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OH, AND A BIT MORE HERE.

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{ 101 comments }

Georgette August 30, 2006 at 2:28 am

Oh, Jimmy, I really love FrAmorth and think we should side with him instead of against him; after all he is battling the devil himself on a daily basis.
I think it would probably be pretty likely that Hitler and Stalin were possessed, but of course that does NOT take away culpability from them, which I think is what the hub-bub is all about with his recent statement. I don’t think he meant to say they were not culpable, as he would say himself that they were indeed very culpable for their sins as well as for their possession. A person who is fully and completely possessed (has given over his soul and body to the devil of his own free will) is on his way to hell almost certainly. Exorcists say that these people are almost impossible to release from the devil’s possession because it is so complete and they get no cooperation from the soul inhabited because they chose it freely.
True, he does tend to make sweeping statements, but I think that he may be pretty accurate in what he says about the Nazis even as a whole. Remember that not all cases of possession are full and complete. Many people have ‘attached’ demons, from just foolin around with the occult, for instance, or from addictions, etc. Again, it does not take the culpability away from those people, as they are responsible for their own sins and for opening up the door of their souls through sin.
I think we tend to be too secular regarding the existence of the devil and his role in this world and our lives. We often dismiss the spirit world too readily. Fr Amorth deals with them on a daily basis (oh and his estimates at how many exorcisms he has performed, I can see that. There are exoricism prayers which can be said over someone, without it being a full blown formal exorcism; the renewal of the baptismal vows during the Easter Tridiuum is also considered a sort of exorcism prayer where we proclaim that we reject Satan and all of his lies; and I understand that people come to him in large numbers for these prayers, every day). So he should be an authority on it. And he is. Official Vatican Exorcist as well as President of that organization of international exorcists. He is very experienced. That’s gotta count for something. I sure would rather stand on his side, than against him, especially when I consider exactly who is ESPECIALLY against him!
Thanks for the thought provoking post!

James August 30, 2006 at 3:33 am

Does anybody know of a credible book on exorcism?

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 4:16 am

Georgette said what I was thinking.

Sue August 30, 2006 at 4:19 am

What happened to personal responsibility. The devil possesses a little piece of us every time we sin. We make the conscience decision to listen to the evil one instead of following God. I prefer to look for reconciliation, not an exorcist.

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 5:14 am

Sue, if you had read Fr. Amorth’s book, you would know that he places great importance on a good confession and that he does not think of exorcism as an abdication of personal responsibility.
In general, there seems to be a tendency to dismiss Fr. Amorth as some crazy, despite his position as chief exorcist in Rome. Unfortunately, this is also done by Catholics who have either not read his book, or if they read it, didn’t read it closely or read it looking for passages to support their pre-judgment. Or simply not understood where he is coming from. The US protocol differs from what Fr. Amorth does.
I find it unfortunate that Catholics dismiss what they don’t understand the same way non-Cathoolics dismiss Catholicsm, based on their faulty understanding of what Catholicism is.

patrick August 30, 2006 at 5:25 am

While Hitler and Stalin DID commit severe Evil and the Devil was probably in cahoots with them, It’s a little strong to say they’re possessed. Did they still have their Guardian Angel with them? If their Guardian Angel was no longer with them, Just imagine the more severe evils they have done.
Just my two cents

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 5:57 am

A credible Catholic book on exorcism is
HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL by Malachi Martin.
A Protestant book, but some good points, is
DEMON POSSESSION by Osterreich.
Two good books from a “secular” ecuated perspective but believe in the reality of evil, possession, and exorcism are
PEOPLE OF THE LIE by M. Scott Peck
and also some of the work by Wade Davis (a etnobotanist from Harvard)(they made a movie about him and Voodoo a while back)

Freydaddy August 30, 2006 at 6:55 am

Reading that article concerned me because such sweeping generalizations (all nazis) add to the secular and nonsecular bias that Catholicism is an extremist and medieval philosophical mindset that has no place in the reality of modernity. That was how I thought of it before the scales fell from my eyes. I believe in evil and Satan as most faiths do but sensationalist claims like these make some of other faiths shake their heads and say, “Those Catholics are always seeing things that aren’t there”.

Freydaddy August 30, 2006 at 6:58 am

I feel a little sheepish but I’ve been meaning to ask, what is CHT an acronym of?

Josephine Gatchell August 30, 2006 at 7:21 am

Their Back,medjugorje messagess still coming Please send him there.

sky August 30, 2006 at 7:48 am

Georgette, Mary Kay, what I find unfortunate is that you obviously need to reread Jimmy’s post since he indicated that Fr. Amorth is NOT the chief exorcist in Rome contrary to what the media says. Reread the very last paragraph…

El S. August 30, 2006 at 7:51 am

“Cowboy Hat Tip”…
Dont worry, it took me a while to figure out, too!
-El S.

Brian John Schuettler August 30, 2006 at 7:57 am

Dr. Peters writes at his web-site In The Light Of The Law:
“For those who would like a generally reliable narration of an actual possession/exorcism case, see Thomas Allen, Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcsim (1993)”

John August 30, 2006 at 7:59 am

I’m a bit concerned with the article, I guess along the lines of the first poster. Having read both Fr. Amorth’s first and second books, I would agree that he seems a bit exuberant in some of his claims, but certain claims in his books seemed credible as well. My concern is that folks will Judge Fr. Amorth as a sort of wacky old guy who makes stuff up, and generally dismiss the entire body of the great work he must have done over the course of his career. In other words, you paint this guy as a nut, or a loose canon, and it’s a pretty simple leap for non-believers to draw that conclusion about every other exorcist as well…an Satan wins…
In fairness to Jimmy’s article, Amorth’s accounts of possession seem much different than, for example, accounts of exorcism found in Malachi Martin’s “Hostage to the Devil” (I read the first three of five exorcisms in that book but have not yet finished it). Mr. Martin’s accounts of possession and exorcism are described, as I read them, to be much more gradual, time-consuming processes…Fr. Amorth, alternatively, seems to find possession and demonic influence everywhere, and applies sort of quick, sacramental relief to rid persons of what he sees as demonic influence. I see this as sort of old-school pastoring on the part of Amorth, absent the contemporary skepticism that most folks feel nowdays toward the non-empirical genre of the satanic. Sort of a save them all, and let God sort them out philosophy. Jimmy is right that Fr. Amorth does not cite and support much of his scholarship with sound references, etc.
Given Fr. Amorth’s qualifications as an exorcist and his working environment though, I would guess he includes the rites of exorcism in much of his contact with the public, perhaps at confession, etc., so it’s possible, if not unreasonable that he might count those contacts with folks as exorcisms, to arrive at his exceptional number of exorcisms performed.
Further, I suspect when he talks about all Nazis being possessed, he’s probably talking about possession of a mass of folks in 1930′s and 1940′s Germany like we’d talk about a mass of Americans being possessed by a pre-occupation with evil media culture, etc. I suspect that Fr. Amorth would differentiate the type of possession he describes as consuming Stalin and Hitler, with the sort of apathetic-malaise type possession German’s possessed to the Nazi regime in the 40′s, and many if not most of us possess now as it relates to sex, drugs, abortion, or some other “acceptable” vice in our modern culture.
I think if Satan does exist (I believe he does), has the ability to influence humans (I believe he does), exorts that power at every opportunity (I believe he does), and has a plan to capture as many souls as he is able before Christ returns (I believe he does), then I think it’s not unreasonable that he would make himself present at every fork and turn in the road, at every level of scale, and do his best to turn folks from Christ’s message of love, redemption, and eternal reward…so…thank God for the exorcists that work in Satans dung-heap to root him out.
I’d be curious what the rest of you who’ve read Malachi Martin’s book thought of it. Also, I read recently an exorcism account that occurred in Iowa in the 20′s or 30′s…any opinions there?
Thanks,
JT

joey August 30, 2006 at 8:23 am

I believe Martin Luther was possessed by Satan at his birth….the time between the fall end of the Roman Empire and the birth of ML is 1007 years….LOL!
Humor me!

