In previous articles, the authority of Rome has been examined in the light of the Bible, its history, doctrinal and institutional consistency, and its Petrine office (its presumed succession from apostle Peter, infallibility and moral credentials).
The spiritual credential of the Roman Catholic institution, specifically in the context of its exorcisms, has also been engaged previously.
After reading The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio (Doubleday: 2009), it dawned on me that more needs to be said on this rite, as it had been sensationalised and overrated in popular culture.
I will quote mainly from Baglio’s The Rite to highlight my arguments that even in this rite, the legitimacy of Roman Catholicism is shown to be patently undermined.
The Vatican issued a decree which says:
Among her sacramentals, the Catholic Church, in obedience to the Lord’s Prayer, already in ancient times mercifully provided that through pious prayers her people may ask God to liberate the faithful from all dangers and especially from the snares of the Devil.
In a truly unique way, exorcists were established in the Church who, in imitation of Christ, could cure those obsessed by the Evil One, even by commanding demons in the name of God, so that they might depart, lest for whatever reason they do further harm to human creatures (Decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship of the Faith, Nov. 22, 1998).
This establishes that exorcism is a sacramental in which the exorcist imitates Jesus in liberating the faithful from the powers of the devil and commanding demons to depart.
This presupposes an authority that comes from Christ and is exercised uniquely by Rome. The Catechism of the Catholic Church brings this out more clearly:
“When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism … Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church.” (par. 1673).
From this, it can be inferred that the rite of exorcism is based on:
1. The authority of Jesus Christ
2. What Jesus taught and did
3. Having the same results that Jesus had.
On a flip side, if this rite is based on the authority of an institution, or prevalent superstition, if it’s not based on how Jesus and the apostles expelled evil spirits and the results seen conflict with what was obtained within the pages of the New Testament, then the authority of Rome is dubious and the Jesus it appeals to is not the Jesus of the Bible.
Before I elucidate on these arguments, I want to point out that not everything stated or described in The Rite is actually false or misleading. There are parts of it that are quite revealing, though not in the way the author supposes.
For instance, it correctly draws the curtain on the existing tension between a religious institution that is blinded by its rigid structures, elitism and skepticism and the European culture which in the past relied on it for its dictates.
It quotes Associazione Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII (Pope John XXIII Community Association), that “about 25 percent of Italians, or about 14 million, are involved in some way or another in the occult.” (p. 16) Note: about 83% of Italians are Roman Catholics.
Whilst many European Catholic priests and bishops scoff at the existence of the devil and demons, Tarot card readers congest the late-night cable channels hawking their divination wares and “lucky” amulets.
It was also estimated that “as many as 8,000 satanic sects with more than 600,000 members exist within Italy” alone.
The book appealed to an occult expert, Fr. Aldo Buonaiuto, a member of the Pope John XXIII Community Association, who admits the prevalence of many hardcore satanic groups in Italy.
He classifies them into “Youth Acid” (consisting of mostly young people involved in the physical trappings of Satanism), “Power Satanism,” (those seeking power and riches from Satan) and “Apocalyptic Satanism,” which has as its goal, the total destruction of life as we know it (p. 45).
These startling realities have been fuelled, in part, by a traditional church that has failed to provide spiritual succour and a sound moral template to souls hungry for God and His intervention.
Roman Catholicism has lost much of its respectability in the West. While drowning in the cesspools of clerical concubinage, pederasty and paedophilia, it can’t be griping about satanic ritual abuse perpetrated by satanists without being hit by an irony of shame.
By whose Authority?
There are several guidelines that are laid down by Rome on how exorcism must be conducted
The Ritual itself has undergone several adjustments over the centuries and the one currently used is the 1998 Revised Ritual.
Guideline 13 of the Ritual stipulates that only a priest found worthy and nominated by a bishop of a diocese can perform an exorcism.
If a priest doesn’t have the express permission of a bishop, he can’t cast out any demon. His prayers “wouldn’t have the same effect on the demon because essentially the exorcist would be praying the Ritual in a state of disobedience and the demon would know it,” writes Baglio (p. 58).
