At Vatican Exorcism Course, the Devil Is in the Details

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Hundreds of students, mostly Catholic priests, have arrived in Rome to attend an annual Vatican course on exorcism, the ancient practice of casting out demons.

Some 250 people from 50 countries are attending a week of lectures and talks on a range of issues relating to the devil and demonic activity, including how to distinguish between psychological afflictions and supernatural “vexation,” and how to combat Satan where he is present.

Interest in the rite has seen a “spike” in countries like Italy, keeping pace with what has been seen as a recent rise in demonic activity. As Breitbart News has reported, requests for exorcists in Italy has tripled in recent years, reaching an annual total of nearly a half million, and other countries have witnessed a similar increase.

“The number of exorcisms has definitely increased over the years, as the requests to carry out exorcisms has increased,” said Professor Giuseppe Ferrari, one of the organizers of the 13th annual “Course on Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation” at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome.

One upcoming lecture that has drawn particular attention is called “Pedophilia and Child Pornography Employed in Occult and Satanic Rites,” in a section of the course called “Criminological and Social Aspects.”

Speaking with journalists, the founder of the course, Father Pedro Barrajón said Monday that while human sexuality in itself is a value, “when you use it poorly, you are creating harm for yourself and others, especially if it involves children.”

Father Barrajón said that the course wished to address the “modern cultural phenomenon” of pornography not to minimize personal responsibility, but to explore the extent to which demonic influence may be present in pornography use.

“Does it come only from human causes – psychological, familial, social or cultural – or is there more?” Barrajón asked, noting that the course aims to “open a space to see if there is a possibility to show influence from the devil.”

On the first day of the course, Cardinal Ernest Simoni of Albania created a stir by speaking of the use of mobile phones in long-distance exorcisms.

“They call me and we speak and that’s how I do it,” the cardinal said, noting how he reads the prayers of exorcism in Latin over the phone when he cannot be physically present for an exorcism.

Lecturers for the course come from a variety of backgrounds, and include exorcists, theologians, psychologists, medical doctors, criminologists, and Church historians.

According to Father Barrajón, the exceptional interest in the course reflects a growing awareness of the activity of the devil in the world, and a concern on the part of bishops to have some of their priests specially trained for dealing for this reality.

Father Barrajón told Breitbart News that it was typical years ago in church circles to downplay the devil so much that few bothered even to speak of demonic activity. For a while, he said, theologians would explain away all of the accounts of Jesus driving out demons in the gospels, “attributing them to the ignorance of the age and a readiness to recur to supernatural causes to explain diseases like epilepsy or psychological disorders.”

While that may be true in certain cases, Barrajon said, “it certainly doesn’t eliminate the clear references to the activity of the devil throughout the gospels,” something that “is generally recognized now by scholars.”

“Jesus obviously believed in the devil,” he said.

Pope Francis would seem to concur. In a new teaching letter released by the pontiff in early April, he said that the “malign power” of Satan is always in our midst and “poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice.”

Satan is not “a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea,” Francis wrote in his letter called Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), and falling into this error “would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”

“When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities,” he said. “Like a roaring lion, he prowls around, looking for someone to devour,” he added, quoting from the New Testament first letter of Peter.

The pope said that acknowledging the existence of the devil is essential, because Christians engage in a spiritual warfare that is not merely “a battle against the world and a worldly mentality” or a “struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities.”

“It is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil,” he said.

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