Ireland is unprepared in battle against the demonic as Christianity declines, a renowned US exorcist tells Chai Brady
The number of people who believe they are being oppressed or even possessed by demonic forces has continued to rise as Christianity declines in the Western world, according to a well-known American exorcist who warns that practicing the Faith “is your primary defence”.
Licensed psychologist Msgr Stephen Rossetti, president and founder of the St Michael Centre for Spiritual Renewal in Washington DC, believes that every priest should have some form of training in exorcism and what is known as ‘deliverance ministry’ – which aims to cleanse people of evil spirits.
He estimates that in the US about half of their dioceses have an exorcist, which he believes is due to the US being more assertive when it comes to assigning priests to the role.
A recent project undertaken by researchers from GRIS (Research and Socioreligious Information Group), Pontificio Regina Apostolorum and the Department of History, Cultures, Civilisations in the University of Bologna looked at the number of exorcists in Ireland, England and Wales, Scotland and Italy. They found that Ireland had nine exorcists.
This points to only one-third of Ireland’s dioceses having an exorcist despite Vatican protocol stating all dioceses should have one. Asked about the researchers’ finding, Msgr Rossetti said he was not surprised. “In fact, I’ve got some calls from people from Ireland, I’ve prayed with people in Ireland over the phone because they couldn’t find an exorcist there, I think that’s a shame,” he says.
Ireland’s bishops need to “get together and do this”, he stresses, adding that if Ireland’s bishops asked him to go to Ireland and speak to the priests, he would be glad to.
St Michael’s Centre have online training for priests in deliverance ministry, with the next training starting in October. Msgr Rossetti says “we’re trying to do what we can to train the guys because right now they really get nothing. Almost every seminary that I know of except for one has no training whatsoever in this deliverance ministry”.
He continues: “I think every priest should have some training because here’s what happens, someone comes to them and says ‘father I’ve got demons’, so what do you do with that? Well, first of all you have to have a rudimentary understanding of when something is psychological and when something is more preternatural, so the priest first needs some discernment skills.
“The second thing that comes is what to do? Most cases are not full possession cases, even if they do have a demonic spirit, they are what we call ‘oppression’ which is a lesser form and any parish priest can pray over someone who has that. Most of the cases are oppression. It’s a wonderful ministry because people get healed fairly quickly with these cases and they are the people sitting in your front pews because they understand the power of Christ and God’s grace to cast out evil.”
When a person feels they may need an exorcist or deliverance ministry and doesn’t find the support they are looking for there can be disastrous consequences, Msgr Rosetti says, “I think the Church needs to pay attention to this, when the Faithful come and they need help – people come from all different walks, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jews, Muslims whatever – if they come for help and we don’t help them then they are going to turn to other sorts of sources, they’re going to go to witch doctors, they are going to go to curanderos and people like that who are going to cut up the chickens, charge them 150 dollars and do some sort of magic ritual, making the problem worse so I think we have a pastoral obligation to receive these people in charity and do what we can.”
Msgr Rossetti says he finds there’s been an “explosion” in the number of people practicing witchcraft, and like any occult practice, leaves people vulnerable to the demonic.
“People fundamentally have a spiritual side to them whether they admit it or not, you can’t really squash that, if you don’t practice some sort mainstream religion then you’re more vulnerable to doing some of these new age occult practices,” he explains.
“So what we’re finding for example is that there has been an explosion in people practicing witchcraft. People think, ‘what’s wrong with that?’ they say ‘I’m a good witch and I’m doing good’. But what they don’t realise is any form of magic whether you intend it or not allies you with the dark side and when you’re asking for favours or powers from unknown spiritual sources it’s not God who is answering.
“We have a number of people come to us from different continents frankly who have been involved in occult practices including some of these ‘good witches’ who are suffering terribly now, so I think that as witchcraft increases so will the number of people who will need help.”
