Exorcism in the Catholic Church

Further information: Exorcism in Christianity
Painting by Francisco Goya of Saint Francis Borgia performing an exorcism.

Exorcism in the Catholic Church is the use of exorcism in the Roman Catholic faith for those who are believed to be the victims of demonic possession. In Roman Catholicism, exorcism is sacramental[1][2] but not a sacrament, unlike baptism or confession. Unlike a sacrament, exorcism's "integrity and efficacy do not depend ... on the rigid use of an unchanging formula or on the ordered sequence of prescribed actions. Its efficacy depends on two elements: authorization from valid and licit Church authorities, and the faith of the exorcist."[3] The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism."[2]

The Catholic Church revised the Rite of Exorcism in January 1999, though the traditional Rite of Exorcism in Latin is allowed as an option. The ritual assumes that possessed persons retain their free will, though the demon may hold control over their physical body, and involves prayers, blessings, and invocations with the use of the document Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications.

Solemn exorcisms, according to the Canon law of the Church, can be exercised only by an ordained priest (or higher prelate), with the express permission of the local bishop, and only after a careful medical examination to exclude the possibility of mental illness.[4] The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) enjoined: "Superstition ought not to be confounded with religion, however much their history may be interwoven, nor magic, however white it may be, with a legitimate religious rite." Things listed in the Roman Ritual as being indicators of possible demonic possession include: speaking foreign or ancient languages of which the possessed has no prior knowledge; supernatural abilities and strength; knowledge of hidden or remote things which the possessed has no way of knowing; an aversion to anything holy; and profuse blasphemy and/or sacrilege.


In the 15th century, Catholic exorcists were both priestly and lay, since every Christian was considered as having the power to command demons and drive them out in the name of Christ. These exorcists used the Benedictine formula "Vade retro satana" ("Step back, Satan") around this time. By the late 1960s, Roman Catholic exorcisms were seldom performed in the United States, but by the mid-1970s, popular film and literature revived interest in the ritual, with thousands claiming demonic possession. Maverick priests who belonged to fringes took advantage of the increase in demand and performed exorcisms with little or no official sanction. The exorcisms that they performed were, according to Contemporary American Religion, “clandestine, underground affairs, undertaken without the approval of the Catholic Church and without the rigorous psychological screening that the church required. In subsequent years, the Church took more aggressive action on the demon-expulsion front.”[5] In 2014, the Roman Catholic organization, International Association of Exorcists, received the approval of the Vatican.[6]

When an exorcism is needed

Exorcism of St Benedict by Spinello Aretino, 1387.

According to the Vatican guidelines issued in 1999, “the person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness.”[7] Most reported cases do not require an exorcism because twentieth-century Catholic officials regard genuine demonic possession as an extremely rare phenomenon that is easily confounded with natural mental disturbances. Many times a person just needs spiritual or medical help, especially if drugs or other addictions are present. After the need of the person has been determined then the appropriate help will be met. In the circumstance of spiritual help, prayers may be offered, or the laying on of hands or a counseling session may be prescribed. The exorcist might not perform an exorcism if he doesn't know the person.


Signs of demonic invasion vary depending on the type of demon and its purpose, including:

  1. Loss or lack of appetite
  2. Cutting, scratching, and biting of skin
  3. A cold feeling in the room
  4. Unnatural bodily postures and change in the person's face and body
  5. The possessed losing control of their normal personality and entering into a frenzy or rage, and/or attacking others
  6. Change in the person's voice
  7. Supernatural physical strength not subject to the person's build or age
  8. Speaking or understanding another language which they had never learned before
  9. Knowledge of things that are distant or hidden
  10. Prediction of future events (sometimes through dreams)
  11. Levitation and moving of objects / things
  12. Expelling of objects / things
  13. Intense hatred and violent reaction toward all religious objects or items
  14. Antipathy towards entering a church, speaking Jesus' name or hearing scripture.

Process of the exorcism

In the process of an exorcism the person possessed may be restrained so that they do not harm themselves or any person present. The exorcist then prays and commands for the demons to retreat. The Catholic Priest recites certain prayers the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Athanasian Creed. Exorcists follow procedures listed in the ritual of the exorcism revised by the Vatican in 1999. Seasoned exorcists use the Rituale Romanum as a starting point, not always following the prescribed formula exactly.[8] The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained describes that an exorcism was a confrontation and not simply a prayer and once it has begun it has to finish no matter how long it takes. If the exorcist stops the rite, then the demon will pursue him which is why the process being finished is so essential.[9] After the exorcism has been finished the person possessed feels a “kind of release of guilt and feels reborn and freed of sin.” [10] Not all exorcisms are successful the first time; it could take days, weeks, or months of constant prayer and exorcisms.

On this subject, there is the 2009 book by journalist Matt Baglio called The Rite, which inspired the film The Rite.[11][12][13][14]

Notable examples

See also


  1. p.43 An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriele Amorth; Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999.
  2. 1 2 Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1673
  3. Martin M. (1976) Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans. Harper San Francisco. Appendix one "The Roman Ritual of Exorcism" p.459 ISBN 0-06-065337-X
  5. Cuneo, Michael W. (Jan 1999). "Exorcism". Contemporary American Religion. 1 (New York: Macmillan Reference USA): 243.
  6. Williams, PH.D., Thomas D. (28 October 2014). "Pope Blesses Work of Exorcists". Big Peace. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  7. Goodstein, Laurie (Nov 13, 2010). "For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism is Revised". New York Times.
  8. The Rite, by Matt Baglio; Doubleday, New York, 2009.
  9. Steiger, Brad (2003). "Exorcism". The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. 1: 204–209.
  10. Steiger, Brad (2003). "Demonic Invasions". The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. 1: 179.
  11. http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1885372,00.html
  12. http://www.examiner. com/article/the-rite-by-matt-baglio-a-review
  13. http://catholicspotlight.com/545/cs125-matt-baglio-the-rite/
  14. http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/9317
  15. "Planned Polish Exorcism Center Sparks Interest in Germany". DW. Retrieved 31 July 2013.

Further reading

  • Baglio, Matt (2009). The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist. Doubleday. 
  • Blatty, William Peter (1972). The Exorcist. Bantam Books. 
  • Dickason, C. Fred (1989). Demon Possession & The Christian. Crossway Books. 
  • Karpel, Craig (1975). The Rite of Exorcism: The Complete Text. Berkley Books. 
  • Kinnaman, Gary (1994). Angels Dark and Light. Servant Publications. 
  • McGinn, Bernard (1994). Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil. HarperSanFrancisco. 
  • MacNutt, Francis (1995). Deliverance from Evil. 
  • Martin, Malachi (1976). Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans. 
  • Nicola, John J. (1974). Diabolical Possession and Exorcism. 
  • Richardson, James T.; Best, Joel; Bromley, David G., eds. (1991). The Satanism Scare. 

External links

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