The Vatican's Express Exorcist

Exorcism?

Here in the second decade of the 21st century, you might think that the only exorcism still to be found in the Church involves casting altar boys out of their robes. But while that may form the mainstream of Catholic clerical practices, good old-fashioned hellspawn expulsion remains on the Vatican's menu of imaginary services.

A lot of folks lately have been talking up the story of "Father" Gabriele Amorth, cross-slinging demon-buster of the Holy See, who claims a Vatican-roaming Satan himself is behind Church improprieties ("the Devil made them diddle", I guess). Reading words about – and by – the 85-year-old priest is a trip into utter lunacy, of course, but I gotta say it's awfully entertaining wackiness. Here are some things I've learned about the Church and the exorcist biz in particular:

  • Satanic influence is behind power struggles and a 1998 alleged murder cover-up in the Vatican, as well as the assassination attempt on John Paul II and the child rape scandal.
  • There are "cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the Demon". Actual Satanic sects are in the Vatican, in fact, and the Pope knows about it.
  • Possessed people can spit chunks of iron, pieces of glass, and rose petals out of their mouths.
  • Check the possessed's eyes to know your demon. Says Amorth: "If the pupils are looking up, the demons in possession are scorpions. If looking down, they are serpents."
  • Possession is a social experience: "Usually there are two or five, 20 or 30 [demons]".
  • Satan can shapeshift and speak many languages. He sometimes makes fun of Amorth. (Imagine that!)
  • Amorth's favorite movie? The Exorcist. Really. (Says it's a pretty good depiction of his work.)
  • Not Amorth's favorite books? The Harry Potter series, because magic is bad (Amorth says without a whiff of the irony).
  • Kids playing ghosts and goblins on Halloween? That, says the Father, is good clean fun. (Huh; didn't expect that one!)
  • On the other hand: "Most witches are frauds, but I am afraid some authentic ones do exist."
  • Amorth is a founder of the International Association of Exorcist, which has some 200 members and publishes a quarterly newsletter. (Ooh, I'd love to read those!)

Amidst all the factoids and dubious tales of possession, though, here's the thing that wallops me upside the head with a thurible:

In 2000, after a mere 14 years or so in the devil-be-gone biz, Amorth claimed to have performed over 50,000 exorcisms. As of 2010, he's upped that number to 70,000. (Slowing down there, Padre?)

Do the math. Even if Amorth were a never-resting, 24/7, 365-day-a-year Beelze-busting machine, that's almost 3000 exorcisms a year, almost eight per day. Every day for 24 years.

In all I've read about the guy, I haven't yet seen others boggle at that number – but it's incredible! What's the deal this guy has going? Some sort of Jiffy Lube-type operation? Is there a drive-through? A pizza delivery-like guarantee of "Demons purged in 30 minutes or your next venial indulgence is free"?

I'd love to ask Amorth how he does it. At one point he reassures an interviewer that full care is taken to weed out "possessed" who are physically or mentally ill; he says for every 100 genuinely possessed, thousands turn out to be in need of medical help, not Latinate shamanism. But taking the minimum 10-to-1 ratio from that, we're talking hundreds of thousands – easily a million! – diagnoses over those years. Where does a busy priest find time to make, or even merely review, dozens of possession diagnoses every day without rest?

Unless he's actually herding people through an Express-O-'Cism booth in the mall, there's only one possible explanation: Amorth dispenses exorcisms like you or I hand out how-do-you-do's. Everywhere, everyone. "Hi, is this the line for Cats? Thanks, and Satan leave this ticket vendor. Oh, hey, sir, you dropped your show guide. Here it is. Lucifer be out of you. Say, don't you just love Memories?"

That's gotta be it. Listen to Amorth's own words, told to an interviewer: "An unnecessary exorcism never hurt anybody." (Poor guy probably grew up with one of those grandmas who said the same about enemas.)

Well. Enough about Amorth. In the interest of "fair and balanced", let's hear from the other side, Old Scratch himself. Know what he says about the Chief Exorcist's charge that Satan peddles pedo predilections? Paraphrased, the response is "quit blaming me for pervert priests". Go read Satan's self-defense yourself; he actually says some things worth hearing.

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