The process of someone getting into trouble and being oppressed or possessed by the demonic is varied, according to Msgr Rossetti, with some people following a well-beaten track to the demonic while others seem to have done nothing.
Msgr Rossetti explains: “Let me give the two basic avenues. Step one, it’s your own fault, that’s avenue one.” He says there are three steps down this road. The first is that a person stops practicing the Faith, which he describes as “your primary defence”. The second is to start committing serious sins “which creates a vulnerability”. The third is to start practicing the occult.
“Magic, witchcraft, ouija boards, divination, summoning spirit, reiki, all that kind of stuff, that’s a direct invitation to Satan,” he says.
“So if you drop your shield, you don’t practice the Faith, commit serious sin which creates a vulnerability and give Satan an invitation by practicing some sort of occult magic and keep doing it and I guarantee you, you’re going to have a demonic problem.”
Speaking about the second avenue of demonic oppression/possession, he says that “sadly some people get possessed through what seems to be little or no fault of their own”.
“I’ve had young people come to me in their 20s, their parents were practicing the occult, like santería or voodoo when they were little kids, they were dedicated to a demon. It’s very sad because parents have real authority over their children and so if they are dedicated to the dark side, they are going to have a problem. Or they could have been really radically abused and there’s a real vulnerability there and there’s some connection with some dark power, so those are very sad cases. It does happen more than a little bit, we have many people come to us whose parents involved them in these dark practices when they were kids.”
As an exorcist, Msgr Rossetti has many stories of his cases and has taken part in hundreds of exorcisms. Asked if he can give an example of some of his experiences, he recalls being contacted by a man from the Midwest of the US.
Msgr Rossetti says: “He’s not Catholic he’s a fallen away evangelical, his wife and two children are not real believers. They move into this house in August, in April the guy who was in the house had died. He was a child molester and practiced the occult, so sadly did some horrible, evil stuff.
“The family move into the house and literally all hell breaks loose. They are in this house and the lights are flashing and the dogs howling, there’s noises and thumping and banging, whistling, they see these dark figures, they feel oppressed, just everything, it’s a bad demonic movie.
“And so I called the local priest up and said father you know there’s a family down the street that needs some help, he said ‘I’m going on vacation tomorrow’, I said ‘this is an emergency’, so God bless him he goes to the house that evening.
“I told him how to exorcise the house, so he does the exorcism of the house, he goes off on his vacation. I talked to the family about a week later, they said ‘well, about 80% better but we’re still having problems”. So the priest comes back after two weeks’ vacation and I said ‘father please go again’, he did, a wonderful guy, so he goes in and exorcises the house a second time, it’s been fine ever since.”
He said he has spoken to the family very recently, and a year and a half on the house is still quiet. “They’re in the front pews of their church because they learned the hard way about the reality of Christ casting out the demons but sometimes some of those Hollywood things actually are true,” Msgr Rossetti said.
In another case a priest came to Msgr Rossetti who was concerned about a woman who had unexplained scratches and bruises. He did not feel this was enough evidence and he sent her home.
“So then she starts seeing these dark shadow figures, shadow men they call them, in the distance, and they looked demonic. But then what happens is she starts having this occult knowledge. She knows things about the priests around her that she shouldn’t know, there’s no way she could know these private things about them and so now everyone is concerned,” he recalls.
“So they bring her in, I start praying over her she starts twitching, I throw some holy water on her and her eyes roll back, all you see are the whites of her eyes, she flops on the floor starts screaming and this really evil presence comes forward and just look at me and says, ‘you stupid priest, I hate you’ and so off we go and sadly she was really possessed so it took about a year and a half. She’s doing fine now, she’s married and has some family and it’s terrific. She was very sane, she was like a girl next door, I did a psychological evaluation on her and said she’s saner than I am, a solid person.”
Having practiced psychology for 25 years, Msgr Rossetti says he is well-versed at differentiating a psychological disorder from someone struggling against a sinister spirit. In St Michael’s Centre he and two other priests facilitate about 20 sessions a week, which he describes as “a very active caseload”.
