For the ninth consecutive year, a group of experts met in Rome to train those interested in the ministry of exorcism — a rite hailed as a vital act of service in the Church today. Participant Father Maximus Urbanowicz, a missionary priest from the Orthodox Church of America, described the practice as “a ministry of love” and “compassion, which requires great faith and virtue in those that are ministering to the people who are oppressed.” The conference was held May 5-10 at Rome’s Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University, located on the outskirts of the city. Although the university is run by the Legionaries of Christ, the conference included many experts from different fields, both lay and ordained, who are not attached to the group. Fr. Urbanowicz told CNA on May 9 that he was very impressed with the conference’s view of exorcism as a service, with “emphasis on loving people,” as well as the structured process surrounding exorcism in the Catholic Church. In his missionary work, the orthodox priest often finds himself in countries with pagan religions like “animism, where you see people who are oppressed or possessed by evil spirits.” He has had difficulty finding a “school, or experts that you can consult.” Instead, he noted, “you kind of learn it by experience and watch others who have done it before you.” For Fr. Urbanowicz, the conference has helped him to think about things he “had never considered before: many cults and satanic symbols and different things which you don’t really want to look at, but people are involved with it and you have to be able to meet them where they are in order to help them come out of it.” He was grateful to learn about the difference between prayers of “liberation” or “deliverance” which any Christian can say, and “the actual ministry of exorcism” which is reserved to priests in the Catholic Church. The orthodox priest also expressed his appreciation for the Church’s structural process for exorcism. “It’s healthy, I would say, in terms of its effectiveness in the lives of the people you’re ministering to, and its thoroughness — taking people to psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors: then it goes before the bishop and its decided upon, ‘yes, this shall qualify as an exorcism’. And it’s not just haphazard where somebody leaves confused and sometimes hurt more than when they came.” Italian Dr. Porxia Quagliarella, a psychotherapist and theologian, is one such expert who is consulted in exorcism cases. She was invited to speak at the conference on the sociological and psychological aspects of exorcisms. “I collaborate with a priest exorcist … when it’s not clear if there are diabolical problems or if they are psychological,” she explained, “because there are psychological problems, types of hysteria that resemble the (diabolical) situation, or, for example, a narcissistic personality, which therefore have problems of another kind.” “It’s necessary to be attentive to see if there are really cases of possession or if they are people who can be cured psychologically.” The psychotherapist said that of the 10 cases which have been referred to her, only two were truly cases of diabolical possession. The other eight cases were psychological in nature. They were “cases of depression — cases, for example, of trauma in which there was, rather than a possession, trauma regarding the devil, (or) regarding the Church. Thus in ten cases, two presented this negative reality. The eight others were persons instead, who, with an adequate cure had resolved their problems very well.” Dr. Quagliarella recounted the story of one woman who was referred to her because the woman had a desire to kill her son. The patient was so afraid, she could not even pick up a knife in the kitchen if her son was standing nearby, because she was worried she would harm him. The psychotherapist worked with the woman to discern that in fact the patient had both a “depressed” personality and an “immature” sense of self, so that “the responsibility that she had as a mother, as a wife, many times gave her these stints of aggression where she sought to dominate in some way.” Over time, “her personality grew with this psychotherapy. In reality, she didn’t have this (diabolical) type of problem at all.” The difference between diabolical possession and psychological problems, Dr. Quagliarella, explained, is that “with possession, there is truly a desire to destroy, the desire to divide, the desire to do evil,” while a “sick person is simply the person who in that moment lives the suffering of his weakness.” Yet the largest problem she sees is that there are many priests who think that “the devil doesn’t exist.” They are particularly surprised at how she, a doctor, can believe in diabolical realities. “Sometimes, really, I am astonished that there are priests that say, ‘you still believe that the devil exists? You really believe that this things are real?’” “To be a doctor does not take away from faith in God,” she stressed. “Truly I would invite these people not only to read that which is written in sacred scripture, because there above all we see the presence of evil from the beginning.”
Catholic News Agency was founded in 2004, in response to Pope St. John Paul II’s call for a “New Evangelization." It is an apostolate of EWTN News.