The Exorcism Series

Part 1 “The Encounter”

By Dr. Glenville Ashby
President of the Trinidad and Tobago Interfaith Council International

©2013, All Rights Reserved”
First Published: Sunday | April 28, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Jamaica Gleaner

This series is republished here by permission of Dr. Glenville Ashby. For personal use only, not for reprint, publishing or sale.

An Excerpt Taken from the Roman Exorcism Rite

Deus, humáni géneris cónditor atque defénsor
Réspice super hunc fámulum tuum
Quem ad tuam imaginem formásti
Et tuae vocas glóriae consórtium
vetus adversáries eum dire torque acri ópprimit vi
Saevo terróre contúrbat
Mitte super eum Spiritum Sanctum tuum

God, Defender and Creator of Humankind
Look Upon your servant who you created in your image
And whom you have called to participate in your glory
The old Enemy torments him terribly and oppresses him with great terror.
Send Upon him your Holy Spirit…..

Its midday in Vatican City and a cool wind meanders through alleys ways of cobbled-stoned streets, lined with outdoor cafes. I sit, patiently awaiting the arrival of the Exorcist. It wasn’t before long, that a bespectacled, almost nondescript figure appears. He identifies me from the crowd enjoying the culinary experience. He is particular, determined that his real identity not be revealed. I am forced to refer to him by a pseudonym and tuck my camera away, safely. Soon, I understand why.

Fr Peter Tollona receives a deluge of requests for exorcism, hundreds, weekly, whenever he grants an interview. “I have been in this ministry for some time now, and there has never been such a need for inner healing, and deliverance from emotional and mental pain. There is a real demand from people demanding release from infestation and possession.”

Father Tollona is a Jesuit who serves in Ireland. Today, he is attending the much hyped annual Exorcism Programme at the Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum. He is a quiet man, prudent and deliberate in his words, almost self-effacing. His work is primarily pastoral in nature, but he also offers healing and deliverance from evil influences through Prayers of Liberation, before ever attempting the solemn Rite of Major Exorcism.

Deliverance, he notes, has a broader connotation. “Any lay person or non-catholic can perform deliverance as long as they live in accordance with biblical principles, and are bestowed a particular charism. You can say prayers that are divinely inspired.” He advises everyone to receive this blessing because “we are weak and need strength from a higher source to resist temptations that are always with us.”

He demystifies the ritualism of exorcism. “During a baptism or the sacrament of confession, the priest prays for the removal of hidden or manifest evil. The same is done during the sacrament for the sick, which was called extreme unction.” These comprise what he called Minor Exorcism.

“What’s increasing,” he adds, “are mental pathologies, caused by our modern lifestyle, where belief in God is non-existent, or given marginal consideration. We are now confronting more cases of possession where the Roman Rite of Exorcism, reserved only for priests, must be performed.”

Fr Tollona is quick to point out that secularism and the proliferation of New Age philosophy has attributed to the breaking of thin line separating us from the spirit world. “Indulgence in Ouija boards, pendulums, tarot cards, has always been a problem. Now with the influx of Eastern philosophy and practices, such as Reiki, Feng Shui, and Kundalini Yoga, with the intention of manipulating energy centers inside and outside the body, there is an increase in spiritual obsessions, that, left unchecked, result in full blown possession.”

He goes on to outline degrees of spiritual malaise – infestation, vexation, obsession – before one succumbs to full blown possession, which he admits is rare.

In cases of infestations, he states that “”there is a sense of fear, anxiety, panic, paralysis at the point of falling to sleep, disturbing dreams.” Poltergeist activities are also mentioned.
Vexation, he defines as “an inextricable sense of doom and failure,” – a kind of curse that destroys relations between friends and relatives. On the other hand, the obsessed individuals are beleaguered by visual and auditory hallucinations, “although they are still functional.” Under these three conditions, Prayers of Liberation are performed.

