Pope Francis is, in many ways, seen as a completely modern, progressive leader of the Catholic Church, but he still wholly approves of the need for exorcists within his church.
A total of 300 members of the International Association of Exorcists attended a meeting at the Vatican this week to focus on the impact of the occult and Satanism on people today, the Catholic Sun reported. The IAE, founded in 1990 by Father Gabriele Amorth, the diocese of Rome's own exorcist, was formally recognized by the Vatican just this last June. The Vatican's approval and recognition for the International Association of Exorcists was a "cause for joy not only for the association, but for the whole Church," said Father Francesco Bamonte, the president of the IAE.
In a message written to Father Bamonte, Pope Francis said that priests who practice exorcism "manifest the Church's love and acceptance of those who suffer because of the devil's works."
According to Father Dwight Longenecker, a parish priest from South Carolina, exorcism is "a highly unusual ministry for a situation in the human condition, which is quite rare, but it's growing in frequency." He is not a exorcist himself, but supports the practice.
In an interview with LiveScience, Father Longenecker compared exorcism to a medical treatment, saying, "Exorcism is a little bit like brain surgery in the spiritual realm." He added that real exorcisms aren't as dramatic as Hollywood would like most people to believe, but that movies like The Exorcist do actually show a version of events that actually do happen during an exorcism.
According to Longenecker, signs that a person may be possessed include an extreme aversion to anything to do with the church, such as holy water or crucifixes, inhuman strength or sudden knowledge, alien voices, levitation and other paranormal phenomena.
However, exorcists always look for a "natural explanation" first, such as addiction or mental illness.
In fact, modern exorcists are experienced not just in spiritual matters but in matters of psychology, as well. The job requires specialized training and an understanding of the human psyche as well as the human spirit.
Exorcisms are not always successful. In fact, exorcisms have been harmful -- and even fatal -- in some cases. Some argue the failures are due to the involvement of untrained exorcists, as news reports have attested. There was an incident in Maryland where a woman stabbed two toddlers to death in a bizarre exorcism ritual. In 2011, a Virginia man was convicted in the death of his 2-year-old daughter for beating her to death in an attempt to rid her of demons, according to news reports.
However, the practice of exorcism, while rare, is still going strong in the Catholic Church, as this recent meeting shows.
[Image via The Last Exorcism]