Georgette August 30, 2006 at 8:25 am

Sky,
With all respect to Jimmy, in every book and article I have read concerning Fr Amorth, he is always described as the official or most experienced or chief Exorcist in Rome. I do recall reading that there is no such title as “official” Vatican Exorcist, but for all intents and purposes, he is considered so throughout the Vatican because of his renown in the field. And yes, MANY within the Vatican do poo-poo him off as being of the ‘very old school’ meaning that therefore he is not credible, which I think is very unfair. Modernity is certainly not all it’s cracked up to be, IMHO.

Georgette August 30, 2006 at 8:36 am

JT,
I have read Malachi Martin’s book as well. I think it is probably a pretty accurate account of exorcisms (although I am just taking Martin’s word for it; having no experience with that stuff myself, thank God!).
What I found MOST intriguing in the cases of possession which he highlights is how people’s ideologies and skewed/distorted ways of thinking and perceiving the world were often the main mode by which they were possessed! It seems that all the ideologies were essentially distortions of good things.
It sure makes a person want to stay close to the bosom of God and His Church! Well, that is how it affected me anyway.
God bless,
Georgette

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 8:42 am

sky, what I find unfortunate is that you obviously need to read Fr. Amorth’s book before fussing at others. (I think it’s a safe guess that you haven’t.)
No one said that there was a Chief Exorcist at the Vatican. There are 9 dictionary definitions of the word “chief.” I, and those discreditable, unreliable rags in the media such as Catholic news, Lifesite and Envoy magazine (sarcasm off) have referred to him as chief exorcist in reference to his experience and authority and (in my case) willingness to write of his experience (and be slammed by fellow Catholics).

Curious August 30, 2006 at 8:44 am

A number of people have been pointing to the 1949 “Exorcist” case as a more reliable case of possession, as recounted in Allen’s book. I have not read it, but I found an interesting article on the case in the online website for Strange Magazine. See here:
http://www.strangemag.com/exorcistpage1.html
The reporter went back and found out who the victim was and interviewed Fr. Halloran and other eyewitnesses. Father was very reticent and seemed to have doubts about the possession. The reporter found alot of mistakes in Allen’s book and the overall results lead one to wonder whether this case was truly a case of possession.
I am a faithful Catholic and have no doubt about the activity of Satan, his minions and our guardian angels, but I think alot of skepticism is needed here. Some of this credulity seems to verge on superstition.
Malachi Martin was nearly sedevacantist, so I would not look to him as an expert. He claimed a number of cardinals were demon possessed. He was a much beloved guest of Coast to Coast AM, an absolutely nutty (and uproariously funny)fringe late nite radio show. So I cringe every time I hear him cited as an “expert” on anything.

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 8:44 am

Georgette, thank you for saying things much better than I do.

Georgette August 30, 2006 at 8:47 am

Mary Kay,
I think you did a great job of it yourself and I meant to post that earlier!
God bless!
Georgette

Ed S August 30, 2006 at 8:49 am

As I read the above as well as the links, the image of Father Guido Sarducci came to mind. I had to find a picture of Fr. Amorth to exorcise this uncharitable impression. Maybe this link will help others: http://www.astrologyweekly.com/astrology-articles/images/gabrieleamorth.jpg

Brian John Schuettler August 30, 2006 at 8:49 am

Yes, John, the Iowa case you are talking about is an actual exorcism that is described in detail in the book Begone Satan! It is excellent and I believe it is still available…
I read Martin’s book back in the 80′s and I was very impressed with Father Martin’s knowledge and expository style. An important point that I have not seen discussed up to this point here is the presence of two other stages or degrees of demonic activity: infestation and obsession. I had read many years ago, I cannot now remember exactly where, that Hitler was thought to be not possessed but rather obsessed by demons and it was this obsession that Pius XII was concerned with.

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 9:27 am

Brian John, Fr. Amorth makes a distinction between ordinary activity of demons, aka temptation, which he says is the most common activity. His book is more about Satan’s extraordinary activity which he says takes six forms:
1. External physical pain caused by Satan.
2. Demonic possession.
3. Diabolical oppression.
4. Diabolical obsession.
5. Diabolical infestation.
6. Diabolical subjugation or dependence.

Ed S August 30, 2006 at 9:35 am

Sorry! The link I gave for a picture of Fr. Amorth may be problematic. The link below will get you to the picture and an interesting interview with the “Chief Exorcist.” Trouble is that it’s sponsored by an astrology organization and the interviewer seems to like cute journalism, but there’s enough here to flesh out a bit more of Fr. Amorth.
http://www.astrologyweekly.com/astrology-articles/fr-gabriele-amorth.php

patrick August 30, 2006 at 9:45 am

joey,
One of the rumors circulating in Luther’s time is that Luther’s firstborn son is the Antichrist.(idon’tbelieveit,bytheway.)
Curious,
What cardinals is Fr. Malachi talking about? The ones in the Vatican?

Brother Cadfael August 30, 2006 at 9:51 am

The problem that many people have with stories like that of Fr. Amorth is not necessarily a refusal to see Satan’s presence in the world, it is a difficulty in discerning the difference between being influenced by Satan and being possessed by Satan. Is it simply a question of degree, or is there something qualitatively different about satanic possession?
All of us who are not yet perfect (as our Heavenly Father is perfect) are influenced by Satan to some degree. Does that mean we are all possessed? I think not, but I am at a loss to explain why, or what the difference is.
Without having read his books or studied the subject at all, Fr. Amorth seems to me to be pushing the concept of satanic possession down the line toward what I would have considered satanic influence, rather than possession.

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. August 30, 2006 at 10:56 am

Four infallibly credible books about exorcism:
MATTHEW
MARK
LUKE
JOHN

John August 30, 2006 at 11:30 am

Brother Cadfael,
You articulate my point better than I could have hoped to.
I would only add to your comment:
“The problem that many people have with stories like that of Fr. Amorth is not necessarily a refusal to see Satan’s presence in the world, it is a difficulty in discerning the difference between being influenced by Satan and being possessed by Satan.”
…that it would appear from Fr. Amorth’s writings, the good father doesn’t spend a great deal of time worrying about the distinction you point out, but rather, if there is a question as to diabolical influence, possession, or affliction based on none of the above, he appears to invoke the Sacrement(?) of Exorcism to resolve the matter (I think rather like a broad spectrum herbicide to manage all forms of pesky weeds). And if 1% of the accounts he relates about the exorcisms he’s conducted are true, then he’s done some fine healing work for our Church.
Regards,
John

Some Day August 30, 2006 at 11:37 am

I believe many personages from history were possessed. People like Bismarck are definetely candidates. Now I also believe there are more possessed people now than at any other time in History. But to avoid being skeptical like some are about the subject, I would strongly suggest everyone read about Blessed Francisco Palau.
He is the greatest writer on demons in our world and how they influence it.

derringdo August 30, 2006 at 11:52 am

I’m afraid my reaction to the anecdote about Pius XII was “where’s Tim Powers when you need him?”

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 12:07 pm

“…that it would appear from Fr. Amorth’s writings, the good father doesn’t spend a great deal of time worrying about the distinction you point out”
John, which writings are you referring to?
In general, since Fr. Amorth’s name crops up periodically in Catholic blogs, it would be helpful for those giving their opinion about him to r.e.a.d. h.i.s. b.o.o.k.
One thing this thread has convinced me, is to read Malachi Martin’s book as his name also crops up periodically.

Monica August 30, 2006 at 12:09 pm

The problem I have with all this is, as Brother C points out, there seems to be a very loose definition of ‘posessed’.
The other problem I have is that if in fact he is counting mini exorcisms performed while in confession, why is he keeping count? I am suspicious of people who keep count of things, since usually it is done to ‘prove’ their authority. ‘See? I’ve done it more than you, therefore I know more than you.’ I’m not accusing Fr. Amorth of this, (knowing nothing about the man) but I have run into this technique before, and find the whole idea of keeping count a little dubious.
Of course, it’s possible he has to report all exorcisms to his superior, in which case I doubt the numbers because who could do that much paperwork?

