The Importance and Urgency of
Deliverance and Exorcism in the Priestly Ministry
Dear brothers and sisters, it is for me a great pleasure and an honor to have been invited to spend some time with you in this retreat and to talk about the subject: The Importance and Urgency of Deliverance and Exorcism in the Priestly Ministry. I hope that the Holy Spirit will help me express my ideas clearly and to be of some benefit to you in your ministry.
I know that you have been speaking about the exorcism and deliverance all this retreat, and probably some of the subjects that I will refer had been already touched by other speakers. If this so, please I would like to apologize, but, many problems in our church come precisely because “we supposed that you knew…”.
Then, seeking to make orderly statements, and thinking we might have here some people who have no relationship to the subject, first I will mention some fundamental concepts about Satan and possession; next I will review how Jesus Christ developed the ministry of liberation; afterwards we will see how this ministry was assumed by the first community; next I will try to give you a short description of how the Church has assumed this ministry; and I will finish with some conclusions and recommendations addressed specially to my brothers in the priesthood.
1. Fundamental concepts about the liberation of spirits.
a. Incredulity (Lack of faith)
I will start by pointing out that one of the main problems for Christianity, and especially for the Catholics, is the lack of faith, and in particular, the lack of faith in the existence of Satan.
Even though the Bible mentions many times the existence of Satan, not as a moral element of man but as a real being, like an evil and perverse entity, we still find a great number of Christians and non Christians all over the world who belief that the existence of spirits who can posses and disturb people and the practice of exorcism are just superstitions.
For more than three centuries secularization has contributed enormously to this problem all over the world, and what is even worse, the fact that a great number of Bible scholars and Bishops and priest describe the possessed people in the Bible simply as people with mental diseases or in other cases just as literary figures of the author.
Those who think like this, denying the existence of the devil and his impact among all of us also deny the Scriptures and therefore the revelation made by Jesus Christ, source of all truth and from whom we have learned of the mysteries that give us life. These individuals can’t therefore be called Christians, it doesn’t matter if they have been baptized or not, because the name of Christian is given to those who believe and follow Jesus Christ and accept as the truth what His Word has revealed to us.
According to most well known military strategists, the worst thing you can do when at war is to ignore or deny the existence of your enemy, because when the devil is in the shadows he can plan and carry out his plans without being seen or bothered. Satan’s best strategy is to go unnoticed and even better, to be considered a myth or literary figure, because in this way he can act and infest all areas of human activity, as he has already done in our days. I will speak more about this when we analyze the present day situation of our society.
b. The reality of satanic attacks.
Once we have established that Satan, for those of us who believe that Jesus Christ is a living God, is a real being created by God, not with an evil nature in itself, but in his rebellion against God he became evil and acquired the ability to destroy man’s life and if he is not stopped, he will take man to his eternal damnation where Satan has been placed forever, we will now see how he behaves and how we can face him and defeat him.
God has given to this evil being power on earth, not only to tempt and seduce man, as shown in the synoptic gospels when Jesus Christ was tempted, but even more the evil being has received power to enter into the bodies of men and women to dominate them, as well as to harm them, tying them or making them ill in different ways.
This kind of attack, called possession, is well documented all over the Bible.
For example, in the book of Tobias (6:7. 8:2-3) it describes a kind of attack from Satan, and at the end we can see a kind of exorcism. Others see a type of demonic possession in the serpent in Eden or in the case of Saul when we read, “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubled him.” (1 Sam.16:14-15; See also 1Sam 16:23; 18:10-11; 19:9-10). Or consider the words of God, “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death, they shall stone them with stones.” (Lev. 20:27). Then it is very clear that we can see how the evil spirit attacks mankind.
The Jewish literature also speaks about this. It is important the references given by Flavius Josephus, who himself, was a witness of an exorcism done using an ancient ritual from Salomon In Jewish Antiquities (8:46-49) he states that he saw how an exorcist (Eliezer) using a ritual taken from Salomon cast a devil out in the presence of many people. This was obvious because of the things Eliezer asked him (to the demon) in order to prove that he had really left that man.
This would explain the text in Mathew 12:27 where Jesus Christ says:
“If I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?”
