Twenty-nine years have passed since that day, June 29 1972. It was the Feast of Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles. It was the Feast of Saint Paul who brought the Gospel of Christ to the extreme corners of the West. On that day, June 29, Feast of the Patron Saints of Rome, Peter’s successor who had taken the name of Paul issued a dramatic warning. Paul VI spoke of God’s enemy supreme, that enemy of man called Satan, enemy of the Church. “The smoke of Satan”, warned Paul VI, “has found its way into the Church through the fissures”. It was an anguished warning that caused great shock and scandal, even within the Catholic world.
And what of today, 29 years later? Has that smoke been dispersed or has it continued to drift?
30DAYS went to see the man who has to do with Satan and his cunning every day. It’s his job, almost. He is the world’s most famous exorcist – Father Gabriele Amorth, founder and honorary president of the International Association of Exorcists.
We also went to him because a few weeks ago, on May 15, the Italian Episcopal Conference approved the Italian translation of the new Rite of Exorcism. All it needs now for it to be used is the placet of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Is this a new weapon in the Church’s battle with the Enemy? Will it dispel, if it still hasn’t been dispelled, that smoke which has drifted into the temple of the Lord? Nothing of the kind, according to Father Amorth. He will tell us that the war being waged for millennia rages on more angrily than ever. That the battlefront has now moved inside the house of the Lord. That the smoke … the smoke has drifted in the most unsuspected directions.
At long last, the Italian translation of the new Rite of Exorcism is ready …
GABRIELE AMORTH: Yes, it is. Last year, the Italian Episcopal Conference could not approve it because there were errors in the translation from the Latin. We exorcists who would have to use it took advantage of this to point out yet again that we were not in agreement with the new Rite on many points. The original Latin text is unchanged in this translation. A Rite so long-awaited has turned out to be a joke, an incredible cord that is tying us in knots in our work against the Devil.
That’s a serious allegation. What, exactly, are you referring to?
AMORTH: I can give you two examples, two blatant examples. At Point 15, it talks of evil in the sense of the ‘evil eye’ and how we should conduct ourselves. The ‘evil eye’ is an evil directed at a person through the Devil. This can be done in various ways, in the form of spells, curses, by voodoo and macumba. The Roman Rite explained how this had to be addressed. The new Rite, by contrast, categorically states that it is prohibited to perform exorcisms in these cases. That is just absurd. This evildoing is by far the most frequent cause of demonic possession and other evils procured by the Devil – no fewer than 90 per cent. It’s like telling exorcists to retire. Then, Point 16 solemnly states that exorcisms must not be carried out unless the presence of the Devil is ascertained. This is a masterpiece of incompetence because we can only ascertain if the Devil is possessing a person by performing an exorcism. Moreover, the editors did not realize that, on both points, they were contradicting the Catechism of the Catholic Church which advises exorcism both in the case of demonic possession and of evils caused by the Devil. It also says this should be done in regard both to people and things. The Devil is never present in things, just his influence. The statements contained in the new Rite are very grave indeed and very harmful. They are the fruit of ignorance and inexperience.
But wasn’t it compiled by experts?
AMORTH: By no means, no. In these past ten years, two commissions have worked on the Rite – the Commission of Cardinals who edited the Prenotanda, or the initial dispositions, and the Commission in charge of the prayers. I can say with certainty that no member of either commission has ever performed an exorcism or witnessed one. No member has even the faintest idea of what an exorcism is. There lies the error, the original sin of this Rite. No one who assisted with it was an expert on exorcism.
How can that be?
AMORTH: Don’t ask me. During the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, every commission was assisted by a group of experts who worked alongside the bishops. This custom continued even after the Council every time parts of the Rite were reworked. But not in this case. And if ever there was an area where experts were needed it was this one.
So what happened then?
AMORTH: What happened was that we exorcists were never consulted. Furthermore, the suggestions we gave were received with a certain irritation on the part of the commissions. The whole thing really was paradoxical. Would you like me to tell you about it?