MissJean August 30, 2006 at 12:22 pm

I’ve read all the books cited above except Ostrreich’s book and Fr. Amorth’s last book. I, too, noted while reading his first book that he tended to group influences and outright possession together. I still found it enlightening. In “Hostage to the Devil”, Martin seemed to include off-topic anecdotes, like when he asked a priest if he regretted not having children.
The one book I often recommend is M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie”. I’ve often recommended it to colleagues who think “evil” is a childish word or fanciful medieval concept. (It’s all about “good choices” and “bad choices” now – gag!) I was especially struck by Peck’s account of the parents whose perverse behaviour started with giving their depressed son a gun – the same one his brother used to kill himself.

Tim M. August 30, 2006 at 12:24 pm

it is classic and seen daily in which we criticize and “kill” that which we do not understand or doesn’t fit our own views.
I, too, look for reconciliation, not an exorcist… but history records that Hitler and Stalin, who are the subjects of the above article, did not look for reconciliation.
They rounded up and arrested, murdered and slaughtered and exiled hundreds and thousands of confessors.

MenTaLguY August 30, 2006 at 12:38 pm

Let’s also not forget that Hitler and many of the higher-level Nazis were also involved in some pretty serious occult practices. They’d certainly be at risk for posession. So I wouldn’t dismiss the idea out of hand, just for that reason.

Some Day August 30, 2006 at 1:16 pm

Read about Blessed Francisco Palau’s writing.
He goes IN DEPTH into possesion and posssessed people in governments and positions.
Trust me you will love it. And it might even frighten you.

Betty August 30, 2006 at 1:40 pm

I have read Fr. Amorth’s books and even if he does come across as “over the top” at times, the gist of his message is very sobering. May I recommend the tape series, “Angels and Demons” by Fr. John Hardon? If you want a very logical, methodical, nonsensationalized treatment of demons, he’s your man…and he makes some startling claims about possession, especially with regard to the abortion industry.

Jared Weber August 30, 2006 at 1:48 pm

Firstly, I’ve always been leary of Malachi Martin’s book, given his somewhat unclear status within the Church. Also, he makes the claim in the book (and, indeed, it is the source of the title) that the exorcist makes himself a hostage to the devil in order to free the possessed individual. I’m not entirely clear if that is the official teaching (if there is an official teaching on that). But, all-in-all, Martin’s book seems actually to jibe fairly well with Amorth’s own books.
Mr. Akin, as to the claims of the seemingly huge number of exorcisms performed by Fr. Amorth, he makes it clear in both of his books that the Church has always used exorcism not only as a tool for healing, but also (and more frequently) as a diagnostic tool. In other words, yes, it is possible (and, indeed, probable, given his well-known status both in his own right as well as to the extent that he was apprenticed to Fr. Candido–a friend of Padre Pio, by the way) that he has been sought by, and performed exorcisms upon, that many people.
Think about how many people a doctor sees in one day. Now, imagine a world-renowned doctor who specializes in a type of healing that is not only rare, but also scoffed at by the majority of the medical community … but which, nevertheless, addresses very real and seemingly incurable ailments … and you get the idea. And a run-on sentence, to boot. :)
Also, Fr. Amorth makes it clear that most of the diagnostic exorcisms he’s performed “come up dry” — that is they don’t uncover ANY unusual demonic activity.

Josh August 30, 2006 at 2:07 pm

MenTaLguY makes a good point – the perverse union of Nazism with paganism and the occult. I think we have to be careful to distinguish diabolical phenomena from psychological phenomena, but Hell and the diabolical get very little attention in modern Catholicism. How many exorcists are even around anymore? The role of the Devil can be exaggerated to the point of denying personal responsibility, which is obviously an error, but I think denying the existence and activity of Satan is also fraught with grave danger.
I would caution people about Malachi Martin (I have not read all of his books or the other books mentioned above). While he does make interesting points, and any traditionally-minded Catholic can somewhat sympathize with some of his concerns, he was all but sedevacantist, which is a GRAVE danger.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 2:24 pm

It seems to me that someone who is in contact with the Devil in as intimate a way as an exorcist has to be would probably develop a few glitches in his functionality along the way – it’s not all that surprising, therefore, that he writes and says things that sound kind of wild.
(And they wonder why most Bishops don’t like having exorcists working in their Dioceses.)
The few exorcists I’ve had contact with come off with the same weirdo-type “aura” as drug addicts and spiritualists, until you get into the Confessional with them, and then you feel like you’re with an angel.
I guess the Devil can’t penetrate the Confessional. :-)

John August 30, 2006 at 2:25 pm

Mary Kay,
I apologize for not being clearer…my comments referencing Fr. Amorth’s “writings” referred to his two books, both of which I HAVE read:
An Exorcist Tells His Story
- and -
An Exorcist – More Stories
I have also read the first three of five exorcism accounts in Fr. Martin’s book, “Hostage to the Devil,” and the full 30′ish or so, page account of the infamous 1920′s exorcism in Iowa.
I think if you look at my prior postings, my comments reflect favorably on Fr. Amorth, although like Jimmy, I find Fr. Amorth’s writings to come across as a bit exuberant at times. I also, though, think that much of what he reports seems credible, and that he has in my opinion, done much good for the suffering souls in the Church. My impression is that he sees much of what is wrong in the circles he travels in, as being based on demonic influence or worse. I also think as in my Herbicide reference, he appears to take a sort of “Broad Spectrum” approach when it comes to invoking the exorcism ritual. I don’t know that this approach, if accurately portraying Fr. Amorth’s correct methodology, does any harm other than perhaps adding fuel to the fire for the skeptics out there. Please don’t misunderstand me though…I don’t know the Father personally, and I have great respect for his calling as an exorcist and particularly as an ordained priest. I hope this clears things up for you.
Peace,
John

Some Day August 30, 2006 at 2:28 pm

Read about Blessed Francisco Palau,
he will talk about how there was work done within the Church to prevent the exercise of the Exorcism.

John August 30, 2006 at 2:34 pm

Some Day,
Do you have any titles to recommend?
John

Some Day August 30, 2006 at 2:41 pm

http://www.carmelite.org.uk/acatalog/Online_Catalogue_BL_FRANCISCO_PALAU_35.html
Don’t know the specific books. See I heard the writing read out loud during lunch during retreat, and since we were in silence, I really didn’t go into titles.

Tom Haessler August 30, 2006 at 3:45 pm

Hello, John,
Yes, works like Fr. Amorth’s and Malachy Martin’s fuel skepticism and do a major disservice to those concerned about orthodoxy. Conservative Catholics who’ve become attached to these two authors need to do more homework. A good start for those curious about Malachy Martin and his alleged expertise on exorcism and possession would be a careful perusal of CLERICAL ERROR by Robert Blair Kaiser. Unfortunately, Kaiser is a liberal dissenter, but with the kind of experiences he’s had with Martin, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’d be enormously unsympathetic to Martin as a credible defender of Catholic teaching. Fr. Richard Woods, O.P. had the opportunity of questioning Martin about his alleged knowledge of exorcisms and came away convinced that he was a complete fraud. His comments on Martin and Fr. Amorth are available on line. I’m delighted that an apologist of Jimmy’s reputation has an instinct for Irish blarney. For years I was fooled by HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL (considering it to be a truthful account) despite the fact that one of Martin’s students at the Pontifical Biblical Institute had assured me that he was a complete fraud. It’s time to start recycling some of the golden oldies from the pre-Vatican II period on exorcism and possession (starting with Fr. Herbert Thurstan, S.J.). Most of these authors combined critical thinking skills with fidelity to Catholic truth. The same cannot be said for either Malachy Martin or Fr. Amorth. We owe so much to Fr. Fessio of Ignatius Press, but his decision to publish these fluff works of Amorth shows that even Homer nods.

Some Day August 30, 2006 at 3:55 pm

Regardless of who said it, I think many people of history have been possessed, and Bl.Palau said so too.

