Clergy take lessons on demonic possession, exorcism

The rite, those few priests who have performed it say, can unfold as a quiet prayer session or a show of violence.

The afflicted person may curse the cleric, speak in a voice not his or her own, even assume facial features that one priest described as “reptilian.”

But in the great majority of cases in which a Catholic seeks an exorcism, church officials say, what the person really needs is help of a less dramatic nature: a doctor, a therapist or simple pastoral counseling.

With some parishes seeing an increase in claims of demonic possession in the United States, the Roman Catholic Church is training its clergy in how to respond to requests for the ancient rite. More than 100 bishops and priests attended a November workshop on the subject in Baltimore.

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, who organized the two-day, closed-door event at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, says pastors need help discerning the difference between those who need an exorcist and those who only believe they do.

The goal, he says, was to help the clergy counsel people who believe they are possessed by a demon by referring them to a physician, a therapist, or — in very rare cases, he stresses — an exorcist.

“We have only a small number of priests who have any training in this area in the United States,” said Paprocki, who heads the Diocese of Springfield, Ill. “Every diocese should really have its own resources.”

While no one is keeping statistics, he says anecdotal reports suggest that the phenomenon of people claiming to be possessed “seems to have increased in the last five years or so”  …

Read the full article by Arthur Hirsch in The Baltimore Sun (January 10, 2011).