Post-Exorcism Care: A Suggested Program of Pastoral Care for Liberated Persons

The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).1

Introduction 

Jesus’ work of redemption took him into a direct confrontation with that great dragon . . . that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12:9). When Jesus healed people, he healed their bodies as well as their spirits. The Synoptic Gospels record nine distinct exorcisms performed by Jesus.2 Before his ascension to the Father, Jesus stated that everyone believing in Him would be able to expel demons (cfr. Mark 16:17), a power that his disciples exercised not in their own names, “but in the name of the One who had bestowed it upon them” (USCCB). The Church has exercised this power of exorcising demons throughout history by means of various rituals and ministers, lay and clerical, male and female.3 The Church has an explanation given by Jesus in light of its power over all of the demons, in that command the Church received from Him to exorcise or cast out demons (Palilla).

In 2016, Cardinal Salvatore de Giorgi,4 addressing the Regional Convention of Sicilian Exorcists, said:

Today more than ever the ministry of exorcism is among the most necessary and urgent for the Church in its missionary expanse to the existential, material, and above all, moral peripheries as the sacramental extension of Jesus, Doctor of souls and bodies, who has not ceased and will not cease to deliver the possessed . . . If the spiritual works of mercy joined to the corporal works of mercy make up steps along the [2016] Jubilee [of Mercy] pilgrimage, as recommended by the Pope, we find amongst them that of consoling the afflicted; that is, the ministry of exorcism and the most exalted work of consolation, because it is oriented towards the most physically and spiritually afflicted of all, those tormented by the devil (Palilla).

This paper will consider the exorcism ministry of the Church as a special work of spiritual mercy, focusing on the pastoral care that people suffering from demonic possession should receive from the Church once the exorcism is completed and liberation from demonic powers is achieved.

Very Brief History of Exorcism in the Catholic Church

An exorcism is a specific form of prayer that the Church uses against the power of the devil (USCCB). It is the act of driving out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, or things, and the means employed for this purpose, especially the solemn and authoritative adjuration of the possessing demon, in the name of God (Toner). It is the Church’s public and authoritative call 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 (CCC 1673). The exorcism of a possessed person is a “major exorcism,” and as directed by Catholic canon law, only a bishop or a priest enjoying the special and express permission of the local ordinary can perform the rite (CIC 1172).

Numerous Church Fathers and other early ecclesiastical writers, in accordance with New Testament precedents, confess their belief in demonic activity, possession, and exorcisms performed not only by the clergy, but also by lay people. The early Fathers and writers appealed to the effectiveness of Christian exorcisms as a proof of the divine origin of the Christian faith (cfr. Justin Martyr, First Apology 6; Dialogue with Trypho 30 and 85; Minutius Felix, Octavius 27; Origen, Against Celsus I.25; VII.4; VII.67; Tertullian, Apology 22, 23; etc.). Of note is the absence of magical instruments and incantations as means for deliverance, “but the simple and authoritative adjuration addressed to the demon in the name of God, and more especially in the name of Christ crucified,” as it is in our own times (Toner).

Pope Francis himself has emphasized the reality of the devil, saying in his Apostolic Exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate”:

We will not admit the existence of the devil if we insist on regarding life by empirical standards alone, without a supernatural understanding. It is precisely the conviction that this malign power is present in our midst that enables us to understand how evil can at times have so much destructive force. Hence, we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable. The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities. “Like a roaring lion, he prowls around, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8)”. (Gaudete et Exsultate 160–161).

Who is the subject of an exorcism?

The Church has her own theological diagnostic criteria she uses to ascertain the veracity of demonic possession. These consist of various “general rules” distilled from centuries of experience freeing people from satanic oppression and are recorded on the Roman Ritual.5 The general rules explain the signs of possession the exorcist must identify in those possessed. These include the ability to speak or understand a language otherwise unknown by the subject; the ability of divulging future and hidden events; a display of intellectual or physical powers beyond the subject’s natural ability; and other indicators “which, when taken together as a whole, build up the evidence” (Roman Ritual).

