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Catholic bishops hold session offering training in exorcisms

By Rachel Zoll
Associated Press / November 13, 2010

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NEW YORK — Citing a shortage of priests who can perform the rite, the United States’ Roman Catholic bishops are sponsoring a conference on how to conduct exorcisms.

The two-day training, which started yesterday in Baltimore, is to outline the scriptural basis of evil, instruct clergy on evaluating whether a person is truly possessed, and review the prayers and rituals that constitute an exorcism. Among the speakers will be Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and a priest-assistant to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

“Learning the liturgical rite is not difficult,’’ DiNardo said in a phone interview. “The problem is the discernment that the exorcist needs before he would ever attempt the rite.’’

More than 50 bishops and 60 priests signed up to attend, according to Catholic News Service, which first reported the event. The conference was scheduled ahead of the fall meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which starts Monday.

Despite strong interest in the training, skepticism about the rite persists within the American church. Organizers of the event are keenly aware of the ridicule that can accompany discussion of the subject. Exorcists in US dioceses keep a very low profile. In 1999, the church updated the rite of exorcism, cautioning that “all must be done to avoid the perception that exorcism is magic or superstition.’’

The practice is much more accepted by Catholics in parts of Europe and elsewhere overseas. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the longtime private secretary of Pope John Paul II, revealed a few years after the pontiff’s death that John Paul had performed an exorcism on a woman who was brought into the Vatican writhing and screaming in what Dziwisz said was a case of possession by the devil.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference, said only a tiny number of US priests have enough training and knowledge to perform an exorcism. Dioceses nationwide have been relying solely on these clergy, who have been overwhelmed with requests to evaluate claims. The Rev. James LeBar, who was the official exorcist of the Archdiocese of New York under the late Cardinal John O’Connor, had faced a similar level of demand, traveling the country in response to the many requests for his expertise.

No one knows why more people seem to be seeking the rite, which is performed only rarely. Paprocki said one reason could be the growing interest among Americans in exploring general spirituality, as opposed to participating in organized religion, which has led more people to dabble in the occult.

“They don’t know exactly what they’re getting into and when they have questions, they’re turning to the church, to priests,’’ said Paprocki.

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