Where angels fear to tread

Where angels fear to tread Fr Pat Collins
Chai Brady discusses addiction, mental health, evil spirits and exorcism with Fr Pat Collins

 

“Who do you
 think you are,
 do
 you
 think
 you
 have
 any
 control
 over
 me?”

Those were the demonic words spoken by a woman in a “gruff raspy voice” alien to her normal inflection, according to Ireland’s most renowned exorcist when he had started praying to expel an evil spirit from her body.

Fr Pat Collins says he has had several encounters with entities many would believe to be the works of superstition or filmmakers’ imaginations.

Despite disbelief and even outrage from many, the priest has held to his guns about the increasing need for exorcism and what’s known as ‘deliverance ministry’ in Ireland, so much so that he has started training teams of people from around Ireland to combat evil spirits.

Speaking to The Irish Catholic Fr Pat said: “This area has been totally neglected. I’ve been appealing for years to the bishops to really take this seriously because there’s a tsunami of need emerging and there are very few people who are competent to respond to that and I think it’s so unfair for the people suffering.”

“I don’t know how many official exorcists there are in the country, maybe two or three, every diocese should have one. In fact, I think every diocese should have two or three and furthermore I think they should be trained, you’re not going to be let loose as a counsellor or a therapist, or any other form of ministry, unless you’ve got thorough training, unless there are protocols and so on.”

There are many ways to leave yourself open to oppression by evil spirts, he says, and because of “ignorance really, or naivety” people are being infected.

Inundated with calls, almost two or three a day, the priest often comes into contact with people who have dabbled in the occult. Many have used Ouija boards, took part in a séance or even went to fortune tellers, apparently all of which “open the door to the dark side”.

He recalls one situation in which a woman who was “really badly afflicted” called him requesting help. Asking if she had done anything unusual recently, the woman replied she’d gone to a workshop about the lost city of Atlantis and had prayed to the ‘Goddess of Atlantis’.

This particular myth was taken up by some of the Nazis who believed the German people, the ‘Aryan’ race, were descendants from the population of Atlantis.

He told her: “In praying to that God you are making a contract to a false god and the evil spirits operate through those things, and that’s why you’ve got your problems.”

Fr Pat added that this was like going into a village where there’s Ebola, the fact a person may be unaware they could contract it doesn’t mean they won’t.

Those affected by evil spirits generally show several symptoms, he says, they may know a person’s past and be able to read minds. This can be counteracted if the exorcist or deliverance minister goes to Confession beforehand, “because strangely enough the devil can’t quote anything that’s been forgiven in the Sacrament”.

“Sometimes they will have unnatural strength physically and they might speak in languages they don’t know. The most common is the strange voice. Frothing at the mouth, and kind of violent, so sometimes you have to have someone restrain the person.”

“I remember a woman who was very agitated physically and her husband would restrain her when we were doing the prayer,” Fr Pat says.

***

Over time he realised he should never pray alone and should always have a team with him. Apparently, if he is ministering to a woman, he would bring a woman with him, which would be part of protocols.

This is due to an idea in psychotherapy and psychiatry called transference ad counter-transference, which Fr Pat says is “an unconscious thing between a male and a female, instead of lover symbolism, man-woman, if I as a man bring in a women it’s mother-father symbolism, and it changes it completely and that transference is much less likely”.

There are many people, including priests and nuns he says, that see themselves as practicing Catholics but try and unite bits and pieces from pagan religions, esoteric philosophy and more and mix it in with Christian beliefs.

Fr Pat says: “They feel it’s Christian because they’re using Christian terminology, like Reiki would be an example, in fact the origin of these things aren’t Christian at all.

“I have found in doing this, although as I say they’re well intentioned, often they’re going where angels would fear to tread.”

“So, what I would train people to do now if they get someone coming to them asking for help, the first thing you do is give them quite a long questionnaire, and they have to give hopefully honest answers to all the questions, and it’s asking about all these things,” says Fr Pat.

Twenty-five people from across Ireland recently attended a 13-week course on deliverance ministry in Dublin given by Fr Pat and sponsored by the New Springtime Community. Attendees came from “far and wide” including the North of Ireland, Cavan, Newry and Carlow.

Any lay Catholic can engage in deliverance ministry, which involves saying certain prayers and deals with oppression rather than possession of evil spirits. However, only a priest can perform a solemn exorcism, which is needed in extreme and rare cases according to Fr Pat.

There was only two occasions Fr Pat thought a solemn exorcism might be necessary. In one instance there was “so much disturbance” it was difficult for him to say the prayers. “The person was so agitated and jumping around the place, rolling on the floor and screaming and all this sort of stuff so it was very hard.”

He didn’t believe that exorcism was successful, saying that many people seem to believe it takes one session, adding that a single case takes a lot of time and repeated periods of prayer.

“Where a person is certainly being afflicted by evil spirits but aren’t possessed by them, that’s the area that I think some bishops don’t appreciate the distinction, that they see exorcism only as solemn exorcism,” he says.

“And then they’d say there’s very little demand for that, but there’s a huge demand for deliverance and you’re not satisfying that need at all, you’re not training anyone to deal with it and lay people are able to do that kind of ministry, it’s part of our baptismal inheritance: that we have a right to pray against evil spirits.”

***

Fr Pat’s course can only cater for about 25 people, and with another session taking place in August he says, “we’ll keep doing it year by year and try and satisfy the growing demand for training”. He adds there will be a one-week crash course in Cork next year, despite its brevity he says it’s “better than nothing”.

Many viewers would have seen Fr Pat on the Late Late Show on February 15, although wanting to highlight the importance of the issue, he says for him it was like “going to crucifixion”.