The renowned exorcist stressed that determining an authentic case of possession is a painstaking process, as many psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia, have similar symptoms. “Each case is examined differently.” That an independent psychiatrist be involved in the diagnosis is mandatory, he says. “There are definitive signs, though, for example: the display of superhuman strength; clairvoyance or the ability to know intimate information; speaking an archaic language or languages that one has never studied, with stunning proficiency; levitation; the appearance of bodily lesions, and an virulent aversion to anything sacred. The bottom line is that we are faced with situations that cannot be explained medically or physically.”

He concedes that performing the Roman Rite, which requires the consent of a Diocesan Bishop can be exhausting and requires patience. The exorcist, he explains, is advised against bargaining, or negotiating with inhabiting spirits.

He also notes that while evil spirits can control your body, it cannot control the soul, unless you voluntarily surrender it. “There are individuals we call, ‘perfectly possessed.’ They appear regular…normal folks, but they have given their life, their will and soul to the evil one, in a conscious, voluntary way. You know, the dark side promises you many, many things. It is impossible to deliver such persons, unless they revoke their covenant.”

Fr Tollona denounces all form of magical, spiritist practices. “The problem here is that some people attempt to control spirits, but that’s an illusion. The irony is that they are the ones being controlled.” He acknowledges that there are sensitive individuals, who, through dreams, the trance state, or visions, can bring messages from the beyond, with God’s permission.

“You know there is a thin line between the physical and spiritual worlds,” he reiterates, referring to the life of Maria Simma of Austria as “the perfect example.” These “interactions with the incorporeal,” he argues, oftentimes, heal wounds, and reconcile differences among family members and friends. These gifted persons can also deliver messages from souls in purgatory who need prayers and our healing thoughts. These “spirits” he explains, “are not damned,” and through spiritual intercession, will move on to a better place.

He calls individuals who have this uncanny ability to bridge the two worlds, “very special,” and defining their attributes as simple, pious and humble. “They are not vainglorious and never request a penny for their services. It is a gift that has come very naturally, and is really a blessing from God.”

Part 2 “A Case for Mental Illness or Possession”

One of Italy’s foremost exorcists and theology professor, Father Francois Dermine held court. The many exorcists in the room were glued to his every word. The medical practitioners, anthropologists, clerics and handful of journalists were equally transfixed.

“Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padro Pio), once said that over half of those committed to mental institutions are not medically sick, but obsessed or possessed,” he ventured. It was a provocative claim that many today hold true. In fact, some believe the figures to be much higher. According to the Australian based Spiritual Science Research Foundation, a staggering 85% of all our problems are rooted in the metaphysical world.

Fr Dermine welcomed the revival of exorcism in modern society but warned that its success can be realized only through faith, piety, and the ability of priests to discern possession from a psychotic or neurotic episode. How then do we distinguish the fine line between pathologies and the preternatural?

To elucidate these complex scenarios, he presented the case of a 32 year old married woman – a psychologist – who attended a meeting with the Italian based, Movement of Hope, a controversial group that offers comfort to bereaving parents, by conducting séances. The result was disastrous.

He recounted the mentally debilitating impact of the auditory and visual hallucinations – the threatening and taunting voices that drove the “petrified” woman down an emotional abyss. Waging an implacable battle with insomnia, exhaustion, fear, and loss of faith, she edged toward suicide. These “voices” are never sources of inspiration, like the fabled muse, as some “Hearing Voices Networks,” advocate. They are “hellish,” and bent on “destruction.”

Thinking that she was “crazy,” she sought the counsel of a colleague, an experienced cognitive psychologist, whose diagnostic testing eliminated schizophrenia or a bi-polar episode. This is when she solicited the help of Fr Dermine who immediately performed Prayers of Liberation, which included “The Hail Mary,” and “Come Holy Spirit.” The reaction, according to the exorcist, was “shocking.” The woman, placed in a seated position, was said to have oscillated at a lightning speed, indicating that “something more than physical or psychological was involved.” An exorcism had to be performed.