Brother Cadfael August 30, 2006 at 3:59 pm

Tom Haessler,
It seems unfortunate that the two main sources you can come up with are a “liberal dissenter” (your words) and a priest-psychiatrist who has been studying exorcisms and the occult for thirty years and claims to have never seen a single case of demonic possession.
I, too, found Fr. Amorth’s claims a bit startling at first, and I do not know what exactly to make of Malachi Martin, but if forced to choose between their positions and the alternatives you have presented, I would probably be inclined to go with the former.

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 4:03 pm

John, thank you for clarifying. I did note that you had read him but which was why my frustration with the “I haven’t read his book, but I think he’s saying…” responses was directed “in general” and not to you.
I agree with you that Fr. Amorth sees demonic influence to a greater extent than someone here. Rather than your broad spectrum herbicide reference (nice visual even if I don’t agree),it’s more that, as Jared says, he uses exorcisms as a diagnostic tool. More like taking a throat culture to determine the presence of strep bacteria.
So that’s where I’d disagree with your analogy. He talks about using exorcism to detect if there is a presence of demonic influence and if present, to discern or determine the type of demonic influence.
It’s been a good discussion with you. I haven’t read Fr. Amorth’s second book yet. Need to put it on my (evergrowing) list.

Tom Haessler August 30, 2006 at 4:28 pm

If Fr. Amorth is using solemn exorcism as a diagnostic tool (and, yes, that’s the impression I get from reading his stuff), then he’s disobedient. The norms in the new ritual for solemn exorcism mandate excluding all doubt PRIOR to beginning the exorcism and insist on the importance of psychiatric consultation in this process.

Tom Haessler August 30, 2006 at 4:37 pm

It’s not at all surprising that a priest would not come across a single case of possession in thirty years. It all depends entirely on the patients and circles frequented. Virtually all the excellent works on possession in the pre-Vatican II period stress that REAL possession is extremely rare and many of the authors insist that some of the cases that were treated as possession in the literature are clearly not authentic cases, but rather cases of mental illness.
As for the ad hominem argument against Robert Blair Kaiser (the “liberal dissenter”), a careful reading of CLERICAL ERROR will settle the argument about Martin’s veracity for most people. Why are some conservative Catholics so impressed with a priest who left the active ministry during the post-Vatican II period after leaving the Pontifical Biblical Institute under a cloud? The fact that Scott Peck (the author of THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED), after many encounters with Martin, insists that he was a congenital liar adds plausibility to Kaiser, Fr. Woods, and other critical thinkers who have an instinct for Irish blarney. The fact that this topic can lead even highly intelligent persons to take leave of their senses is well-illustrated by Scott Peck who continues to regard Martin as a “world class authority” on exorcism and possession despite his insistence that he was a liar. However, Peck had great confidence in his ability to know WHEN Malachy Martin was lying.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 4:43 pm

Mary Kay, I don’t have anything against Fr. Amorth and I’ve read enough articles from him to see that he does make a lot of good points, though I think he’s over the top and arguably wrong on a few things (let’s face it who isn’t!)
I don’t see why it would matter to you whether I read his books or not since my point had nothing to do with his books but with the fact that people seem to give him so much importance.
I know of a “lot” of priests in France, Spain and Italy that are seasoned exorcists, though they keep to themselves. If you actually checked what is talked about in Rome you would realize that Fr. Amorth is only referred as chief whatever because he tends to be very vocal about his exorcisms, but he is far from being the only expert nor even the best one by any measure. So the media (catholic or not) can give him any title they want that still don’t prove anything about his authority.
Again I have nothing against him and I don’t disagree that some of what he talks about is worth to be said knowing that so many people disbelieve in Evil and Satan, I just would be a little more cautious when it comes to affirming anthing about the Devil. Most exorcists keep quiet about their ministry for very good reasons.

sky August 30, 2006 at 4:44 pm

that last post was mine.

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 4:49 pm

Brother Cadfael, I tried to preview my previous post and it got lost, so this is my second (and condensed) attempt.
If you are referring to Fr. Woods as a “priest-psychiatrist,” I’d be interested in knowing where his medical degree is from.
Previously, I did a Google search on him. The first results showed that his expertise were in theology and political science. Further digging showed that his medical connection was working in Loyola’s Sexual Dysfunction Clinic, which has an interdisciplinary team.
I found no evidence that Fr. Woods has had formal training in the medical or mental health field. His only medical connection is working on an interdisciplinary team in a Sexual Dysfunction Clinic, which is not at the top of the list of where discernment is needed between mental illness and demonic activity.
It seems to me that his 30 years of studying the occult and exorcisms is from (at a guess) a sociological perspective, not a clinical one.
If you can provide information that of his medical/psychiatric training, I will gladly revise my opinion of him as an “authority” in this area. Thank you.

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 5:00 pm

sky, my response to you was simply a response. I reflected back to you, almost verbatim, the tone you took in your post to me.
I have no idea whether Fr. Amorth is the “best” exorcist in Rome. I do know that he has taken the time and effort to write about exorcisms and demonic influence. His writings confirmed my very limited experience in this area. I’ve had ongoing discussions with a priest, who with years of discernment under his belt, thinks very highly of Fr. Amorth’s book.
My original point was frustration with Catholics who slam Fr. Amorth when they have no clue what he’s talking about and are unwilling to learn what he has to offer.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 5:12 pm

Jimmy Akin wrote:
“Huh? Really? All of the members of the Nazi Party? Without exception? They all had full-blown cases of possession with personality displacement?”
Did he say “full-blown” cases? Did he say with “personality displacement?”
If he did not then he can be correct since possession can be on many different levels (even minor levels) – meaning they don’t have to be slobbering around like a crazy person.
Jimmy Akin wrote:
“One more recent report indicates that the number of exorcisms he has performed had risen to 50,000 as of 2001.
It is therefore very difficult to place much weight in claims made by Fr. Amorth on such matters”
If he is counting his simple blessings with minor exorcisms attached in them (which I think he’s not allowed to do) then I can see this statement being true.

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 5:21 pm

Tom, you might be a little less quick to accuse Fr. Amorth of being disobedient. He’s using, with permission, the old ritual.
How true your next post is: “It depends entirely on the patients and circles frequented.” Fr. Woods’ clinical experience is in a Sexual Dysfunction Clinic, which as I said above, is not exactly at the top of the list for patients and circles where one would encounter the need to discern between mental illness and demonic activity.
I’ve been through a similar discussion that included you on a different website. I pointed out how “young” the field of mental health is. You say that pre-Vatican II authors “insist…rather cases of mental illness.” Funny, pre-Vatican II, the classification of mental illnesses was still in a very rudimentary form. The diagnostic criteria and issues were greatly revamped “in part because of the lack of widespread acceptance of the mental disorder taxonomy containted in ICD-6 and ICD-7″ quoted from the historical background section of the current diagnostic manual.
Fr. Amorth had direct experience which he writes about. Perhaps you should at least give the benefit of the doubt to that experience.

Mary Kay August 30, 2006 at 5:22 pm

Jimmy, aren’t you glad you started this thread? (ducking out)

Brother Cadfael August 30, 2006 at 5:57 pm

Mary Kay,
Brother Cadfael…If you are referring to Fr. Woods as a “priest-psychiatrist,” I’d be interested in knowing where his medical degree is from.
Sorry, I was not trying to imply that Fr. Woods had more authority than he does. I had simply done a google search on him, and one of the articles I turned up said that he was an “adjunct associate professor of Psychiatry at Loyola University of Chicago Medical School.” I do not know anything more about his background.
Tom,
As for the ad hominem argument against Robert Blair Kaiser (the “liberal dissenter”)…
You refer to Kaiser as a “liberal dissenter,” I simply point out that that’s how you characterized him, and I’m making ad hominem attacks? Come now!
It’s not at all surprising that a priest would not come across a single case of possession in thirty years.
I would agree if you were talking about any old priest, but it seems extremely doubtful for one who has devoted his life to studying them and looking for them.

