When representatives from different Christian churches gathered in Rome to talk about exorcism with Catholic clergy last week, one point of both alarm and common cause that surfaced involved reports that an increasing number of people are choosing to be possessed.
Speaking to Crux, Father Enrich Junger of the Anglican Church of North America said that while exorcisms have always been a problem, “We see a lot more voluntary possessions.”
He mentioned rising interest in Ouija boards and shamanism, a practice in which a person strives to attain altered states of consciousness in order to interact with what they believe to be a spirit world, with the goal of channeling transcendent energies.
Increasingly, people “invite it in, they want it, bring it,” he said, explaining that part of the allure is a draw to the “power” that they think comes from abilities they would gain under possession.
“We see more of it, not just in Anglicanism,” Junger said,” adding that “it doesn’t take any effort. That’s low-hanging fruit right there.”
Lutheran Bishop Manuel Adolfo Acuna, a member of the Independent Charismatic Lutheran Church and a member of the Association of Independent Evangelical Lutheran Churches who oversees the region of South America, which are both independent of the Lutheran World Federation, which is the largest organization of Lutheran churches.
Similarly, he said mention of the increase in voluntary possessions is an “excellent” point.
Many people end up either possessed or disturbed either because they play games inviting dialogue with demons, as happens with many young people, or they specifically ask to have the demon enter, as in the case of shamanism, he said.
Acuna said most of his exorcisms are performed on people who foster devotion to “Santa Muerte,” meaning “Holy Death” or “Saint Death.” The skeletal female figure is growing in popularity in Mexico and throughout Central America, but has been condemned by the Vatican and other Christian churches in the area, who argue that the devotion is equivalent to adopting a Satanic spirituality worshiping death and hell.
Possession “is not a question of social classes … nor is it the age,” Acuna said, noting that the youngest person on which he has performed an exorcism was just six, and the oldest was 85.
Juger and Acuna spoke at a May 11 roundtable on the ecumenical take on exorcism, offered as part of the 14th edition of the “Course on Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation,” which took place May 6-11 at Rome’s Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University, and was sponsored by the Legion of Christ.
Launched in 2004 to offer priests an opportunity to deepen their understanding of exorcisms and the physical presence of evil in the world, the course today is primarily focused on formation and a multidisciplinary method, drawing hundreds of participants annually.
Some 240 people, both lay and religious, from more than 40 countries on five continents are enrolled in this year’s week-long seminar. Permission to attend must be granted by their local bishop.
This year, among other things, participants discussed the rise of Satanic groups and demonic forces in the world, especially among young people and on social media.
On the last day of the event, members of other religious communities discussed exorcism in their own rites, including the Orthodox, Evangelical, Anglican and Lutheran communities.
Father Dionisyos Papavasileiou, rector of the Greek Orthodox church of Saint Demetrios Megalomartire in Bologna, said the Orthodox rite for exorcism is similar to that of Catholicism, including biblical readings and invocations of the Holy Trinity as part of a liturgical ceremony, and that most demonic possessions come from worship of false Greek gods.
Speaking to Crux, Dominican Father Francios Dermine, a priest of the Archdiocese of Ancona-Osimo who has been an exorcist for more than 25 years, said the Catholic formula for exorcism includes the praying of the Litany of the Saints, biblical readings, the recitation of the Nicene Creed and both invocative and imperative exorcism prayers.
Dermine said the Anglican church is the only non-Catholic church which at times shares the Catholic exorcism rite. “We have a unique instrument at the disposal of exorcists all over the world,” he said, noting that the exorcism formula in Catholicism is the same throughout the globe.
As far as the Anglican church goes, Junger said different groups of Anglicans handle exorcisms in different ways.
The Anglican Church of North America - which is not considered part of the Anglican Communion by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but is in communion with some Anglican provinces in the Global South - follows the Anglo-Catholic tradition, which adheres more of the practices and rites of the Catholic Church. They tend to just use the Roman Catholic rite.
What Junger referred to as “mid-stream” Anglicans follow a rubric created by the Society for Special Pastoral Intervention, which is like the Roman rite, he said, but the language is not as strong.
“That’s why I prefer the Roman myself. It’s very clear. There’s no ambiguity here,” he said, adding that a third type of exorcism used by Anglicans who follow a more evangelical tradition consists of a community dividing up into groups of 6-10 people who pray together in a “type of communal deliverance ministry,” invoking God’s grace for the person as a community, rather than a priest engaging in direct spiritual warfare.
According to Acuna, there are different forms of exorcism within Lutheranism, but the Association for Evangelical Lutheran Churches is currently in the process of organizing “a unified message regarding the practice of exorcism.”
Acuna said he recently inaugurated the first school for exorcism and liberation in Argentina, after establishing similar schools, designed to form exorcism consultants who help the exorcist in their work and establish teams, in Colombia and Venezuela.
Referring to a comment made during the day’s last session that ending divisions among Christian churches would itself be an act of exorcism because the divisions among Christians come from the devil, Acuna voiced agreement, saying Chapter 17 of the Gospel of John “clearly says…that all are one.”
“I think these meetings,” he said, referring to the ecumenical roundtable during the course,” are a testimony to the world, of our will, which by itself cannot be achieved. We need grace.”
Junger he said he believes the biggest problem in this regard is that, “because of the fractures that exist, I think it breaks some of our strength.”
“The Reformation stands for de-formation, I think,” he said, adding, “There is one body of Christ, not 20, not 40. With all of us combined, it’s simple fact: if I have 100 people saying the same thing versus if I just have one, it’s a much stronger force.”
“We’re doing what Satan wants. He broke us on purpose. He fractured and broke us apart,” Junger said, adding that if the schism between Christian churches is ever healed, “it’s going to be very powerful.”