The exorcist presented this case to emphasize the importance of discernment – the ability to know when spiritual treatment is the best recourse He criticized “doubting” priests, and the emerging rationalism and intellectualism in the Church that have led to transferring genuine cases of spiritual obsession and possession to psychiatrists whose panacea is psychotropic medication. This “woeful practice” he called “liquidating the spiritually sick.”

He said that the administration of psychotropic drugs in these situations creates crises that can “really throw individuals over the deep end.” In these cases, he asserted that drugs do not work, but exacerbate the condition.

“Psychotropic medications,” he said, are needed in particular situations but can be disastrous for the obsessed or possessed persons.” He was confident in saying that many spiritually diseased persons are misdiagnosed and heavily medicated by psychiatrists who are dismissive of the spiritual dimension of mental illness. At the same time, he conceded that there are cases rooted “in both the psychological and spiritual dimensions.”

As such, he called on exorcists, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers to work together in designing a therapeutic approach peculiar to the patient. He counseled priests involved in the ministry to be aware of patients who become addicted to “the Rite being performed on them and ignore their medication.” He called this a “perilous development that must be immediately addressed.

“Father Dermine also exhorted priests to strengthen their theological faith, their humility and piety.  “The Evil One will know the sins and weaknesses of the exorcists and reveal them, destroying the credibility of the priest and in effect, destroying all efforts to remove the victim from his clutches.”

He referred to the “alarming statistics by the Italian Catholic Psychiatric Association that showed 500,000 individuals visit exorcists every year for help, and a staggering 12 million people seek the counsel of tarot card readers, witches, and occultists, whom he called “the main cause of spiritual malaise.”

Of occult practitioners, he opined that “some extraneous element is involved,” referring to “the counterfeit power of dark forces.” The inclusion of a new category in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual 1V (The Bible of Psychiatry), called Religious and Spiritual Problem, he believed, is testament to the rise of occultism, including Eastern practices, with “its energy-based religious disciplines that unlock doors of the mind,” of unsuspecting Western devotees who have little understanding of these spiritual traditions.

He said that with a mere 200 exorcists in Italy, it is impossible to address every case. However, he stated that the majority of cases do not require an exorcism and can be treated with Prayers of Liberation, “that can cause reactions, such as vomiting, but in the end, usually provide the spiritual quietude needed.”

But, in few cases, he stated, reciting these prayers over “an anguished soul,” can elicit behaviours consistent with possession, such as violent physical agitation, glossolalia, and clairvoyance.

In many situations, he noted, obsessed persons are very functional, and unlike schizophrenics and individuals suffering with dissociated disorders, “who have lost a grip” on reality and will not respond to prayers. He assailed “renegade” priests who perform exorcisms without express mandate of the Diocesan Bishop. He said that such priests are “playing with fire,” because they don’t have the efficacious and “timeless” prayers of the Church behind them during the grueling tests of will between good and evil.
The Exorcism prayers and formula cannot be improvised, he cautioned. He also exhorted priests to exercise prudence. He said that public exorcisms should not be performed because they risk “spiritual infection” and hysteria. He confided his knowledge of cases involving priests who have been “adversely affected physically and mentally because of their indiscipline and their go-it-alone attitude.”

Can trained, pious exorcists be defeated? Fr Dermine did not rule it out. The Devil is wily, intelligent and dangerous, he conceded, adding that the fate  of the exorcist is ultimately in the hands of God – but an omnipotent and unfailing God who will deliver victory to His servant.

Part 3 “Criminal Gangs and the Occult: A Global threat says Criminologist”

Criminologist Dr Enrico de Simone of Verona, Italy, warned of a growing threat posed by criminal gangs that are increasingly hiring shamans and occultists for protection against rivals and law enforcement. He painted a disturbing social scenario of dysfunctional families and emotionally starved youth who fall victim to gangs notorious for dabbling in the occult arts, libertinism and criminal activities.