The Catholic Church subscribes to a belief in a literal Satan and his demons, understanding their activity as both real and actual, always prejudicial to humans. Often this activity consists of ordinary temptation but may extend to obsession and even possession requiring exorcism.

Scientific Attitudes Toward Demonic Possession and Exorcism

Skepticism reigns in our Western culture and society about the existence of demons and of demonic possession. Most people do not think about demonic possession far beyond plot devices in horror motion pictures and books of fiction, or as features in documentaries about pre-modern cultures. As far as the medical community is concerned, demonic possession is a kind of dissociative or multiple personality disorder. The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems published by the World Health Organization includes Trance and Possession Disorders in its chapter about dissociative disorders. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) asserts that some cultures may describe distinct personality states present in Dissociative Identity Disorder as possession, although the DSM-5 does not describe possession as an independent category (Pietkiewicza).6

Psychiatrists who have participated in exorcisms in either consultative or active medical capacities see exorcisms as parallel to much of their own psychiatric work: as replacing one strong suggestion (possession, obsession, multiple personalities) by another (liberation, relief, healing, restoration of the subject’s psychological integrity and wellbeing) through strong, suggestive means able to break into the condition, namely, the exorcism ritual itself (Allen).

Number of Worldwide Exorcisms Increasing

There is no centralized data collection of worldwide exorcisms performed in the Catholic Church each year (Pope Leo XIII Institute). However, the news media often reports about the increasing demand of exorcisms in the developed world. The increasing demand motivated the Holy See to formalize instruction on exorcism for priests and selected deacons, religious, and lay people. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), about half a million people reportedly seek exorcisms every year in Italy as of April 2018, while a report by Christian think-tank Theos in 2017 said that the practice was also on the rise in the UK, in part due to the spread of Pentecostal churches. Some Catholic dioceses have developed their own courses to meet the growing demand (BBC).

However, demand does not always translate into actual exorcisms. Father Gary Thomas, a priest with 12 years of experience as an exorcist, stated he had only conducted 12 major exorcisms out of 180 requests as of April 2018 (BBC). Another American priest, Fr. Vince Lampert, reported he received about 2,000 requests for exorcisms per year as of September 2019, but estimated that only about 10 percent were worthy to be investigated, with the number of actual exorcisms presumably even smaller (Smith-Randolph). Citing Catholic leaders, secular news sources report the increase in requests for exorcism is “a result of society’s turn towards evil, including pornography, drug and alcohol addictions, as well as an increasing engagement by numerous people with the occult” (Dennis).

Ministering to People Post-Exorcism

We have seen that exorcism was an integral part of Jesus’ earthly ministry, that He empowered the Church to carry on the ministry of exorcism, which its formal, “major” expression the Church today restricts to priests and bishops.7 Furthermore, we have seen how demonic possession includes undeniable psychological symptoms observable and describable by medical specialists in their fields.8 Finally, we have seen how the number of requests for “major” exorcisms has been increasing for the last three years, suggesting an underlying increase in the number of possessions that are “actionable” by the Church. All these factors further suggest an open field for Catholics to minister in various capacities to victims of possession throughout the spectrum of manifestation of symptoms, diagnosis, liberation, and the aftermath.

Exorcism as a Work of Mercy

Exorcism must be seen as part of the Church’s ministry to heal the sick, as healing in the broader sense means liberation from all the evil afflicting us, the evil that prevents us from being fully alive and free (MacNutt). As such, exorcism, and its associated ministries we will see described further on this paper, because they involve the entire human nature of body, mind, and soul, exercise the following works of corporal and spiritual mercy a Christian must perform to be saved: visiting the sick, the prisoners, admonishing the sinner, and comforting the sorrowful. The ministry of exorcism is often demanding, strenuous and exhausting for the exorcist, the subject, and the exorcist’s support team.9 Hence, the need for an appropriate plan of pastoral care for all those involved at every stage of the process of liberation.