AMORTH: As the various parts of the Roman Rite were gradually being reviewed in keeping with the requests of the Second Vatican Council, we exorcists waited for Title XII to come up, the Rite of Exorcism. But it was evidently not considered a thing of relevance because years passed and nothing happened. Then suddenly, on June 4 1990, the ad interim Rite appeared to be tried out. It was a real surprise to us that we had not been consulted beforehand even though we had our requests all prepared well in advance of the revision of the Rite. We asked, for example, that the prayers be reviewed to include invocations to Our Lady that were completely lacking, and we asked for more specific prayers for exorcism. But we had been completely cut out. We were given no possibility of making any kind of contribution. But we were not discouraged.
After all, the text had been produced for us. And we got down to work; this also considering that in his letter of presentation the then Pre- fect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, asked Episcopal Conferences to let him have, within two years, their ‘advice and suggestions from the priests who will be using the Rite’. I convened 18 exorcists from among the world’s most expert. We scrupulously examined the text and used it. We immediately praised the first part reassuming the Gospel foundations for exorcism. That was the biblicaltheological area certainly not lacking in experts.
It was a new addition to the 1614 Rite, which had been composed under Pope Paul V. At that time, after all, it was not necessary to remind people of these principles. Everyone was familiar with them and accepted them. Today, this addition is vital. But when we got to the practical part in our scrutiny, the part that requires specific expertise, it was blatantly obvious that the editors had no experience at all. We made copious observations, article by article, and we submitted them to all parties concerned – the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Episcopal Conferences, A copy was also delivered directly into the hands of the Pope.
How were your observations received?
AMORTH: The reception was very cool indeed, and their effect null. We had drawn our inspiration from the Lumen gentium, which describes the Church as ‘People of God’. At Number 28, it speaks of the collaboration between priests and bishops and, at Number 37, it explicitly says – in relation to the laity, moreover – that ‘by reason of the knowledge, competence or pre-eminence which they have, the laity are empowered – indeed sometimes obliged – to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church’. That was our case exactly. But we had been ingenuously laboring under the illusion that the dispositions of Vatican II had reached the Roman Congregations. Instead, we found ourselves in front of a brick wall of rejection and scorn.
The secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship said in a report to the Commission of Cardinal s that their only interlocutors had been bishops, not priests or exorcists. And he added in reference to our humble attempt to help as experts expressing their opinion: ‘We had to take account of the phenomenon of a group of exorcists and so-called demonologists who subsequently formed an international association and who orchestrated a campaign against the Rite’. This was an indecent accusation. We have never orchestrated any campaign. The Rite was designed for us and yet no competent person had been invited to join the commissions. Surely it was logical that we would have had a contribution to make.
Are you saying that the new Rite is useless in the struggle against the Devil ?
AMORTH: Yes. Their intention was to arm us with a blunt sword. Some effective prayers were cancelled, prayers with 12 centuries of history. New ineffective prayers were written in. But, luckily at the last minute, they threw us a lifeline.
What was that?
AMORTH: Cardinal Jorge Medina, the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, accompanied the Rite with a Notification. It states that exorcists are obliged to use this Rite but may still use the old one if they wish, on lodging a prior request with the bishop. Bishops must then ask the Congregation for authorization, which the Congregation will ‘gladly provide’, the Cardinal writes. Gladly provide? That’s a rather strange concession …
AMORTH: Want to know how that came about? From an attempt by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and again by Cardinal Medina to introduce an article to the Rite – Number 38 at the time – authorizing exorcists to use the previous Rite. This was an undoubted maneuver in extremis to insure us against the great errors contained in this definitive Rite. But this attempt by the two cardinals was thrown out. At that point Cardinal Medina, who had grasped what was at stake, decided to give us this lifeline in any event in the form of a separate notification.
What consideration does the Church have of you exorcists?
AMORTH: We are very badly treated. Our fellow priests who are given this highly problematical task are seen as crazed fanatics. In general, they are only just tolerated by the very bishops who appointed them.
What has been the most blatant manifestation of this hostility?
