A week ago Sunday, Pope Francis was reported as having performed an exorcism in St. Peter’s after celebrating mass. Word traveled quickly, along with photos of the Pontiff laying his hands on the head of the man who was struggling and grimacing. The unidentified man fought the Pope’s gesture, and then slumped in his wheelchair. Word got out later that the man in question was a married, 43-year-old male from Mexico. When headlines blared, “Pope Performs Exorcism,” the damage control people at the Vatican swung into action. “It wasn’t an exorcism, the Pope was just ministering to a needy soul as he would under normal circumstance,” came the explanation from church officials. But the controversy did not stop there.
No amount of spin control could contain the story. Father Gabriel Amorth, the priest known as the exorcist of the Vatican weighed in on the issue. Father Amorth, a great man of God whom I’ve had the honor of meeting and spending time with at the Vatican, declared that Pope Francis was indeed performing an exorcism. In fact, Fr. Amorth claimed that he had done exorcisms on the same man, casting out four demons. No matter what the press says, I have confidence in Fr. Amorth. It’s sad that church officials want to be so politically correct that they can’t be honest when describing the ministerial activities of the leader of the Catholic Church.
Vatican theologians have since argued about whether the whole thing was misunderstood or that the Pope was merely praying some benign prayer of liberation. But why couldn’t he perform an exorcism? Francis is, after all, the Bishop of Rome and therefore as a bishop he is also an exorcist if and when he chooses to be one. How tragic that a rite of prayer that was so normal for the first four centuries of the church has become taboo today, even by those who have a codified ritual to celebrate the practice. I pray that in the Pope’s duties for the church that more demons manifest, forcing the Pope to act as he recently did. Only this time I pray that the queasy consciences of Vatican officials don’t prevail.