Church exorcists do spiritual war with demonic possession

Msgr. Jesus-Norriel Bandojo, a priest in the the Office of Exorcism of the Manila Archdiocese in the Philippines, gives a blessing and says a prayer of deliverance over sacramentals to ward off the possibility of evil forces attaching themselves to the religious items.

CNS photo | Simone Orendain

Msgr. Jesus-Norriel Bandojo, a priest in the the Office of Exorcism of the Manila Archdiocese in the Philippines, gives a blessing and says a prayer of deliverance over sacramentals to ward off the possibility of evil forces attaching themselves to the religious items.

November 9, 2015
EVAN BOUDREAU
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

Father Gary Thomas knows what an exorcism looks like up close and personal.

"It isn't like Ghostbusters, when somebody says something there is a five-alarm fire," said Thomas, an exorcist from the Diocese of San Jose, California. "(But) some of what you would see in a movie, some of it is accurate and some of it is not.

"I see a lot of drama during deliverance sometimes and during a formal exorcism sometimes."

An exorcism is performed on those who are believed to be under demonic possession.

An exorcism is performed "When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Since being trained by exorcist-expert Father Carmine De Filippis while studying in Rome, Thomas has experienced people foaming at the mouth, speaking in otherwise unfamiliar languages or tongues and abnormal strength in subjects during the ritual.

In extreme cases, he said he's seen people take on a serpentine look.

Fortunately for Thomas, the need to perform exorcism has been rare - he's only had to perform 12 himself.

More often than not those coming in contact with Thomas are mistaking mental illness with signs of a relationship with the demonic.

Fr. Gary Thomas

Fr. Gary Thomas

That's because signs of a relationship with the demonic tend to exhibit themselves within a person's emotional and psychological well being, he said.

"Sometimes they can have great depression, or they could be angry or another emotion that seems very protracted and out of place," he said.

"You have to rule out the natural before you can go to the preternatural which would be the realm between the natural and the supernatural.

"So I have a medical doctor, a clinician and a psychiatrist on my team who are all practising Catholics and who all believe in the existence of Satan."

Being overcome by sickness when near a church, hearing voices and seeing things are considered signs of the demonic, said Thomas.

The latter two are also signs of schizophrenia.

MEDICAL TEAM

In addition to this medical team Thomas has a prayer team "who are with me at every deliverance and every exorcism." The senior members of the team also frequently handle a significant portion of the initial intake.

Fr. Gary Thomas holds a crucifix he uses in performing an exorcism. Thomas' training as an exorcist is recounted in a nonfiction book titled The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist.

CNS photo | Don Feria

Fr. Gary Thomas holds a crucifix he uses in performing an exorcism. Thomas' training as an exorcist is recounted in a nonfiction book titled The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist.

In the Archdiocese of Toronto, exorcism inquiries are managed by the Office of Spiritual Affairs.

A once dying trade, there are more than 100 exorcists in North America alone. Thomas said the late Pope John Paul II, in response to the rise of cultism, satanic worship and witchcraft, demanded greater attention be given to the craft and that at least one priest from each diocese be trained as an exorcist.

"Society is becoming rapidly more pagan," Thomas said. "There are people who are just falling away from the Lord.

"And there are people who are not just falling away from the Lord, they are falling into other things looking for answers to their questions."

And this pagan culture is not as sub-terrain as it used to be. Thomas noted that there is an entire industry being built around this counter-religious culture, noting the prevalence of palm readers and fortune tellers and metaphysical shops.

"It is becoming more mainstream than Hollywood," said Thomas, who was the inspiration for the 2011 film The Rite starring Anthony Hopkins.

"Many of these people don't even know what they are doing is dangerous. Some do but most don't."

OUIJA BOARD DANGER

Board game giant Hasbro has owned the rights to the name Ouija Board and has sold the product on shelves alongside children's games since 1991.

Several other companies also manufacturer a version under a slightly different name

It is that kind of dismissal of the dangers of dancing with the demonic which has Thomas frequently leaving the Golden State to speak about his ministry.

"The ministry of exorcism in the 21st century requires prayer and discernment to ascertain whether or not what a person is or individuals are proclaiming on an individual's behalf that a particular person has a relationship with the demonic," he said from California.

"That is basically what the ministry is in a nutshell."