Ricky Barone August 30, 2006 at 7:04 pm

Malachi Martin is a highly intelligent but perhaps a flawed man. However most of the dismissals of him (leaving under a cloud, a liar) are not documented or any specifics cited.
He was a Jesuit, a teacher of ancient languages at the Pontifical institute, and had some relationship with Agustine Bea. He is a prolific writer, and without analyzing veracity or accuracy for a moment, he has long books that are very interesting at least. (Vatican was excellent good fiction, the Jesuits had some good points as I was Jesuit educated am also very critical of there almost heretical approach, and Hostage to the Devil was interesting and a good read)
It is my understanding that as a priest during the Vatican II time period, Malachi Martin had an affair with a journalist’s wife.
He was not a sedevacantist but was critical of Vatican II, and at least by allegory in his fictional book Vatican; he was critical of Pope Paul VI. He is a former Jesuit, with many problems with his former order, some of his own making, but very critical–justifiably in my estimation–of the Jesuits. He never declared that the seat of Peter was empty. He said some very positive things about Pope John Paul II.
M. Scott Peck did recognize the reality of evil and possession (from a highly educated, non-Catholic, psychiatric perspective) and actual demonic evil and possession. However, he had pantheistic tendencies and was not an ex nilhio monotheist. M. Scott Peck thought Hostage to the Devil was a good and accurate book. M. Scott Peck also had a zipper problem and admitted to being a serial adulterer earlier in his marriage, and said he really did not reform later but his hormones went down but he realized it hurt his wife. He does have some good insight, although not always in keeping with Catholicsm, in his signature book the Road Less Travelled.
Malachi Martin is intelligent, a good writer, and at least theoretically and philosophically (understanding his criticisms of the Vatican, and his indulgences in the flesh as a priest, and leaving the priesthood)an Orthodox and “conservative” Catholic.

John August 30, 2006 at 7:09 pm

So we know how the camps are divided…but this is such an interesting topic…Are there any cases of exorcism that we can agree on? The Iowa case perhaps, or any credible exorcists that are considered reasonably reliable?
Holler back yall!
John

Playah August 30, 2006 at 7:17 pm

Fr. Malachi Martin had an affair with his wife, that is why he doesn’t like him.
Against the backdrop of the Catholic Church’s historic Second Vatican Council, Kaiser, a former reporter for Time magazine, recounts the remarkable story of how his first marriage was destroyed by his wife’s affair with the Jesuit priest Malachy Martin. Kaiser’s life in the 1960s was inextricably caught up with the Council, and he relates as much about the assembly’s inner workings as he does his personal crisis. To learn what was going on in the closed Council sessions, Kaiser cultivated its key players, primarily those promoting a liberal agenda, and invited them into his home, which became known as “a center of the Council’s progressive wing.” One of his frequent guests was Martin, who offered Kaiser help with research for his book on the Council and also managed to charm his wife, Mary. By the time Kaiser began to suspect a liaison between Martin and his wife, it was too far gone to stop. When he tried to expose it, he discovered that, at least by this account, Martin had conspired to have him admitted to a mental hospital. Kaiser, who spent 10 years with the Jesuits but left before he was ordained, paints himself as a victim of Martin, but also acknowledges his own failure to “grow up,” an attitude he says was fostered by the church and the Jesuits. Although this memoir is based on a true story, it reads in many places like a novel, and a few elements strain credulity.

Tom Haessler August 30, 2006 at 7:37 pm

Mary Kay, I’m so glad you brought up Fr. Amorth’s permission to use the old ritual. He has railed against the new ritual (approved by Cardinal Ratzinger) on the grounds that it “doesn’t work”. This is rank superstition. Exorcisms are PRAYERS. The “work”, not ex opere operato, but ex opere operantis ecclesiae. It’s not the exact words. It’s not like a sacramental form. All present day Catholic theologians (even Fr. Amorth!!) acknowledge that Protestants sometimes have a charism for deliverance ministry, and even without the Roman imprimatur, their prayers are sometimes “answered”. Prayer (and exorcism) is not magic, but the petition of a very fitting thing from God. And then there’s the “evil eye” business. But let’s not go there.

Brother Cadfael August 30, 2006 at 7:49 pm

Tom,
Mary Kay, I’m so glad you brought up Fr. Amorth’s permission to use the old ritual.
So are you retracting your original charge that Fr. Amorth is being disobedient? The new charge is superstitious?

Brother Cadfael August 30, 2006 at 8:00 pm

This Interview with Fr. Amorth sheds some light on the discussion. It turns out the new ritual “doesn’t work” in his opinion not because he’s resorting to superstition, but because it disallows exorcisms in the case of evil spells, which he says account for “at least 90% of “possessions and evil procured through the demon.”
It seems clear that the vast majority of his 30,000 exorcisms involved cases of “influence” rather than “possession.”

William August 30, 2006 at 8:04 pm

In a stunning reversal of past policy Father Vincent O’Keefe SJ, former Vicar General of the Society of Jesus and a past President of Fordham University, affirmed that Malachi Martin was in fact granted a dispensation from all his vows in the Jesuit order except for chastity. This dispels decades of rumors that Father Martin was defrocked for having had an affair with the wife of a famous journalist. This was the false lie spread by past Jesuits to discredit Father Martin. Martin requested and received a special dispensation by Pope Paul VI to remain a Catholic priest and say Mass in private.
Ever since Father Martin’s scathing review of his former order The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church (1988) rumors were spread by members of this order claiming Martin was defrocked and expelled from the Church of Rome. Martin denied this charge until his death in 1999. Father Mitchell Pacwa – chief spokesman at the Catholic run EWTN would regularly hang up on callers who inquired about Martin on his live call in show.
Father O’Keefe was the Vicar General of the Society in 1965, at the time of Father Malachi Martin’s departure from Rome. Why Father O’Keefe decided to set the record straight on Malachi Martin is anyone’s guess.
The clarification appeared on the Malachi Martin yahoo e-group posted by a member who communicated with Fr. Tom Widner SJ, Secretary for Communication of the US Jesuit Conference, concerning Martin’s status. Father Widner questioned Father O’Keefe – now retired – and he recalled Martin’s receiving a special dispensation relieving him of all his vows except for chastity. The communication (see below) also promoted two other myths about Martin including the lie that Martin lived in an unchaste relationship. The message referred to an incorrect obituary of Martin which appeared in the New York Times. The lady in question was merely Martin’s landlady for whom he also acted as spiritual advisor. The communication also falsely reports that Martin requested release from his vow of chastity, another lie which was spread about the scholarly priest.
However, the fact that the Jesuits have confirmed that Martin was a valid priest his whole life and was not defrocked marks a radical change in Jesuit policy concerning Father Malachi Martin – they are now acknowledging his status as a life long priest.
Source:
I spoke with Fr. Vincent O’Keefe, former vicar general of the Society of Jesus who is now retired. According to Fr. O’Keefe, Malachi Martin was indeed dispensed from his vows of poverty and obedience but not the vow of chastity. At the time Martin requested such dispensation, the Vatican was not dispensing priests who so requested such dispensation from the vow of chastity or celibacy. Fr. O’Keefe pointed out that Martin never married. His obituary in the New York Times, however, points out that Martin lived with a female companion.

Jared Weber August 30, 2006 at 9:53 pm

Mary Kay and Brother Cadfael have already pointed out the things I wanted to point out with regard to Fr. Amorth’s use of the Old Rite of Exorcism as well as his use of simple blessings. If I recall correctly, these blessings do not constitute “solemn exorcism” in that they are not a full-blown “rite” but are nonetheless, “exorcistic” in nature … much like the exorcism prayer in the Sacrament of Baptism or the exorcism prayer that can (and, really, SHOULD) be said over Holy Water, Blessed Salt or the St. Benedict Medal, but don’t have to be.
And yes, Br. Cadfael also mentions the reference Fr. Amorth makes with regard to witchcraft. Having seen the damage caused by this stuff up close, I can tell you that it’s no wonder Fr. Amorth comes off sounding over-zealous or creepy. He has seen the “face” of the Enemy closer than most of us would ever get of our own accord.
With regard to Malachi Martin: I don’t know much else about the man, but a friend of mine told me that Martin appeared on some radio show a while back, claiming that Lucifer and Satan were two separate entities and not, as is the traditional understanding, one and the same individual.