But from the NT, it’s evident that every disciple of Christ had the authority from Christ to cast out demons. Jesus spelt it out:
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons” (Mark 16:17).
This was why the early church had no officially appointed “exorcists” since it was generally known that every Christian has received power to cast out all evil spirits.
Paul and Silas didn’t need any permission from a bishop in Philippi in order to cast out a demon from the diviner following them in Acts 16:18.
It now gets fuzzy when Baglio writes, “Not everybody has to be a Catholic, or convert to become liberated, though some do.” He appealed to the authority of Fr. Gabriele Amorth who “has exorcized Muslims and Hindus on rare occasions, but mentions that he will pray the Ritual using the name of Jesus Christ. ‘I also ask them to fulfill their spiritual duties. For example, Muslims have the obligation to pray and so I tell them to do so'” (p. 149).
So even if a person doesn’t submit to the authority of Jesus Christ, he/she is still supposedly liberated using Christ’s authority. Quite intriguing isn’t it?
Again, Jesus clearly stated that demons are expelled using His name, but this rite appeals more to the authority of Catholic icons of veneration and religious objects.
In the prologue of the book, Baglio recounts an exorcism in which the demon speaking through Anna describes seeing “St” Gemma Galgani, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II and Mary the Queen herself joining the exorcists in the spirit to cast him out (pp. 7-8).
Quite a scintillating conference of spirits. But that’s not all. Baglio also informs us:
“Many exorcists invoke Mary during the Ritual. ‘The demon is so terrified of her that he will never pronounce her name. He’ll say ‘that woman’ or ‘she destroys me,’ says Father Amorth. ‘The Marian prayer, especially the rosary, is a very powerful weapon in the fight against Satan,’ explains Father Bamonte. ‘That is why [Mary] insists so much that we pray the rosary; the rosary is a prayer that really whips the demon into a frenzy’.” (p. 137)
It would seem to us that these demons are rather excited that the exorcists are perpetuating the very deception they wish to plant in the minds of many Catholics. Baglio adds:
“For the Church, these sacred objects (holy water, blessed oil, a crucifix) possess a kind of “power” because they carry the blessing of the Church (p. 119).
In plain terms, this rite is not essentially based on the authority of Jesus Christ. It’s based on the authority of an institutional hierarchy, Mary, saints, objects and like the case of Silvia recounted in the book, the promise of a demon (p. 147).
How Jesus expelled Demons
Without missing words, Jesus never performed an exorcism and was not an exorcist. Exorcism is not even biblical; it was an old Jewish ritual that was observed by the sons of Sceva – who had their clocks cleaned in return (Acts 19:12-16).
Modern exorcisms are marked by rituals, incantations, formulas, liturgies along with incense, holy water, and crucifixes. Sometimes they are interspersed with candle lighting. None of these things can expel demons.
A Roman Catholic publication says:
‘‘Elements of the rite include the Litany of Saints; recitation of the Our Father, one or more creeds, and other prayers; specific prayers of exorcism; the reading of Gospel passages and use of the Sign of the Cross’’ (Matthew Bunson, 2004 Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Almanac. Indiana, 2004, p. 137).
When we compare this complicated Roman ritualism with the simplicity and demonstration of authority with which Jesus and the apostles expelled demons, a striking contrast is seen.
For example, in Mark 1:25, ‘‘Jesus rebuked a demon, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’’’ and he did at that instant.
Again in Mark 9:25, Jesus said, ‘‘I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!’’ The ease and brevity with which Jesus dealt with evil spirits is far from what is being practiced in the rite of exorcism.
The New Testament contains great resources for the believer’s spiritual warfare: the Saviour’s victory at Calvary (John 12:31, Rev. 12:11). The promise of overcoming (1 John 5:4-5; Rev. 21:7). The intercessory ministry of Christ (John 17:15, 20). The knowledge of Satan’s tactics (2 Cor. 2:11). The believer’s spiritual armor (Eph. 6:10-17). The Holy Spirit’s indwelling power (1 John 4:4). The believer’s prayers (Matt. 6:13; Eph. 6:18-20; Mark 9:29). The instructions for defeating Satan (James 4:7-8) and the stripping of Satan and his ranks of their powers at Calvary (Col. 2:15).