AMORTH: We held an international convention of exorcists near Rome and we asked to be received by the Pope. In order not to add yet another audience to his already long list, we asked if we might simply be received in the public audience on the Wednesday in Saint Peter’s Square. We did not even ask to be mentioned in his special greetings. We made our request in the regular way, as Monsignor Paolo De Nicolò of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household will well remember. He welcomed our request with open arms. But the day before the audience, the same Mon- signor De Nicolò told us – and I have to say with such embarrassment that it was obviously not his decision – that we could not go, that we had not been admitted. It was incredibile.
Here were 150 exorcists from the five continents, all priests appointed by their bishops in conformity with the norms of Canon Law which state that these priests must be prayerful, knowledgeable and of good reputation, the cream of the clergy, in short … here they were asking to take part in a public Papal Audience and being thrown out. Monsignor De Nicolò told me that he would ‘of course’ explain the reasons in a letter to me. That was five years ago and I’m still waiting for the letter. It was certainly not John Paul II who excluded us. But, that 150 priests are barred from taking part in a public Papal Audience in Saint Peter’s Square says much of how the exorcists of their Church are obstructed in their ministry, how much they are frowned upon by so many of the ecclesiastical authorities.
You are locked in daily battle with the Devil . What do you see as Satan’s greatest success?
AMORTH: The fact that he has managed to convince people that he does not exist. He has almost managed it, even within the Church. We have a clergy and an Episcopate who no longer believe in the Devil , in exorcism, in the exceptional evil the Devil can instill, or even in the power that Jesus bestowed to cast out demons. For three centuries the Latin Church – in contrast to the Orthodox Church and the various Protestant professions – has almost totally abandoned the ministry of exorcism. So because they no longer perform exorcisms, or study them, and never having seen them, the clergy no longer believe in them. And they no longer believe in the Devil . We have entire Episcopates trying to counter exorcism. We have countries completely devoid of exorcists, such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. This is a shameful shortfall.
You haven’t mentioned France so is the situation there any different?
AMORTH: The most famous French exorcist, Isidore Froc, wrote a book entitled ‘Exorcists. Who they are and what they do’. It was translated into Italian by the Piemme publishing house and had been commissioned by the French Episcopal Conference. This book never once says that exorcisms are performed in certain cases and the author has said on French television on several occasions that he has never performed an exorcism and never will. Out of about 100 French exorcists, only five of them believe in the Devil and perform exorcisms. All the others send people who come to them to psychiatrists. The bishops are the first victims of this situation in the Catholic Church, whose belief that the Devil exists is fading. Before this new Rite came out, the German Episcopate wrote in a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger that there was no point in a new Rite in that exorcisms should no longer be performed.
So, it’s up to bishops to appoint exorcists?
AMORTH: Yes, when a priest is named a bishop, he finds that an article of the Code of Canon Law gives him authority absolute in the appointment of exorcists. The minimum one can ask of any bishop is that he at least witness an exorcism, given that he has to make such an important decision. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. But if a bishop finds himself having to address a serious request for exorcism – one, that is, that does not involve a mental case – and he does not provide for it, he is committing a mortal sin. And he is responsible for all the terrible suffering that the person endures, suffering that sometimes lasts for years or all his or her life and which the bishop could have prevented.
Are you saying that most of the bishops of the Catholic Church are in a state of mortal sin?
AMORTH: When I was a child, my old parish priest taught me that there were eight Sacraments, the eighth being ignorance. And the eighth sacrament saves more people than the other seven put together. To commit mortal sin implies grave matter but also full and deliberate consent. This failure by many bishops to help is grave matter. However, the bishops are ignorant of this so there is no full and deliberate consent.
But is a person’s faith still intact, which is to say, is a person’s faith still Catholic even if he or she does not believe that the Devil exists?