Tom Haessler August 30, 2006 at 10:19 pm

What I said in my post is that IF Fr. Amorth uses the Rite of Exorcism (either old or new!) as a diagnostic tool, then he’s guilty of disobedience (not adhering to binding liturgical norms). The approach “Let’s find out if this is a real case of possession by using the Rite; if he (or she) is REALLY possessed then they’ll be helped; if not, they won’t.” This approach is highly untraditional, violates the liturgical norms in force BEFORE the reform of the exorcism rite, and far more importantly, is a clue to the bad theology that undergirds Fr. Amorth’s approach. Prior to the use of the solemn exorcism Rite, the Church has always demanded a thorough investigation (using lay experts in fields where the clergy have no special expertize) leading to a judgment of moral certainty that an individual is possessed BEFORE the bishop can give permission for the Rite to be used. A widespread abuse before the revision of the Rite was the claim made by some self-appointed exorcists that “My bishop is a heretic who doesn’t believe in demons, so I have the right to use the exorcism Rite without his permission.” A little more knowledge of Catholic history would help the unsuspecting become a little more sceptical about clerics claiming special expertize in this area. Case in point – the notorious MALLEUS MALIFICARUM by the Dominican theologians who were guilty of the most shameful credulity about witches – leading to the persecution and death of many innocent women. The conservative Catholic writer, Sandra Miesel, could enlighten us all on the ugly chapter and verse details of clerical malfeasance in this area.

Tom Haessler August 30, 2006 at 10:26 pm

The issue is NOT whether Malachy Martin was a priest. Of course, he was. The point to be made is that, despite his exceptional intellectual gifts, he lived in New York for many years without an assignment as a sort of “free lance” priest. Not a good sign. If he had problems with the Jesuits, why, after receiving dispensations from his vows of poverty and obedience, did he not get excardinated into a diocese as a diocesan priest?

Tom Haessler August 30, 2006 at 10:34 pm

Woops! Sorry for the misspelling, folks. It’s MALLEUS MALEFICARUM.

Jared Weber August 30, 2006 at 11:21 pm

Tom: Having read the Malleus Maleficarum, I’m curious to know what’s so wrong with it. Specifically. Is it merely the credulity with which it speaks? Some have called it mysoginistic, etc. and I can see those claims might be valid but overall, I think the main problem with the Malleus is the style in which Kramer and Sprenger wrote it. Many (I’m not saying you, personally) misunderstand the format of “here’s what our opponents believe/here’s what we believe.”
Witchcraft is real. I’ve seen its aftermath and felt its effect.
So, specifically, what’s your issue with the book?

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 11:33 pm

Geez. Tom Haessler again. Hijacking another blogger’s comment box. Reminds me of Cliff from Cheers. (rolling eyes)

patrick August 31, 2006 at 3:46 am

Which Kaiser are you guys talking about? The guy who started the ‘Take Back our Church’ or some other Kaiser?
Sorry for my ignorance.

Mary Kay August 31, 2006 at 4:22 am

Tom, one of the things that is clear in Fr. Amoth’s book is his faithfulness to Church teaching and adherence to Church law.
There have been several good counterpoints to your comments. However, you have not engaged in discussion so much as reiterated, with a lot of chaff thown in, your opinion that Fr. Amorth is wrong.
Being right and your personal opinion about Fr. Amorth seem to be so important to you that I won’t disturb it.

Brother Cadfael August 31, 2006 at 4:39 am

Here is what Fr. Amorth had to say in the interview above about the use of exorcism under the old rite as a “diagnostic tool” (although those are not his words):
“Point 16 [of the new Ritual] solemnly declares that one should not carry out exorcisms if one is not certain of the presence of the devil. This is a masterstroke of incompetence: the certainty that the devil is present in someone can only be obtained by carrying out an exorcism. What is more, the authors of the Ritual failed to notice that on two points they were contradicting the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For this points out that exorcism should be practiced in cases of diabolical possession and in those of evil caused by the demon. And it also recommends that it be performed on people as well as on things. And in things, there is never the presence of the demon, there is only his influence.”
Tom, you said:
This approach is highly untraditional, violates the liturgical norms in force BEFORE the reform of the exorcism rite, and far more importantly, is a clue to the bad theology that undergirds Fr. Amorth’s approach.
Care to explain? Or do you have some other evidence that Fr. Amorth was (1) using exorcism as a diagnositic tool, (2) in violation of pre-reform liturgical norms?
Unless you’re going to retract those charges as well, maybe it would be helpful if your explanation contained facts rather than allegations.

Mary Kay August 31, 2006 at 6:11 am

Brother Cadfael, thanks for the link to Fr. Amorth’s interview and the website.

Anonymous August 31, 2006 at 6:43 am

Malachi Martin did not believe that sede vacante.
Malachi Martin’s problems with Kaiser (yes the liberal American Church guy of an earlier post) were very personal.
Malachi Martin is a brilliant and good man with a lot of insight. If he is in heaven I hope he is praying for us.
The Devil is real. Possession and exorcism are real.

JamesD August 31, 2006 at 10:31 am

In watching some kind of TV reporting or documentary about Abu Grab. They showed video footage taken by soldiers of themselves horsing around. The later videos were much more violent and disturbing than the earlier.
Now this could have been selective editing or it could be that the soldiers were reacting to being forced to “torture & humiliate (what the producers claimed). But the thought occurred to me that perhaps there was a demonic presence/s from all the extreme violence that had taken place for so long in that facility during Sadam’s regime. I just wonder.

Dcn. James Pearce August 31, 2006 at 11:29 am

The latest article about Fr. Amorth (Newsmax Media) states that he believes that “Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil.” I’m not entirely sure what to say to that. I think it’s a bit heavy handed. I’d agree that there are people who may believe, or come to believe, in magic, and may be influenced by the Harry Potter stories. For that matter, there are people who may believe in the Tooth Fairy. I don’t, however, believe that stories about the Tooth Fairy are works of the devil.

Tom Haessler August 31, 2006 at 11:29 am

Hello, Mr. Weber,
What’s wrong with the MALLEUS MALEFICARUM? Well, for starters, its theology is so defective that one of the authors was condemned by the Inquisition and, after careful examination by theologians at the University of Cologne, the work was condemned specifically for its faulty theology AND (perhaps, more importantly) for its advocacy of unethical procedures in examining witches. If you’ve read the work, then there should be no question about the fact that its attitude toward women cannot be reconciled with either biblical teaching or present day Catholic theology – forget the “sexism” tag because its not a matter of being politically correct, but of fidelity to Catholic teaching.
Unfortunately, Sandra Miesel’s husband just died of brain cancer. But really SHE should be the one to respond to these questions about past Catholic credulity about witches because she’s an expert on the subject and complete faithful to Catholic teaching. But the scathing comment found in Pohle-Preuss’s twelve volume dogmatic theology series (Volume III under the rubric “Angelology”) about past abuses in this area continues to be relevant today.
Witchcraft is a serious topic which deserves more than a few germane comments in a combox. But noone denies that very many women were unjustly accused and unjustly executed due to the credulity of the masses reinforced by poorly educated clerics who should have known better.

Tom Haessler August 31, 2006 at 11:32 am

Fr. Amorth’s incompetence is further revealed by his silly condemnation of the Harry Potter series. This subject has been thoroughly examined on both Mark Shea’s and Amy Welborn’s blogs by people far more able to examine the literary issues of fantasy literature than I am. But when clerics pontificate about subjects that they know little about, they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Probably the best comments about the Harry Potter business have been made by the scrupulously orthodox editor of the CHESTERTON REVIEW.

Brother Cadfael August 31, 2006 at 11:54 am

Tom,
Fr. Amorth’s incompetence is further revealed by his silly condemnation of the Harry Potter series.
If you’re going to make allegations of incompetence based on that, you’re going to be calling a lot of good, orthodox Catholics incompetent. In fact, I’d say that’s a rather silly basis on which to declare Fr. Amorth incompetent.
But when clerics pontificate about subjects that they know little about, they shouldn’t be taken seriously.
I see no reason to limit that to clerics. By the way, how does your expertise in exorcisms stack up against Fr. Amorth? Just wondering.