Although this paper focuses on post-exorcism pastoral care, ordained and lay ministers must ensure the continuity of pastoral care throughout the “spectrum” of the possession and exorcism. Pastoral care must be seamless to assure and strengthen the subject and aid in his or her spiritual and bodily recovery. Thus, the need for a pastoral plan to serve people after they have been liberated through exorcism cannot be emphasized enough.

Post-Exorcism Pastoral Assistance Plan

The objective of post-exorcism pastoral care is to ensure the liberated subject remains free from demonic subjection and to strengthen the subject’s integrity in Christ in all the human dimensions of being in their entirety: body, soul, and spirit (cfr. 1 Thessalonians 5:23).10 A post-exorcism pastoral assistance plan must engage the help of either ordained or lay ministers trained to exercise this ministry, as well as qualified medical professionals needed to heal the bodily and mental damage in the aftermath of possession. Such a post-exorcism pastoral assistance plan may look as delineated below:

  1. Protagonists or Actors
    1. Protagonists or Actors refer to the persons that should be involved in the pastoral ministry to liberated persons. These include the local diocesan bishop or ordinary, the exorcist, parish priests(s) and/or deacons, professed religious, lay pastoral ministers, the liberated persons themselves, and the whole parish community.
      1. The bishop is the Pastor of the local Catholic Church and its principal exorcist. He does not need permission from any other bishop to perform an exorcism, but often delegates the faculty to perform exorcisms to other priests (USCCB). Since the bishop “. . . is sent by the Father to govern his family” and “must keep before his eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister” (LG 27), he is called to take an abiding interest in the spiritual progress of the liberated persons.
      2. The exorcist is the bishop or priest with the most direct knowledge of the subject of the exorcism. He must possess the qualities the Roman Ritual requires of every exorcist: he must be properly distinguished for his piety, prudence, and integrity of life. He should fulfill this devout undertaking in all constancy and humility, being utterly immune to any striving for human aggrandizement, and relying, not on his own, but on the divine power. Moreover, he ought to be of mature years, and revered not alone for his office but for his moral qualities (Roman Ritual). The exorcist must remain available to the liberated persons and help ease them into a practical Catholic Christian life.
  • The parish priest — who might also be the exorcist, but often is not — is charged by the bishop with the ordinary cure of souls in a particular parish community. The parish priest must image the pastoral call of the bishop toward the well-being of all souls entrusted to him, and for the well-being of the liberated persons. The parish priest must be available in the continuous sanctification process of the liberated persons, making the sacraments of healing (Reconciliation, Eucharist, and the Anointing of the Sick) available to them according to the time and situation. The parish priest also must be a ready companion to the liberated persons and their renewed life in Christ.
  1. Deacons are ordained men who receive the imposition of hands ‘not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry. They are attached to the bishop to aid him in his task of diakonía. Bishops also task deacons to assist local parishes in the ministry of the Word, sacraments, and liturgy (CCC 1569). Since they are called to dedicate themselves to the various ministries of charity (CCC 1570) open in the Church, deacons can also accompany the liberated persons as delegated by the diocesan bishop or the local pastor, provided that the deacons receive appropriate formation for a ministry of this kind from authoritative academic and/or pastoral sources.
  2. Professed religious men and women are those who having entered a state of life constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels who, while not entering the Church’s hierarchy, partake of the Church’s life and holiness by virtue of their institutional charisms (CCC 914). Whether they oversee, or work within parish churches, or in hospitals, sanatoriums, or schools; or live a contemplative life in convent and monasteries, religious consecrated persons may perform, if ordained as bishops or priests, all the tasks inherent to their ordination. Religious brothers and sisters may also accompany the liberated persons as counselors and spiritual directors in their journey of healing and full Christian life, or as medical therapists themselves, trained to integrate medical science and the charism of healing in their ministries, by providing their own care. Contemplative religious living away from the world in monasteries and convents are called to offer their prayers and sacrifices for the good of the liberated persons and all the ministers involved in their exorcism and aftermath, to strengthen ministers and make visible the triumph of the Cross of Christ over evil.
  3. Lay Pastoral Ministers (LPMs) maybe called by their pastors to accompany the liberated persons in their journey toward bodily and spiritual wholeness. LPMs may hold medical and therapeutic degrees and practices essential to the liberated persons’ healing, as well as specialized theological and catechetical knowledge useful to the liberated subjects and their journey of faith. Those LPMs with enough maturity and formation may also serve as spiritual directors to the liberated persons.
  • The liberated persons are both the object and the subject of redemption, healing, and sanctification. They are called to live a well-ordered life of worship, prayer, penance, and sacrifice, attending Holy Mass often as well as reading Holy Scripture and performing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They must be docile to the guidance of their ministers to achieve and maintain their bodily and spiritual health following their liberation.
