Father Vincent Lambert from Brookville, Indiana, seems to have unwittingly become the face of exorcism in his part of the Midwest. He spent three months in Rome, training in the ancient rite with a Franciscan colleague, and during that time he witnessed 40 exorcisms. In 2005, he was officially named the exorcist of the Diocese of Indianapolis.
“I tell people I got the job because I was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he jokes.
He says that he’s seen an increase in requests for exorcisms, something he blames on fewer people adhering to religious faith.
“As faith is in decline, there may be more people who open themselves up to the reality of evil,” he says.
As the fictitious Father Damien Karras explains to Chris MacNeil in the The Exorcist, getting an exorcism isn’t simply a matter of asking for one. There’s a process, and the priest performing the rite is at once tasked with collecting the evidence of a demonic possession, then with ruling out other causes for the afflictions of the person who is purportedly demon-possessed; mental illness being at the top of that list.
Or as Father Lambert explains it, it’s his job to be a skeptic.
“I should be the last one to believe that a person is up against the forces of evil,” he says.
Once an exorcism is begun, he says, the person performing it is duty-bound to see it through, lest a bad situation is made worse, he says. Which is why these types of things are best left to the professionals.
So what is the Church looking for when considering whether or not there’s demon possession afoot and an exorcism is required? Father Lambert says the first signs of such “manifestations” are eyes rolling into the back of the head, eyes turning black, foaming at the mouth, and bodily contortions.
Other signs of possible demonic possession include the person displaying strength beyond what is normally within the capabilities of a human; resistance to sacred objects such as crosses or holy water; speaking in a language they’ve never studied; or knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise be privy to.
Not only is the need for exorcisms on the rise, but at least one priest says that the time required to perform them is on the increase as well, as The Catholic News Agency reported in 2018.