“A not insignificant number who have come to us saying they have demons are really suffering from a psychotic disorder and there are basic symptoms of a psychosis, for example when they send me these emails which start looking fairly sane but by the end of the email, they are all over the place.”
“We call those loose associations, they start going on this paranoid rant. It doesn’t mean we can’t treat them with compassion, we should perhaps pray a healing prayer with them but we’re not going to do an exorcism. When I see this psychotic, loose associations I say ‘I don’t think so’.
“There are certain symptoms and signs of actually a demonic presence which are not psychological and most laity don’t know what those are and we don’t tell them but when I see them, I say oops, that’s typically demonic. On the other hand, if something is typically psychotic, for example if someone says that the politicians are out to get me, they are reading my mind and they are placing demons inside my head.
“Some people really are possessed of course but some people, they want to be possessed, they want people thinking they are possessed, they want to engage an exorcist. They do their best imitation of a possessed person and usually we can figure that out fairly quickly. So there’s lots of different reasons why people look like they are possessed but they are not,” he said.
Aversion to holy water, sacred objects and places, unexplained scratches and bruising Msgr Rossetti says are all some of the potential signs of possession.
Most people’s knowledge of a solemn exorcism is based on what they would see in Hollywood films. They can be accurate at times according to Msgr Rossetti, but exaggerated.
Asked which film he thinks is one of the most accurate portrayals of exorcism, he mentioned The Rite (2011). The film is loosely based on a book focused on events recounted by an American exorcist Fr Gary Thomas and his experience working in Rome with exorcists.
However, Msgr Rossetti didn’t think the film’s ending was credible, adding “even that movie, Hollywood did their whole thing. I think we need some more accurate films because you don’t really need to jazz it up really, when you tell the truth, it’s stunning and striking”.
He said he has seen a woman’s eyes turn completely black during an exorcism, while another man looked as if his eyes had become those of a snake.
Msgr Rossetti hastened to add that in films “the big mistake they make is they give you the impression that somehow Satan and God are on equal footing. That somehow there’s some dualistic universe and that’s just nonsense”.
“There is only one God, Satan is a chained beast and he is just instantly cast out by anything holy, by Christ. Jesus is Lord, and people get all upset and frightened by Satan, we shouldn’t be, I tell them to trust in Jesus and Satan is a dust bunny he is nothing compared.
“I just throw a little bit of holy water on the person and the demon starts screaming, you say the prayers of the Church, oh my gosh they are being scalded by the power of Christ so that’s their big error, that they don’t realise that Satan is completely vanquished by Christ and that would be my concern.”
Msgr Rossetti released a book Diary of an American Exorcist on June 22 in which he gives an inside look at the experiences of working as an exorcist. One of the reasons he decided to write the book was he feels there is a rediscovering of the exorcism ministry as it has been “on mothballs” for the last 50 years since Vatican II.
He added their website, catholicexorcism.org, which is just a year and a half old, has been visited by 200,000 people. They have 10,000 subscribers and about 20,000 people visit the site each week.
“We have touched a need and people are flooding in with questions, requests and concerns and some are really heart wrenching and they really are desperate for help,” he said, adding there is also an app called Catholic Exorcism which can be used to help educate people on the issue. There are also deliverance prayers and other resources.
“What has happened is that more and more people are asking for help and so in response to that need we’re trying to recover the ministry and we’ve got some general books on the subject but in terms of how to do it day to day and what you really need to know, that’s been lost. This book is one attempt to say ‘here’s what happens day to day, if you want to get your hands dirty in this ministry this is what you’re going to encounter, this is what you need to know, so it’s filling in some of the gaps’.
“Right now we’re training new exorcists and there is not a lot out there to help these guys who call me up with questions, ‘what do I do in this case?’, ‘what does this mean, what does that mean?’ so we’re trying to pass on the knowledge.”