  • The parish community is the community of the first order inside which the liberated person must find healing. The parish community is often the source of ordained and lay pastoral ministers attending to the liberated person, as well as the source for its physicians and therapists. The parish community may also be the very first source of the liberated person’s circle of friends who are also called by God and the Church to minister to the liberated persons and help them along on their journey.
  1. Ministerial Service Settings
    1. The Office of the Bishop and the Diocesan Curia must serve as the diocese-wide coordination center ensuring the liberated persons receive the pastoral and medical care that is appropriate to their circumstances. The Office should set up a clearing house of information about pastoral ministry for liberated persons, at the disposal of the bishop, priests, deacons, religious, lay ministers in the diocese, and to the liberated persons themselves.
    2. The local parish church — ideally, the parish to which the liberated person belongs — should coordinate the pastoral care and referral service to liberated persons. It is in the context of a community of faith where the healing will take root. The pastor of the parish church should ensure all ministers receive enough formation and information to accompany liberated persons in their renewed journey of faith and of restoration of their bodily and spiritual health, as follows.
  2. Restoring Bodily Health
    1. Demons possess the body, not the soul of a person (Ripperger). Therefore, the body has a keen experience of the possession. Demons often act on the body of the person in such a way they cause pain and even bruising and lacerations (Ripperger). Possession and exorcism often result in general bodily maladies and illnesses of the gastro-intestinal system. Whenever present, these maladies can be quite devastating to the person and difficult to behold and comprehend by the attendant ministers.11
    2. The minister should accompany the subject in their journey of physical healing by means of encouragement and presence. If a competent medical practitioner, the minister should utilize the healing arts and sciences to help the post-exorcism subject or refer the subject to competent specialists as the needs arise.
    3. If ordained a priest or bishop, the minister should consider offering the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to the subject as many times as the rubrics allow and the needs demand it, for Anointing of the Sick is the ordinary way the Church is called to heal the sick (cfr. James 5:13–16).
    4. The minister, if ordained, also must be available to administer the sacraments of Baptism (to those unbaptized subjects who ask for it), Reconciliation, and the Eucharist, as these too are healing sacraments redounding to the health of the body (Stice). Lay ministers, by their ministry of presence, must encourage liberated subjects to frequent these sacraments for the sake of their bodily health.
  3. Restoring the Health of the Soul – Mental Health
    1. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “. . . the term “soul” often refers to human life or the entire human person. But “soul” also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: “soul” signifies the spiritual principle in man (CCC 363).
    2. The cognitive faculties — the five external senses of sight, sound touch, speech, and hearing; and the four internal senses of common sense, memory, imagination, and cogitation (reasoning) — of every human being flow from the soul (Ripperger). These are the faculties associated with one’s mind and mental activity in all its integrated, interrelated manifold activities. Because human beings are embodied souls, these faculties also have a bodily dimension perceived and managed by the neural architecture in one’s brain.12 The soul is that dimension of our person that exercises our intellect and free will, where we believe and love, sin and yearn yet for God (Beale). Demonic possession affects and distorts these faculties at which point it might be said that the possessed is also suffering from a mental illness.
    3. Pastoral ministers serving a post-exorcism subject must not assume expert knowledge of mental illnesses unless they are medical or clinical practitioners themselves. When they are not, the ministers must defer to healthcare professionals for the observation, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness, and for the treatment of mental illnesses that may have preceded or followed the onset of demonic possession.
  4. Restoring Spiritual Health
    1. The spirit refers to a property of the soul: “. . . that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God” (CCC 367). The spirit is what makes the soul distinctly human, able to receive the presence of God by grace and obtain from Him a share in His inner life. Every human soul is therefore “spiritual” in this sense in a way an animal or vegetable soul is not (Zeno).
    2. Since the human soul and spirit form a personal unity in the possessed, it is reasonable to infer that the evil spirit would attempt to damage the subject’s spirit to sever the supernatural bond between the sufferer and God. The possessing spirit does this by attacking the subject’s organic mind-soul link (that is, the brain), as the evil agent cannot possess the soul itself. The evil agent causes, in turn, intense spiritual and psychosomatic suffering on the subject. It is therefore imperative that the sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist, and Anointing of the Sick be available to the formerly possessed, as well as various blessings and sacramentals the pastoral ministers deem appropriate. These sacraments protect and strengthen the spiritual aspect of the soul, maintaining the soul open to God’s grace and His indwelling presence.
    3. Ordained and lay pastoral ministers must accompany the liberated person in his or her journey to restored spiritual wholeness in which reception of the sacraments of healing take central stage. They must impress upon the liberated person the necessity of living a fruitful Christian life of worship at Mass, prayer (individual and communal), penance, the pursuit of virtue, and the practice of the works of mercy. Failure to live in a state of grace and a subsequent relapse into mortal sin may lead a previously exorcised person to a repeat possession that would be much more difficult to heal than the first one (cfr. Matthew 12:43–45, Luke 11:24–26).