Having abandoned and rejected these spiritual weapons that are mighty through God to deal with the powers of darkness, Roman Catholicism has as substitutes, carnal weapons, religious paraphernalia, fetishism and rituals that are rooted in medieval mythology and ethnic folklore.
Such traditional rites were known in the time of Christ, He simply didn’t acknowledge them.
Jesus refused to endorse their superstition and cryptic formulas because it has always been the work of devil to complicate things that are otherwise simple – especially receiving spiritual freedom.
The Jews in the time of Jesus believed demons dwelt in crumbs so Jesus had the apostles gather up the leftover bread to enjoy it.
The Jews believed demons dwelt on unwashed hands, but Jesus did not insist on ceremonial hand washing.
The Jews believed that demons prowled in deserted places, but that is exactly where Jesus goes to enjoy
communion with God the Father.
They believed that demons infested Samaria, so Jesus boldly went there. He intentionally negated these rules because they are based on human wisdom and devoid of spiritual value (William Alexander, Demonic Possession in the New Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1980, pp. 28-29).
On the other hand, Rome’s belief in the “power” of the Eucharist, rosaries, medals, “holy” water, incense and images of the Virgin to vanquish demons are vestiges of older folk or sympathetic magic as well as subjective demonic manifestations.
Rome’s failed experiments
If the exorcist is actually representing or imitating the Jesus of the Bible, then the results of these exorcisms should match what we see in the Gospels.
In The Rite, Baglio makes at least seven references to fruitless exorcisms (all emphasis mine):
• A group of Catholic charismatics in Italy who tried to cast out an evil spirit from a man. “Without warning, the demon turned on them saying, ‘Who are you?’ Then he launched a bookcase at them, sending them all
to the emergency room with injuries.” (p. 63)
• A demon possessed nun named Janica who has been exorcised for 9 years without a headway (pp. 99-102).
• A statement credited to Fr. Amorth, the late Vatican foremost exorcist: “I have people that I’ve been exorcising for twenty years” (p. 130).
• A statement credited to Fr. Carmine: “the hardest thing is that the liberation never happens right away. Sometimes you need years and years, and this methodical perseverance is not only very tiring, but the demon takes advantage of it…’” (p. 134).
• Giovanna who “had been undergoing exorcisms for more than forty years, and her case was considered one of the most severe…” (p. 142).
• Beatrice who had a “grueling two-year battle involving weekly exorcisms” (p. 151). The evidence offered in support of her liberation is as deluded as her visions during the rite itself.
• Stephanie who was said to have been sexually abused by her father and was demonized. She and her husband, Chris, “searched for other priests who might be willing to help them but had been turned away each time” (pp. 170-177). They eventually didn’t receive any help.
• Maria, a twenty-seven-year-old originally from Honduras, who had been seeing demons and hearing them tell her, “You belong to us!” After the exorcism, her mother told Fr. Gary that “her daughter’s reaction to the prayers had been similar to the [pagan] exorcism in Honduras, this time it was much more intense.” (pp. 177-178). That gives little or no hope.
Neither Jesus nor the apostles spent months or years in expelling demons from people. Yet the diary of the Catholic exorcist is laden with clients who struggle fruitlessly for decades to be free from defeated foes.
In a bid to offer a convenient excuse for these failed experiments, Baglio says God “does permit it [demon possession] for some good purpose (similar to temptation).”
He cements this with a quote from John Chrysostom, “Possessed persons can obtain a twofold benefit from their condition. In the first place they can become more holy and good; secondly, having paid the debt for their sins here on earth, they can present themselves pure before the Lord.” (p. 47).
This is a colossal tragedy. Imagine being told week after week by a religious system you trust that God who sent Jesus to deliver the oppressed and destroy the works of the devil relishes your demonized state of suffering and this is how the debt of your sins will be cleared!
This is a doomed religious vessel; a destructive cage that every truth-seeking Catholic must escape from.
This work is not how exorcists are made, it’s how deceivers are schooled and the deceived are groomed.