Most people think of exorcism as it was portrayed by Catholic priests in the movie “The Exorcist.” What that film presented has little resemblance to a successful expulsion of demon spirits. Director William Friedkin used the device of priestly intervention, a stoic, ritualistic approach without concern for knowing the legal rights of the demon or examining the spiritual strongholds in the mind of the victim. Worst of all, the demon was extracted by having the evil spirit enter one of the priests, as if the prelate were acting sacrificially with some noble, selfless act. That was not a valid exorcism.
Are any Catholic exorcisms well founded? Most Protestant think not. Perhaps we should ask the question another way. Are all Pentecostal exorcisms valid? If by valid we mean that the exorcisms are psychologically sound, therapeutically helpful, and spiritually effective then the answer would be “no” to most Catholic and Pentecostal exorcisms. I see no empirical evidence that most non-Catholic exorcisms are more effective than those attempted by Catholics. However, since Catholic exorcism is the model most people recognize the real issue that this blog addresses is this: What’s wrong with Catholic exorcism?
Consider this historical fact. There was a time before the Reformers in the14th through 16th centuries when the Catholic Church was the only church. Only Catholics did exorcisms. In 1614 the first formalized system of exorcism was published as the Rituale Romanum. I have a 1633 hand copied edition of that volume. Without faithful priests throughout the centuries who fought demons, the ministry of exorcism might not exist. A debt of humble gratitude is owed to them by today’s deliverance ministers.
Having said this, I do have a problem with the Catholic Church’s approach to the reality of demon possession. It’s not the ritual itself which concerns me. I quote the Rituale Romanum extensively in our International School of Exorcism. My concern is that Catholic hierarchy takes the position that demonic possession is “rare.” Not true. In one day of virtual encounters, I do an average of four to six exorcisms, sometimes more. Demonic possession is not uncommon, it is quite common. Saying that demonic possession is rare allows Satan latitude to operate without reasonable expectation of his evil presence,
My second objection is the vetting process used by the Catholic Church. I understand the need for caution, but once a priest has been approached for help it can take months or years before anything is done. Meanwhile those with demons suffer. They cycle into despair and hopelessness waiting their turn for an exorcism. It’s true that too many self-styled, Protestant deliverance minister rush in too quickly to cast out demons without adequate analysis of the situation. Both approaches lack a reasonable, measured approach to battling demonic forces. That’s why we offer the School of Exorcism, Do What Jesus Did deliverance teams, and ministry associates who cast out demons, in addition to what I do. If demonization were truly rare there would be no need of a ministry such as we have. A small number of Catholic priests could take care of the problem. In short, Catholic exorcism is reactive, not proactive. It responds to the problem as it presents itself instead of also waging aggressive spiritual warfare by taking the battle directly to the enemy.
I am grateful for anyone who answers the call to cast out demons as Christ commanded. But be reminded that Second Timothy 2:15 admonishes, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (NKJV). The ultimate question isn’t whether the deliverance Is Catholic or Protestant, but whether it is based on the Bible. True exorcism must follow the model Jesus set forth and be administered through the power of His name (Mark 16:17).