The portion of the "In All Things" commentariat that thinks I'm in need of an exorcism may soon have their wish.
This weekend, Catholic bishops from around the United States gather in Baltimore for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops fall assembly, where, according to the New York Times, they will have an opportunity to attend a pre-conference workshop of exorcism.
From the article:
"There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists, but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil.
"Now, American bishops are holding a conference on Friday and Saturday to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy members learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.
"'Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,' said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference. 'It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.'"
The author writes that some observers see the conference as complementary to Pope Benedict's desire to highlight more fully the spiritual dimension of the Church, while others question whether discussion of exorcism should rise to this level of importance. Fr. Richard Vega, president of the National Federation of Priests Councils, offers his analysis:
“'People are talking about, are we taking two steps back?'” Father Vega said. 'My first reaction when I heard about the exorcism conference was, this is another of those trappings we’ve pulled out of the past.'
"But he said that there could eventually be a rising demand for exorcism because of the influx of Hispanic and African Catholics to the United States. People from those cultures, he said, are more attuned to the experience of the supernatural."
This is certainly an interesting topic for bishops to discuss, but hopefully not one to fuel more hostility between the so-called left and right wings of the Church. As the article notes, exorcism in the Christian tradition is as old as the new testament itself, and it remains part of the Church's ritual. Organizing a conference to study the issue, get a sense of what is happening in the field, and, if necessary, take more steps, seems quite appropriate. Bishops will devote several days to other, perhaps more pressing, matters once the conference begins, including the election the new USCCB president. Portions of the conference will be streamed live at http://www.telecaretv.org/.
Below is the trailer for the movie, The Rite, based on the “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” (Doubleday, 2009) by journalist Matt Baglio, who is quoted in the article.