The Way Forward

Exorcism is a component of a complex healing process requiring the participation of the entire Catholic Church in her universal, diocesan, and parish expressions. It is the exercise of a healing power granted by Christ to the Church in her mission to redeem and sanctify the world. As the logical step to a successful exorcism, post-exorcism pastoral care must be a tool present in the toolkit of both ordained and lay pastoral ministers. The Church at the diocesan and parish levels must be equipped for this ministry to ensure that the exorcism “takes,” allowing the liberated persons to live their lives to the fullest, unencumbered by demonic possession or obsession.

Works Cited

Allen, Thomas B. Possessed: The True Story of An Exorcism. New York, NY: Book Country, 2013.

Beale, Stephen. “What Are We? Body and Soul . . . and Spirit?” 22 August 2016. CatholicExchange.com. 29 August 2021. catholicexchange.com/body-souland-spirit.

Blai, Adam. “The Truth about Exorcism.” 28 October 2019. StPaulCenter.com. 29 August 2021. stpaulcenter.com/the-truth-about-exorcism.

British Broadcasting Corporation. “Exorcism: Vatican course opens doors to 250 priests.” 17 April 2018. BBC.com. 28 August 2021. www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43697573.

Canon Law Society of America. Code of Canon Law. Washington, D.C.: Canon Law Society of America, 1983.

Dennis, Rickey Ciapha. “Catholic Diocese of Charleston reports rising number of exorcism requests.” 11 January 2019. The Post and Courier. 28 August 2021. www.postandcourier.com/features/catholic-diocese-of-charleston-reports-rising-number-of-exorcism-requests/article_bacbcdfa-1420-11e9-bd46-ffdf067bb575.html.

Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ. “The New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition.” 1993. Biblegateway.com. 24 August 2021.

Dodds, Michael J., O.P. “The Reality of the Soul in an Age of Neuroscience.” Nova et vetera 17.3 (2019): 893-912.

Hardon, John A. “Ritual, Roman.” 1999. Modern Catholic Dictionary. InterMirifica. 28 August 2021. www.therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl.

Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2020.

—. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium.” 21 November 1964. Vatican.va. 29 August 2021. <https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html>.

MacNutt, Francis. Healing. First Revised Edition, 1979. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1974.

Mariani, Mike. “American Exorcism.” December 2018. TheAtlantic.com. 28 August 2021. <https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/12/catholic-exorcisms-on-the-rise/573943/>.

Padmanabhan, Divya. “From distress to disease: a critique of the medicalisation of possession in DSM-5.” Anthropology & Medicine 24.3 (2018): 261–275.

Palilla, Benigno. Rescued From Satan: 14 People Recount Their Journey from Demonic Possession to Liberation. Trans. Cliff Ermantinger. Milwakee, WI: Padre Pio Press, 2018.

Pietkiewicza, Igor J. et.al. “Beyond dissociative disorders: A qualitative study of Polish catholic women reporting demonic possession.” European Journal of Trauma & Dissociation 5.4 (2021): 1–10.

Pope Francis. “Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate.” 19 March 2018. Vatican.va. 28 August 2021. <https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html>.

Pope Leo XIII Institute. “Media Requests.” n.d. PopeLeoInstitute.org. 28 August 2021. popeleo13institute.org/media-requests.

Ripperger, Chad. Introduction to the Science of Mental Health. Keenesburg, CO: Sensus Traditionis Press, 2013.

Rossetti, Stephen J. Diary of An American Exorcist. Manchester, NH: Sophia Press, 2021.

Smith-Randolph, Walter. “Exorcist explains why demand for exorcisms has risen.” 27 September 2019. ABC3340.com. 28 August 2021. <https://abc3340.com/news/nation-world/interview-with-an-exorcist>.

Stice, Randy. Understanding the Sacraments of Healing: A Rite-Based Approach. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2015.

Toner, P. “The Catholic Encyclopedia.” 1909. NewAdvent.org. 25 August 2021. www.newadvent.org/cathen/05709a.htm.

USCCB. “Exorcism.” 2017. USCCB.org. 25 August 2021.

—. “Strategic Plan.” 2021. USCCB.org. 29 August 2021. <https://www.usccb.org/about/strategic-plan>.

Weller, Phillip T. The Roman Ritual – Complete Edition. Chicago: Bruce Publishing Company, 1964.

Zeno, Katrina. “Soul vs. Spirit.” 17 May 2019. Diocese of Phoenix. 29 August 2021. dphx.org/tob-tuesdays-24.