Tom Haessler August 31, 2006 at 12:12 pm

Brother Cadfael,
Thanks for the extended quote from Fr. Amorth containing his “critique” of the new Rite of solemn exorcism. Now everyone can see that he’s accused the compilers of the new Rite of incompetence (all appointed by Cardinal Ratzinger and the finished project approved by both Ratzinger and the head of the Worship dycastery!).
If you examine the text of the old Rite, any of the many moral theological treatments of possession and exorcism in the manuals, or the directions given in Canon 1172, it becomes clear that Fr. Amorth’s approach is quite unusual. His claim of thousands of exorcisms is itself suspect. Only in those instances were BOTH a national conference of bishops AND the Holy See have called for the establishment of the office of exorcists are exorcists permitted to use the solemn form of the Rite without the express authorization of the bishop himself FOR EACH CANDIDATE! Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1985 rebuke to those involved in “deliverance ministries” abuses (many of the criticisms directly pertinent to the way these ministries were carried out in Catholic charismatic renewal circles in the United States) contains extensive counsel about the importance of extreme prudence in this area. Even Fr. Amorth’s supporters usually are candid enough to acknowledge that there are questions about his prudence.
Fr. Amorth’s incompetence is also evidenced in his incorrect notion that the new Rite contradicts the Catechism (CCC, 1673). Of course, both the Catechism AND the new and old Rites insisted that there be moral certainty that the candidate is NOT suffering from mental illness BEFORE performing “a major exorcism”. “Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter’ treating this is the concern of medical sicence. Therefore, BEFORE an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and NOT an illness.” (CCC, 1673). Of course, anyone reading Fr. Amorth realizes that distinctions that are commonly taught in elementary theology courses are not the stuff of his exposition. So his insistence that “the certainty that the devil is present in someone can only be obtained by carrying out an exorcism.” He apparently doesn’t understand the distinction between moral certainty (required before permission for a solemn exorcism can be obtained) and metaphysical certainty (which cannot even be obtained after a “successful” use of the Rite because one can never know with absolute certainty whether the relief is connected with a natural therapeutic value of the attention focused on the individual). These matters are fully explained in every manual of dogmatic and moral theology dealing with exorcism and possession.
Fr. Amorth is also quite wrong in his explanation of the difference between demonic influence and demonic presence. He apparently means by the latter a case of real possession. But a demon is no more present (in a local sense) in the possessed than in areas of influence. Malachy Martin himself understands this in his comments about the nature of spiritual reality. But then what can we expect from someone who takes the “evil eye” with the utmost seriousness?
I retract none of my charges about Fr. Amorth’s innocence of sound theology, his untraditional approach, and the harm this sort of nonsense does by providing cannon fodder for enemies of the Church.
Fr. Gino (the fake stigmatist) was reputed to have knowledge of all sorts of supernatural phenomena, but, now, thanks to the vigilance of Benedict XVI we know that he was a notorious sexual abuser of both boys and girls and a complete flake on matters connected with the supernatural. For me, the fact that Fr. Amorth continued to support the “ministry” of Archbishop Milingo, even after many Italian bishops had forbidden him to practice his superstition in their dioceses, is an indication of lack of discernment, something critically important in an exorcist. Does anyone know if Fr. Amorth is a featured speaker at the Legionaires of Christ course on exorcism? If not, why not?

John August 31, 2006 at 12:19 pm

Tom,
Got to agree with the Brother on this one…taking shots at Fr. Amorth other than hitting on factual concerns you have about his statements, seem to be a bit unqualified here. I’d be curious to know as well, what contact you’ve had with exorcism, witchcraft, etc. As I’ve suggested earlier, Fr. Amorth may have used a “broad spectrum” approach in his use of the exorcism ritual, or as others have better suggested, used the ritual in an approved “diagnostic” fashion, BUT…I’m sure given the circles he’s traveled in, and the number of afflicted persons he’s encountered, that he’s done much good fighting demonic influence and possession on a number of occasions. Think of the life this man’s lead, lonely, much maligned, questioned, misunderstood…guy deserves our affection, not our unfounded reservations…
Peace,
John

John August 31, 2006 at 12:31 pm

Tom,
Furthermore, I’m not absolutely clear that his diagnostic use of the exorcism ritual is exactly that…he makes mention in his books of using the Lord’s name, Holy Water, Relic objects, etc. as a means of determining the afflicted’s attachment to the demonic…no doubt proto-exorcism language/prayer might have been used, but I don’t recall that he was necessarily using the full ritual as a diagnostic tool…I could be wrong, but the distinction I think is worth pointing out.
John

Jared Weber August 31, 2006 at 2:20 pm

Tom: Firstly, your answer with regard to the theology of the Witch Hammer book is not very specific. Perhaps this isn’t the place to discuss this anyway but, you did bring it up.
I myself find Amorth criticism of Rowling’s books to be quite accurate.
But here’s the rub when it comes to that: most of the people who scoff at Amorth (and those of us who warn of the dark influence that can be introduced via Potter and the like) have NO obvious, firsthand experience with the occult and the damage that it does. However, those of us who have seen its power are far more cautious. Oh, and by the way … to say that Fr. Amorth is pontificating about a subject that he knows little about is a HUGE error on your part, as I doubt there are many alive, save those who are active witches themselves (and they only know it from the inside), who have more experience with the occult than does Fr. Amorth.
And you never answered the previous question from Brother Cadfael: How does your expertise in exorcisms (and EXPERIENCE thereof) stack up against Fr. Amorth?

chris K August 31, 2006 at 3:44 pm

Why does a particular person here seem to believe that Fr. Amorth was or is some kind of lone ranger about that moderned up rite? He was joined by the many other experienced exorcists on this. And I believe he mentioned that the selected tinkerers with the successfully used older rite had never even been present during an exorcism! And….I also believe that it was through the good auspices of C. Ratzinger that the old rite was attached in order to still be used, realizing the seriousness of this subject even though the Church was becoming generally fearful of even mentioning demons anymore. So, I’d say our usual debunker of Fr. Amorth is conveniently leaving out “the rest of the story”. When about to receive life saving surgery I doubt if many would go to a group of plumbers no matter how many awards given for knowledge of such systems!
And with a saint such as P. Pio who certainly was familiar with the abilities of demons, speaking of Fr. Amorth’s mentor: “Father Candido is a priest according to God’s heart” and then that mentor turning over his own hard cases to Fr. A (as well as so many other less experienced exorcists doing the same when they weren’t successful), I’d trust the knowledge of one who has boldly gone into such territory and survived the experience so often with courage and faith remaining, rather than the removed “expertise” from the balcony.

J.R. Stoodley September 1, 2006 at 11:49 am

NBC’s basic presentation of the story:
The Vatican has proclaimed that Hitler and Stalin were possesed by Satan and thus not personally responsible for their actions. The Jews are outraged at this taking away of guilt from Hitler and historians dismiss the claim as Medieval superstition.
When the media is this wrong about things I know about (and they generally are) it makes me wonder how accurate they are on everything else.

Jared Weber September 1, 2006 at 12:11 pm

Stoodley: Exactly. It also makes one wonder how accurate of a translation this is: “I am convinced that the Nazis were all possessed.”
As to the whole taking away the culpability of Hitler, et al, we need to keep in mind that often possession happens precisely in cases of personal culpability. Granted, it also happens to innocent people (some saints included, reportedly) but one of the things that Fr. Amorth stresses is the need to turn away from sin and toward the Sacraments, particularly Confession (which he says has a more powerful effect than any exorcism) and the Eucharist.
I still don’t get why some Catholics seem to hate this guy.