AMORTH: No. Let me tell you a story. The first time I met Father Pellegrino Ernetti, a famous exorcist who served for 40 years in Venice, I said to him: ‘If I could meet the Pope, I would tell him that I encounter too many bishops who do not believe in the Devil ’. The next afternoon, Father Ernetti came back to me to tell me that, that morning, he had been received by John Paul II. ‘Your Holiness’, he said, ‘there is an exorcist here in Rome, Father Amorth, who would tell you if he met you that he knows too many bishops who do not believe in the Devil ’. The Pope replied bluntly: ‘Anyone who does not believe in the Devil does not believe in the Gospel’. That was what the Pope said and I say it again.
Again, are you saying that many bishops and priests are not, consequently, Catholic?
AMORTH: Let us just say that they do not believe a Gospel truth. So, if anything, I would stop them propagating a heresy. But, to be clear about this, a person is officially a heretic if he or she is accused of something and persists in the error. No one today, given the situation in the Church, is accusing a bishop of not believing in the Devil , or in demonic possession or of failing to appoint exorcists because he does not believe. And yet I could give you the names of so many bishops and cardinals who, on their appointment to a diocese, stripped exorcists of their faculty to perform the rite. Or there are bishops who openly say they don’t believe, that these are things of the past. Why is that? Unfortunately, we have had the insidious influence of certain biblists and I could mention some illustrious names. We who are in daily physical contact with the ‘other world’ know that this influence is evident in numerous liturgical reforms.
AMORTH: The Second Vatican Council asked that some texts be revised. Disobeying this command, they set about re-writing them completely with no thought for the danger of making things worse instead of better. So many rites came off badly from this mania to throw out the old and start from scratch, as if the Church to date had always conned us and as if only now the time had at last come of the great geniuses, the supertheologians, the super-biblists and the super-liturgists who know what the right thing is for the Church. This is a lie: the last Council simply asked that the texts be revised, not destroyed.
The Rite of Exorcism, for example, should have been corrected, not re-written. It contained prayers born of 12 centuries of experience. Before cancelling prayers which are so old and which proved for centuries to be so effective, we should think long and hard. But they did not. All of us exorcists in trying out the prayers of the new ad interim Rite have proved that they are totally ineffective. But then again, the Rite of Baptism of children came off worse, too. It was totally re-worked so that exorcism against Satan has been all but eliminated. Yet, this always had such great importance for the Church that it was called the exorcism minor.
Paul VI also publicly protested against this new Rite. The new Rite of Benedict ion is not as good now. I read every line of it, all of its 1,200 pages and every reference has been removed to the fact that the Lord must protect us from Satan and the angels must protect us from attack by the Devil . They removed all the prayers for the benediction of homes and schools. Everything used to be blessed and protected but, today, we have no further protection from the Devil . We no longer have any defences or even prayers against him. Jesus himself taught us a prayer of deliverance in the Our Father: ‘Deliver us from the Evil One’, ‘Deliver us from Satan’. This has been erroneously translated so that we pray: ‘Deliver us from evil’. The inference is generic evil whose origin we know nothing about. Yet, the evil we were taught how to fight by Our Lord Jesus Christ is a real person – Satan.
You speak from a vantage point. Do you feel that Satanism is on the rise?
AMORTH: Yes, very much so. When faith falls away, superstition increases. To use biblical language, I would say that one abandons God and turns to idolatry. In modern terms I would say that one abandons God and turns to the occult. The fearsome decline of the faith throughout Catholic Europe implies that the people turn to occultists and clairvoyants and, meanwhile, the Satanic sects prosper. The cult of the Devil is proclaimed to entire peoples through the Satanic rock music of individuals like Marilyn Manson. Even children are not immune from this assault – their comics teach them magic and Satanism.
Seances are very common, in which the dead are summoned in search of answers. Today, people can hold seances by computer, telephone, television and recorders. Spiritist writing is popular. They don’t even need mediums any more. This is ‘do-it-yourself’ spiritism. Surveys have found that 37 per cent of students have played with a ouija board at least once. This is a seance proper. At a school where I was invited to speak, the pupils told me that they even did this during their religious instruction period with the teacher’s encouragement.
Do these things work?