  1. Every biblical citation is from the New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition of the Bible found at Biblegateway.com unless noted otherwise. Check the end notes for a full bibliographical citation.
  2. These are worth mentioning: the exorcism at the synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 1:21–28 Luke 4:31–37); exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac (Matthew 8:28–34, Mark 5:1–20, Luke 8:26–39); exorcism of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21–28, Mark 7:24–30); exorcism of the blind and mute man (Matthew 12:22–32, Mark 3:20–30, Luke 11:14–23); exorcising a boy possessed by a demon (Matthew 17:14–21, Mark 9:14–29, Luke 9:37–49; multiple exorcisms “at sunset” after healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:16–17, Mark 1:32–34, Luke 4:40–41); exorcism of the mute man (Matthew 9:32–34). There are at least two more implicit mentions of exorcism: Jesus casting out “seven devils” out of Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2) and several exorcisms in the context of Luke 13:31–32.
  3. Traditionally, the Church has practiced two kinds of exorcisms: upon catechumens during their baptisms, and upon those possessed by an unclean spirit (Toner). This paper focuses only on the aftermath exorcisms of the second kind.
  4. Cardinal Di Giorgi is the Archbishop Emeritus of Palermo, Italy.
  5. “The Roman Ritual is the book containing the prayers and ceremonies to be used by bishops, priests, and deacons in the sacred liturgy” (Hardon). The rituals are limited to those of the Latin Rite. Eastern Rite Catholic Churches have their own exorcism ritual.
  6. The DSM-5 defines “possession-form dissociative identity disorder (DID)” as a) The presence of two or more distinct personality states or an experience of possession and b) recurrent episodes of amnesia. The fragmentation of identity may vary with culture (e.g., possession-form representations) and circumstance. Thus, individuals may experience discontinuities in identity and memory that may not be immediately evident to others or are obscured by attempts to hide dysfunction. Individuals with dissociative identity disorders experience a) recurrent, inexplicable intrusions into their conscious functioning and sense of self (e.g., voices; dissociated actions and speech; intrusive thoughts, emotions and impulses), b) alternations of sense of self (e.g., attitudes, preferences and feeling like one’s body or actions are not one’s own), c) odd changes of perception (e.g., depersonalization or derealization, such as feeling detached from one’s body while cutting), and d) intermittent functional neurological symptoms. Stress often produces transient exacerbation of dissociative symptoms that makes them more evident” (Padmanabhan).
  7. The Church allows non-ordained faithful to engage in deprecatory prayers of liberation from evil, including demonic evil, if the faithful address these prayers to God. The Church restricts the imprecatory or “commanding” prayers of formal exorcism to bishops and duly authorized priests. (Blai) (USCCB).
  8. Note, too, that the list of medical symptoms and the theological list for diagnosing possession are not the same, but both the medical and theological symptomatology often combine, overlap, and manifest themselves in the same subject.
  9. Extensive reading on this matter by this author show the exorcist priest is often aided by other priests, deacons, seminarians, religious, and lay people. Often, strong men surround and grapple and subdue the subject in those instances the possessed become agitated and act out aggressively with physical strength beyond their natural capacity. Additionally, exorcists may be assisted by a prayer team of mature Catholics present during the exorcism, some of whom may have been graced by special charismatic gifts appropriate for this ministry (Rossetti). A wider circle of praying intercessors may further assist the exorcist in his task from afar.
  10. Such a ministry would also accomplish the USCCB’s 2021 strategic priority of protecting and healing God’s children by restoring integrity, fostering virtue (USCCB). Although the US bishops had in mind the ongoing scourge and consequences of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and others in ministerial positions when they enacted this priority, the wording of this priority also applies to those in need of liberation and exorcism. It also should be noted that at least one U.S. exorcist has seen a connection between the increase in requests for exorcism in his diocese and the clergy sexual abuse crisis (Mariani). Ordained and lay ministers must not ignore the connection between sexual abuse in general and sexual abuse of minors in particular, and the increase in requests for exorcism as they work to restore the victims of both clergy sexual abuse and of demonic possession or oppression.
  11. Again, this is a conclusion drawn from this author’s extensive reading. Cases illustrating physiological maladies caused by demonic possession abound in the literature. Various examples of these bodily maladies may be found in Fr. Palilla’s book, Rescued from Satan (See Works Cited section of this paper for bibliographical information).
  12. As the mind has a bodily component centralized on the brain, it is reasonable to conclude that a possessing evil spirit can have access to the brain and distort the mind. A fascinating reading about the connections between brain, mind, and soul can be found in “The Reality of the Soul in an Age of Neuroscience” by Fr. Michael J. Dodds, O.P. (See Works Cited).
Pedro Vega About Pedro Vega

Pedro O. Vega is pursuing his Master’s in Sacred Theology from Saint Joseph’s College of Maine and has a BA in Theology from St. Mary's University of Texas. A retired naval officer and Afghanistan combat veteran, he lives with his wife and two dogs in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

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