May 1, 2016

Despite trial testimony, exorcisms a rare step for church

APRIL 28, 2016

Exorcisms are not only rare, they are performed only “after all other causes” — medical or psychiatric — have been ruled out by professionals, according to a spokesman for the city’s Catholic archdiocese.

An Ottawa courtroom heard chilling testimony this week from a suspended Mountie accused of torturing his 11-year-old son. The father testified that he had his own brother, a priest, perform an exorcism because “I thought I saw the devil inside him.”

Despite the horrific abuse described in the trial, exorcisms do exist outside Hollywood.

Dioceses appoint a specific priest with “piety, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life” to be in charge of requests for exorcisms, city archdiocese spokesman Gilles Ouellette said in an email Thursday. It’s then done only with the permission of the bishop.

Ouellette pointed out that the archdiocese does not know the identity of the priest mentioned in the trial — his name is covered by a publication ban to protect the victim. But coverage of the trial refers to the family’s Lebanese background so they might not be members of the Roman Catholic Church, he said.

“Quite often, other pastoral interventions such as a good confession ... or some prayer ministry is sufficient,” Ouellette said. “I am not aware of any permission being given for any official exorcisms since the archbishop's appointment in 2007.”

Postmedia reported in 2008 that the archbishop had appointed at least two new exorcists to replace the last one who’d retired. The priests, whom the archdiocese wouldn’t name, were experienced abroad, some in areas where a belief in demons is more common, and who had to be persuaded to add the role to their duties.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a major exorcism features reading from the Gospels and Psalms, the sprinkling of holy water, and the “imposition of hands” and breathing on the person’s face to reaffirm the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them.

The church has through the centuries “moved cautiously” on purported possessions, the organization writes, lest it “create a kind of sideshow affair.”

“Although rare, genuine cases of demonic possession should be addressed in a balanced manner with the utmost care being extended to the afflicted person,” it says.

The local Catholic archdiocese may be circumspect when asked about exorcisms but the local alternative practitioner behind says he has performed 20 in the past two years, including on an eight-year-old child.

Jason Francis, who describes himself as a Wiccan and Celtic Shamanic high priest, said the parents couldn’t explain the changes in the boy’s behaviour, including night terror, and called him for help.

Finding an entity “not of the light” afoot – far from “full-blown possession,” which Francis says he’s never seen and is rarer than winning the lottery – he got to work. First he cleansed the home then did a sacred circle with the family, performing a ritual to summon the entity and bind it so it couldn’t harm anyone after leaving the boy.

“Physically, I didn’t do anything to him,” Francis said. “He knew we were going to do something to make him better. He would have seen me wave my arms around and that’s about it.”

Afterwards, “the family was like ‘oh, my God, we have our child back.'”

Francis said he’s one of the few exorcists who’s willing to out himself publicly and understands why others won’t.

“With increased publicity and stuff you get a lot more psychiatric cases than authentic cases, and that’s why a lot of us do not publicize. I’m one of the few that will actually step out.

“You get a lot of wackos calling who don’t need any services,” he said, which in his case include removal of simple curses for $25, $150 galactic ray healing and $200 to clear a house of “lost souls, nomads and spirits of limbo.”

Even those treatments have their limits, Francis warns in an explanation of what happens at the first consultation.

“Referral to see a psychiatrist or other medical professional may be given as not everything is supernatural or can be fixed spiritually,” he writes.

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