“There is a frightening trend in mixing the occult, drugs and crime,” he said. “We must understand the underlying causes that bewitch young people into joining gangs that are led by manipulative criminals and pseudo-religionists and shamans.” He identified isolation, loneliness, lack of attention and love as the breeding ground for disillusioned youths. “The limitless reach of the internet,” he added, “has made worsened the problem for law enforcement.

“Today, it is difficult to make a distinction between criminal and occult gangs,” he explained. “What we should note is how these gangs creep into the lives of vulnerable youths. Basically, they offer solutions to their disaffection.”

Dr de Simone referred to the method of seduction as “love bombing,” where attention is showered on the prospective member. “It is a disarming process that can take some time. Trust and camaraderie are shored up and all needs are met, one of which could be a drug habit.” The world renowned criminologist explained that with “constant grooming,” contact with the outside world is severed, and “family members become strangers, even enemies.” At the point, the new member, whose identity has now been shredded, has lost all ability to resist the new demands of the group’s leadership.

Dr de Simone stated that today’s criminal gangs indulge in more than drugs and gun trafficking. He has seen evidence of black magic, Satanism, and elements of religious practices found in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. He detailed a crude mélange of indigenous and traditional religious elements borrowed from Santeria, Santo Daime, and Voodoo, with paraphernalia from rites of the Black Mass. During these ceremonies, hallucinogens are used to increase spiritual power and garner protection from spirits during the planning and commission of crimes.

He stated that criminal activities vary in gravity but usually involve the destruction of property, drug trafficking, theft, defiling the dead, stealing pieces of cadavers, necromancy and armed clashes with other gangs. The use of potent drugs, he explained, are meant to connect users to spirits who serve as their guardians creating a feeling of grandiosity and invincibility.

“Drugs bring us down to our base, animalistic self.” He attributed the marked increase in drugs in occult related crimes to “the international drug trade controlled by the Italian and Russian Mafia, and now the Gypsies, along with local crime syndicates in every country.”
His work has brought him to abandoned homes and churches; and forested areas where he has seen images of Baphomet (a pagan deity, also used to symbolize the Church of Satan), drums, black candles, circles hexagrams, pentagrams (intended to invoke spiritual forces), carcasses, syringes, altars, amulets, Halloween- like masks, and other occult paraphernalia.

Dr DeSimone’s expertise has taken him to several countries to assist law enforcement in combating this new configuration of criminal gangs. He elaborated that with the introduction of the occult and hallucinogens in criminal gangs, there has been an increase in mania and suicide among gang members. ‘There is a strong distortion of reality in these cases,” he noted, “as members have taken their lives in these spasms of mental dissociation.”

He identified a well-orchestrated plan of action by the gang’s leadership that prevents frightened members from leaving. “Leaders use video recorders, audio tapes and cameras to capture members perpetrating violent crimes, indulging in sexual acts of minors, group sex, and other improprieties. This evidence is used to manipulate members…It is a kind of extortion.”
He also stated that particulars of members’ families are known, and, as such, they become the target of threats and violence if members second guess their involvement in criminal activities. They are also reluctant to take the witness stand when charges are brought against the group’s leadership. “This is why it’s so difficult to infiltrate and dismantle these syndicates,” he offered.
“There is a real climate of intimidation. That is why a witness protection programme and therapy are urgently needed to rehabilitate psychologically scared former members.”

He warned parents to be more attentive to “indicators.” He singled out “vampire marks,” “tattoos,” “eating disorders,” “drug and alcohol use,” “symbols drawn on school books and notebooks,” “cuts on the body,” and “recurring illnesses, such as diarrhea.”

He advised that a multidisciplinary team of law enforcement, pastoral counselors and social workers should devise comprehensive strategies to address what he called, “a growing problem that threatens the stability of societies around the world.