AMORTH: There is no distinction between white and black magic. When magic works, it is al- ways the work of the Devil . All the forms of occultism, such as mass recourse to Eastern religious with all their esoteric connotations, are an open door for the Devil . And so he comes in. Immediately. I had no hesitation in saying that there was direct intervention by the Devil in the case of the nun murdered in Chiavenna (for which three teenage girls have been charged) and in the case of Erika and Omar, the teenagers of Novi Ligure, North Italy (Erika, 16, is currently being held in a Milan detention center on suspicion of murdering her mother and 10-year-old brother, with the complicity of her boyfriend, Omar, 17). Those kids were devoted to Satanism. Police in their enquiries found that, in both these cases, these youngsters were followers of Satan. They had Satanic books.
How does the Devil go about seducing men and women?
AMORTH: His strategy is monotonous. I have told him so and he admits it … He convinces people that there is no hell, that there is no sin, just one more experience to live. Lust, success and power are the three great passions on which the Devil insists.
How many cases of demonic possession have you come across?
AMORTH: After the first hundred, I stopped counting them.
A hundred? But that’s a lot. In your books you say that cases of possession are rare …
AMORTH: And they are. Many exorcists have come across cases of diabolical evil only. I, however, inherited the ‘clientele’ of the famous exorcist, Father Candido, the cases he had not yet resolved. Moreover, the other exorcists send the most resistant cases to me.
And the most difficult case you have come across?
AMORTH: I’m dealing with it now and have been for two years. It is the case of that girl who was blessed – though it was not a proper exorcism – by the Pope last October in the Vatican and which made headlines. She is under attack around-the-clock. Her torments are indescribable. Doctors and psychiatrists are baffled by this case. The girl herself is completely lucid and very intelligent. It is a very difficult case.
How does one fall victim to the Devil ?
AMORTH: We can fall foul of the exceptional evils sent by the Devil for four reasons: if it works to the good of the person (in the case of many saints); persisting irreversibly in sin; because of a curse via the Devil ; or by practising occultism.
What kind of phenomena are manifest during exorcisms?
AMORTH: I remember one illiterate farmer who spoke to me only in English. I had to have an interpreter. Some manifest superhuman strength. Some elevate so that even several people cannot hold them down on a chair. But we refer to demonic presence only in certain contexts.
Has the Devil ever hurt you?
AMORTH: When Cardinal Poletti asked me to become an exorcist I prayed to Our Lady: ‘Wrap me in your mantel and I will be safe’. I have had numerous threats from the Devil but he has never done me any harm.
Are you ever afraid of the Devil ?
AMORTH: Afraid of that beast? He’s the one who should be afraid of me because I work in the name of the Lord of the world. He is only an ape of God.
Satanism is spreading more and more. The new Rite makes it difficult to perform an exorcism. Exorcists are prohibited from participating in a Papal Audience in Saint Peter’s Square. What exactly is happening here?
AMORTH: The smoke of Satan gets in everywhere, everywhere. Perhaps we were kept out of the Papal audience because they were afraid that all those exorcists might have cast out the legions of demons that have installed themselves in the Vatican.
You’re joking, aren’t you?
AMORTH: It might sound like it but I don’t think it is a joke. I have no doubt whatever that the Devil is tempting the upper levels of the Church, above all, just as he tempts every upper level – political and industrial.
Are you saying that here, too, as in every war, Satan’s aim is to capture the enemy leaders?
AMORTH: That’s the best strategy. It has always been so and especially when the defences of the enemy are down. Satan tries to apply this, too. But thank heaven the Church is upheld by the Holy Spirit: ‘The gates of hell will not stand’; this, despite the defections and despite the betrayals which should come as no surprise to us. The first traitor was one of the apostles closest to Jesus – Judas Iscariot. In spite of it all, the Church presses along its path. It is upheld by the Holy Spirit and so all of the battles Satan wages can only bring partial results. The Devil may, of course, win the battles, even important battles, but he will never win the war.
Originally published June 2001 30DAYS, No. 6 - 2001.