The Vatican has created a new training course in exorcism for priests to respond to a tripling in the demand for the ritual. The Daily Beast reports that a Sicilian priest and exorcist, Benigno Palilla, told Vatican Radio that Italy has about 500,000 exorcism cases of demonic possession every year. Palilla blamed the surge on the growing popularity of tarot readers and fortune tellers “who open the door to the devil and to possession.”
But Newsweek adds that the Italian priest also said that the demonic possession could be caused by spiritual and psychological problems.
Palilla went on to say that the training is needed because priests without adequate knowledge and experience can make devastating mistakes during exorcisms.
“A self-taught exorcist certainly meets errors,” he said. “I will say more: it would also take a period of apprenticeship, as happens for many professionals.”
As the Catholic Herald notes, an exorcism is actually a form of prayer that is used by a priest to fight against demonic power. Exorcists are deployed when a person is deemed to be under the control of the devil. During the ritual, the priest, the representative of The Church asks Jesus to free the soul from the Devil’s dominion. While there’s no direct scriptural outline for the practice, exorcism is based on the ministry of Jesus on earth, the Catholic Herald reports. Beyond his death, the driving out of demonic spirits was conducted by some of his disciples.
There are two forms of exorcisms. There’s the simple or minor form that’s conducted when preparing children for baptism. The solemn or major form of exorcism is the one that has been sensationalized in classic horror movies. In this rite, normally performed by a bishop or priest, the evil spirits are directly addressed through prayer and driven from the body, The Church claims.
Palilla expressed that the goal of the course is to shine a light on a practice that is often shrouded in mystery and controversy.
The Vatican added exorcism to official church canon in 2014 when The Church gave its formal recognition of the International Association of Exorcists. The association is an offshoot of a group that was first established by The Vatican’s former Chief Exorcist, Father Gabriel Amorth. According to Newsweek, there 200 members of the International Association of Exorcists on six continents.
The new exorcism course will take place at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in April.