Part 4 “The Psychology of Possession”

Dr Chris Howard’s youthful look and casual demeanor belie his experiential knowledge in the area of possession and the dynamics of the mind. He is an author, professor of psychopharmacology and psycho-biology at Antioch University in Santa Barbara. Add quantitative EEG Diplomat to his long list of credentials.

Dr Howard is also actively involved in evaluating candidates for exorcism at the Diocese’s Deliverance Centers in Santa Barbara. He is understandably self assured, even pedantic at times. “Of all the cases I have evaluated, I have confronted only one case that meets the criteria for an exorcism,” he said. He emphasized the essentiality of psychological treatment in many of the cases presented to him.  However, he cautioned that psychological disorders and possessions are not mutually exclusive and can interface each other. “I have to be skeptical whenever I am confronted with case of possession. To ensure that a patient receives the best care, I have to use all the psychological tools at my disposal. Not that I am a disbeliever,” he said. “In fact,” he continued, “I am a Roman Catholic with substantive credence in the preternatural.” He then related a case that adversely affected him, a case that triggered a spiritual infestation at his home.

“I was in the room where the victim displayed physically impossible movements, spoke in a language to which he was never exposed and foamed voluminously from the mouth.” Dr Howard then detailed inexplicable psychokinetic phenomena at his home after that disturbing encounter earlier in the day. “The entire experience took a toll on me physically and mentally,” he conceded.

However, true to his scientific grounding, he remains concerned that many are misdiagnosed because they exhibit symptoms of genuine possession.
“Any diagnosis must be thorough, taking into consideration an in depth history of the afflicted client, and include psychological and neurological testing, and brain imaging. He referred to the procedure as “vital,” before any definitive course of treatment is prescribed. He believed that a team comprising culturally competent mental health professionals, in collaboration with the clergy, is the key to healing and recovery.

Dr Howard cautioned that, schizophrenics; individuals affected by head injuries and Tourette syndrome; and those impacted by sexual trauma and conversion disorders, can easily be labeled as possessed, and are often times “fodder for those who see demons everywhere.”

Dr Howard believed that with the influx of immigrants to the US with their cultural perspective of the physical and metaphysical world, it has become essential for clinicians to be adaptive and to devise new modalities to address psycho-religious disorders. “I have seen well intentioned clergy and incompetent mental health practitioners, misdiagnosing and demonising individuals who are really victims of their own culture that is rooted spiritual abuse, fear, control, the occult and superstition.”
Conversely, he cautioned against a purely pharmacological response to psycho-spiritual cases.

Dr Howard opined that more credence should be given to the creative and destructive power of belief and thoughts; and that faulty diagnosis can exacerbate an illness. He noted the measurable neurophysiologic impact of the placebo effect on the brain. He considered this finding “very instructive,” and argued that discerning the difference between real possessions from destructive self induced symptoms brought on my strong belief in curses, devils, and other deeply embedded thought forms, can become part of a cultural psyche that is difficult to treat.

“That is why there is a need for an inter-cultural approach – one that gives that gives social workers a broader range of tools and training to better understand those in need of psychological help as opposed to a genuine spiritual rescue.”

He noted that there is a prevalence of “false positives,” where many are said to be in need of exorcism, “when this was clearly not the case.”

During the course of his work, he identified several cases to support his argument. “I have seen epileptics who have not taken their medication; sexual abuse victims who experience sensory phenomena – smells and sounds…..really flashbacks of their traumatic experience; and physically abused women in machismo societies, who have suddenly erupt vocally, vehemently and uncontrollably. There are also cases of dissociation, again caused by trauma; auditory and visual hallucinations brought on by alcohol and illicit drug abuse; and cases where young people are emotionally scarred due to a lack of love, attention and support.”

He advocated that therapists should stay the course with clinical treatment with medications and EEG feedback, but are obligated to explore other strategies if there is no improvement. At this juncture, he noted, it is advisable to seek a theological solution.

“That’s the 1% who is in need of an exorcist,” he said.