John September 2, 2006 at 8:07 pm

I was doing a bit of “surfing” this evening while catching the Georgia Tech v. Notre Dame game, and located an interview with Fr. Amorth that some above pulled information from:
http://www.thecatholiclibrary.org/Documents/orders/ssp/article1.php
An excellent read, and I think likely to clear a few things up for some folks, as it did for me.
Peace,
John

J.R. Stoodley September 3, 2006 at 11:12 am

I just read Ed Peter’s artical and, while he does seem to make some good points, at some points I think he is unfair.
For instance, he records his mentor doing something, and then says you should not do it. Inconsistance? Maybe he just thinks Fr. Candido made a mistake here but did not want to outrightly condemn anything his mentor had done. Or maybe while presenting his own opinions he also wants to accurately represent the actions (and hence implicitly the opinions) of other exocists to show a more honest picture of the situation. Does that make sense?
Also there is the instance of a house that Fr. Amroth recommended the family just leave since it was so possessed. Does this suggest that there are some places God can not go, as Dr. Peters suggests? The disciples could not always successfully drive out demons, and neither does Fr. Amroth (another thing Dr. Peters criticises Fr. Amroth for), so why make this assertion? Clearly Fr. Amroth does not have the strength of faith or whatever to always succeed in exorcisms, so it is charitible and practical to suggest the family just move rather than subjecting them to living in those conditions while he continued to try and fail to help them.

J.R. Stoodley September 3, 2006 at 11:27 am

On the topic of house exorcisms, an interesting story I heard recently from a Catholic friend of mine, that he had heard first hand from a member of this family.
A family lived in a house apparently either haunted (which I don’t believe in) or infested by a demon. Electrical appliances would do strange things, a strange smell frequently filled the house, and an ulgly creature would often be seen sitting on the steps watching the family. Guests to the house also observed this (whether all or just some of the phenomena I don’t know). Naturally the family was extremely disturbed by all this and got an exorcist to perform and exorcism on the house.
It was a complete success. From that day on all these phenomena stoped.
Several years later the family decided to move. When most of their stuff was moved out and the new buyers were there talking to them, the smell came back and the buyers asked what it was.
The person telling this story did not remember what they said to them but they quickly gathered up the last of their stuff and left the house never to enter again.
A few years later, curious about what had happend (and I might guess maybe guilty about not warning the new owners about the meaning of the smell assuming they didn’t) the family drove back to the house. They saw that it had been completely abandoned.

Jared Weber September 3, 2006 at 2:08 pm

JRS: Fr. Amorth also records, in one of his books, how Padre Pio himself sent a letter to Fr. Candido warning him not to waste his efforts on trying to exorcise a particularly difficult individual. Perhaps this was a case of, as Malachi Martin names it, “perfect possession” where the person has made a binding a agreement with the demon and nothing could possibly remove the possessing agent? Or was it simply a way of, as the St. Paul says in 1 Cor 5:5, delivering the individual to the devil “for the destruction of the flesh?”

JC September 5, 2006 at 9:44 pm

I love it when Catholics who try to compromise with the world accuse those who do not of being “over the top.” It’s a classic ad hominem.
I’m sure the Pharisees walked around saying, “That Jesus of Nazareth sure is over the top.” I’m sure the people of Assisi said, “That Francis weirdo sure is over the top.” That’s definitely what they said about St. John Bosco and St. Pio.
The problem here is one of role. Fr. Amorth is apparently a very devout priest and a very good exorcist. However, he is not a scholar. His books must be taken with a critical eye.
He seems to use the terms “exorcism” and “possession” ambiguously.
I refer everyone to teh categories listed above. So called “extraordinary” demonic influence takes many forms. Another common problem among Catholics is ambiguity of the term “extraordinary” as used by the Church. Possession, baptism by desire and lay ministers of Communion are all “extraordinary,” yet their occurrence varies depending upon what faction you’re dealing with.
My main criticism of Fr. Amorth is that he uses “exorcism” to generically refer to all forms of demonic actvity: including involuntary possession, witchcraft, obsession, oppression and infestation. Similarly, he uses “exorcism” to refer both to the solemn rite and to deliverance in general.
His point is, if you feel like you’re being either influenced or attacked by the Devil, you should consult an exorcist for advice and assistance.
Then there’s that whole false dichotomy between diabolical influence and mental illness, to which I suggest Fr. Corapi’s analogy of a physical wound (mental illness) and an infected wound (diabolical influence).

Jared Weber September 5, 2006 at 10:28 pm

JC: Your point is well-taken with regard to people writing Fr. Amorth off but I’d be careful about denying Fr. Amorth’s scholarship. Have you read his books? It’s true that, given his busy schedule, he wouldn’t have a huge amount of time to dedicate to study. Nevertheless, his books show a lot more depth than people seem to give him credit for.
Also, with regard to his using the terms “possession” and “exorcism” in an ambiguous manner. Fr. Amorth distinguishes several categories of diablolical influence, never claiming that all of them equal possession.
I believe the problem is probably with the translators. Did Fr. Amorth use a technical (in the field of exorcism) term with regard to possession and/or some other form of influence in the case of the Nazis, only to have his technical “jargon” undermined by an inculpably ignorant translator? Who knows? I wonder how an experienced, bilingual exorcist would translate this.

JC September 6, 2006 at 8:02 am

Jared,
By “ambiguous,” I mean that the words are used in two different senses.
People make much of Fr. Groeschel’s foreword, yet all he says is a) the vocabulary is a bit confusing and b) it offends our Western sensibilities. That should be taken in the context of Fr. Groeschel, who quite often criticizes our “Western sensibilities,” especially in regadr to the false dichotomy of psychological versus preternatura.

Jared Weber September 7, 2006 at 1:32 am

That’s kind of my point JC. It’s as if an Eskimo, with his language’s dozen-or-whatever number words for snow, had used the word for clean but slushy ice and the translater made it sound as if he’d either only said “snow,” or worse, that he’d said the word “ice” or “yellow snow.” See what I mean? Of course, this particular scenario is pure speculation on my part (perhaps the translation WAS accurate), but exorcists do have their own technical jargon that is not well- or widely understood outside their “community.”

bill912 October 13, 2006 at 3:50 pm

Jimmy, the barbarian with the vulgar handle is back. Please delete. (Permanently blocking him would be nice).

Jimmy Akin October 13, 2006 at 4:58 pm

Done.

bill912 October 13, 2006 at 5:07 pm

Thanks, Jimmy

lynea November 20, 2006 at 1:21 pm

JHS
It is unholy (not to mention, irresponsible) to try to discredit publically. It is gravely irreverent to discredit a priest publically without sufficient reason, and there is no sufficient reason here with regards to Fr. Amorth and his comments, only simply arrogance on the part of his accusers. (Apparently, those who look to discredit him think they know more than the best regarded, holy religious priests not only in the Vatican by internationally, who regard Fr. Amorth as a holy man who is an expert at discerning demonic possession.)
Fr. Amorth is a very holy priest, for whom we should have reverence. (We actually should have reverence to all priets and bishops, whether or not we agree with them. It just so happens, however, that Fr. Amorth is a holy man. If it were not the case, the Vatican wouldn’t depend on him as their chief exorcist.)
What exactly is Jimmy Aitkin’s background that gives him the right to believe he can responsibly discredit the statements of such a holy priest? Was this the same authority that made Mr. Aitkin declare that the Protoevangelium of James was a good read (not mentioning that it is a gnostic book and that the Church Fathers condemned it)? This is the same ‘authority’, apparently, that made it seem like a good idea to propogate on his national radio program that our Lord may have had step-brothers through so-called “evidence” of an alleged ossury of “James, the Brother of Jesus” found by the BAS (Biblical Archeological Society). Of course, Jimmy failed to mention that the society likes to make anti-Catholic lectures (*for some reason, being an archeologist gives one the insight into theology). The most unfortunate part of this was that after Jimmy Aitkin and Jim Blackburn talked about this several times on their radio show, they failed to mention (perhaps they didn’t do thorough enough research) that the ossury was found to be a fake by scientists, and was already publically declared as such. Meanwhile, Jimmy and crew are making statements such as “well, the Church Fathers/Doctors didn’t always agree with one another.”
As Catholics seeking to be like Christ, we are supposed to honor our religious who are not only set aside as witnesses to the eschatalogical realities (the four last things), but we especially owe reverence to our priests and bishops, who give of themselves to be in “persona Christe” at the Sacrifice of the Mass. To be suspicious of them and then publically declare one’s suspicion is objectively a sin against justice and against charity.

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