“I know I’ll be inundated as I’m the only one in the country who can deal with all these problems and of course it’s totally beyond my competence.”

Although he is Ireland’s most well-known exorcist, Fr Pat admits that he is no expert on the subject. Years ago, he believed the sense of the supernatural was dying in the Western world, and wondered how he could argue against it, so he focused on: does the Devil exist? Writing about it from a theological point of view he saw there was a strong response.

Released this month, Freedom from Evil Spirits: Released from Fear, Addiction and the Devil is his 25th book, but he began writing about the subject long before this, and people were drawn to him for support.

“So then people thought I must be an exorcist so they would ask me to pray for them and very reluctantly I got into doing that, then bishops would call me and I would deal with more difficult cases,” he says.

“Bit by bit my theoretical knowledge and my practical knowledge grew, now if someone said to me: do you see yourself as an exorcist? I would emphatically say no, that’s not how I see myself. There are many things I am that I would identify with, evangelist would be the main one, a teacher, writer.”

Quoting Mark 16:17-18 in which Jesus says to his apostles “these are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils”, Fr Pat says the modern-day Church has almost totally abandoned the notion of exorcism despite its significance in the Gospels.

Fr Pat admits he needs to do more training himself and that his knowledge of spirituality and psychology – as well as practical circumstances – helped him learn on the job.

Assembling a crack team of exorcists and deliverance ministers is one of his future goals. “There’s a course on in Rome that lasts three weeks, you would never get a counselling qualification in three weeks,” he says.

“So, what I’m going to try and do is develop a holistic team with people who are good at psychology, psychotherapy and ministering to people with the power of the Holy Spirit and initiate training in Ireland.”

One of the major parts of deliverance from evil spirits is assessing whether the issue is purely psychological, whether there’s an identifiable mental health problem, Fr Pat says, “I think in almost the majority of cases it is psychological and praying against evil spirits won’t be appropriate”.

“Sometimes, yes there will be psychological problems there, but that’s not all that’s there; there’s also spiritual oppression. Indeed, I’ve found that if a person needs psychotherapy it usually will get nowhere until you deal with the spiritual oppression, you’ve to get rid of the spirits first and then send people for psychotherapy.”

Many of these issues are dealt with in his book, which not only focuses on freedom from oppression by evil spirits, but extensively looks at addiction and mental health issues.

***

Not all fears are related to the devil, neither is addiction as it’s a form of illness, he says, but they can leave you very vulnerable to the influence of evil spirits and suppress a person’s freedom. The purpose of the Good News is to emancipate people from whatever oppresses them.

“The devil can get a foothold in a person through addiction and all its consequences, because it will lead to an awful lot of irresponsible behaviour, the devil can exploit that,” Fr Pat explains.

“An analogy would be that stress can make you more vulnerable to illness, but if you ask the question ‘is the stress causing the illness?’, in most cases it’s not, but it has an indirect causation. It’s lowering the efficiency of your immune system and that’s leaving you more vulnerable to illness. So, it’s not directly causing it, but it’s certainly indirectly causing it or influencing it.”

Self-acceptance

Mentioning one of the theories propagated by renowned psychologist Carl Jung, and echoed by many psychologists, Fr Pat says the basic problem with human beings is a lack of self-acceptance.

“Consequently, there’s a lack of self-esteem, some people have said that’s a toothache of the heart, and that it’s very painful emotionally because it will lead you to be insecure, anxious, lacking in confidence, not feeling that you belong fully.”

This leads to reliance on alcohol and other drugs to assuage an inner pain, he says, but once it becomes a problem in itself and there’s a loss of control it leads to feelings of shame and more which end up compounding the issue.

In a large section of the book, Fr Pat looks at the Christian origins of AA and how these steps successfully lead to freedom from addiction.

He also discusses mental health and his own anxiety which he is now able to manage, saying that he’s a “different person today”.

Looking into the future of Ireland, Fr Pat says that an “infallible prediction” for him is that the more the sense of absolute meaning declines in society, the greater there will be a tendency to addiction, mental ill health and suicide.

“Because people have lost sense of the ‘why’ of living, Carl Jung made a very interesting point, he never came across a single person who was neurotic – of course he would have thought every person who was addicted was neurotic – who was able to recover until they got an experiential sense of absolute meaning,” he says.

***

Fr Pat comes from Dublin and it was at a young age he felt the “absoluteness of God”, and knew He would make absolute demands of him.

It was when he was passing through Kinsale while hiking across Ireland – his friends had gone to the cinema and he was writing a letter to his parents sitting on a wall overlooking the sea – that he looked out at the town of Kinsale and saw the world, and for him the sea became symbolic of the absoluteness of God. “I thought I’m caught between the world and the absolute, which way do I go? It has to be the absolute,” he says.

Four days later he began studying in the Vincentian seminary in Blackrock. From there he taught history and religion for 10 years in a grammar school in the North of Ireland, received training as a spiritual director and achieved a qualification in counselling and trained with the Jesuits in the US.

Returning to Ireland he was on parish missions for nine years, moved to All Hallows College’s spirituality department, taught psychology of religion in St Patricks College, Maynooth, taught spiritual development in Milltown Institute and then spent 30 years travelling across 28 countries after requests to go abroad.

“I don’t know what other priests would say about whether they enjoyed their priesthood and enjoyed their ministry, but I’ve had a great life and I’ve really enjoyed it and fortunately I’ve had tolerant superiors who let me follow where I think the Spirit is leading and it’s led me into all these strange areas and I am so grateful,” he says.

“I never get up in the morning wonder what life is about, it’s full of purpose and worthwhileness.”

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