Thereby we can see that this was something common among the Jewish people.
c. The possession
Now in order to understand what a Possession is I would like to use the definition given by Dr. Merril Unger in his book Demons in the World Today, who offers us the following:
“Demonic possession is a condition in which one or more evil spirits or demons inhabit the body of a human being and can take complete control of their victim at will. By temporarily blotting out his consciousness, they can speak and act through him as their complete slave and tool. The inhabiting demon (or demons) comes and goes much like the proprietor of a house who may or may not be “at home.”
He says that “when the demon is “at home” he may precipitate an attack. In these attacks the victim passes from his normal state, in which he acts like other people, to the abnormal state of possession”.
In the possession state the victim could be marked by depression and deep melancholy or sometimes by vacancy and stupidity that resemble idiocy. Sometimes the victim may be ecstatic or extremely malevolent and wildly ferocious. During the transition from the normal to the abnormal state the victim is frequently thrown into a violent paroxysm, often falling to the ground unconscious, foaming at the mouth with symptoms similar to epilepsy or hysteria. These disorders could include being deaf, dumb, blind, epileptic, lame, and/or insane that could be referred to an ordinary kind of disease and that is the cause, as we pointed out before, that many people do not believe in the existence of the devil and his works. However the Bible is very careful in distinguishing between the two.
In order to help us in the discernment task, Kurt Koch in his book Occult Bondage and Deliverance, offers us, departing from Mark 5:1-20, eight signs that shows us the symptoms of possession. You can read this in the paper given to the conference.
v.2. The man had an unclean spirit; in other words, he was in-dwelt by another person.
The man exhibited unusual powers of physical strength. No one could bind him anymore.
v.4. He displayed paroxysms (fits of rage). He had wrenched chains apart and broken his fetters in pieces.
v.6-7. The fourth sign is one of disintegration, the splitting of the personality. (However, Scripture shows only the new personality, rather than the constant change back and forth of the two personalities.).
v.7. The man displayed a resistance or opposition to the Christian faith and spiritual things. He told Jesus to leave him alone.
v.8. The sixth symptom is hyperesthesia, an excessive sensibility. The Gadarene had clairvoyant powers. He knew immediately who Jesus was.
v.9. Next is the variation or alteration of voice. A legion of demons spoke out of him.
v.13. The eighth sign is the occult transference. The demons left the man and entered into the swine.
Then we can see, that if we follow these signs, we can point out that the second, third and fourth characteristics we have just outlined, are similar in many respects to the symptoms of certain mental illnesses. However, I say, according to my experience, similar for in no case are they exactly the same. The remaining five characteristics on the other hand are not to be found within any psychiatric classification. For example clairvoyance itself is never a sign of mental illness, and a mental patient will never be able to speak in a voice or a language he has previously not learned.
In addition to these attacks, like we said before, which refer to the in-dwelling of Satan, the experience and research allow us to state that there are some experiences different from total possession but which still affect the senses and sometimes the freedom, the health, the economy and other areas of the person.
d. How to fight it – The exorcism
In order to fight against this satanic attack, the Church has established the ritual of exorcism, with which we seek to expel Satan out of the body and/or out of the areas Satan has attacked in the human being.
The Word exorcism comes from the word EKBALLO which literally means: to cast out, to drive out, or to send out. In other words, during the exorcism there is a fight between the Spirit which has overtaken the person and the person seeking to free itself or expel the evil spirit. In this fight the evil spirit fights back with all its strength and tries to deceive the exorcist to stay as long as possible in the body it has possessed. In this way it can cause him or her more damage or use him or her for its evil purposes trying to destroy human society.
This is why the person we call Exorcist can’t be just anybody, at least to expel the demon when Satan has overcome the person, because we must remember that this is a fight between a very powerful spirit and a week human nature.
It must be then, a humble man through whom the Holy Spirit can work easily, because only this man, in the name of Jesus Christ, will be able to defeat and expel the demon from that person.
In order to cast Satan out of a person, it is necessary, according to Canonical Law, that it be done by an ordained Priest and that he have the permision granted by the Bishop to perform this action.
However, we said before that not only do we have possessions where the devil inhabits and controls the person, but that there are also other kinds of attacks that the devil carries out without possessing the person. We can say that the exorcism of these people can be done by anyone, it would be enough for that person to be meek to the action of the Spirit through which our Lord Jesus Christ can work over the possessed person and liberate him, which in this case, is known as unbinding.
2. Jesus Christ and the ministry of liberation
If we want to understand the importance of the ministry of liberation in the priestly praxis it is necessary to review how it was practiced by Jesus Christ, of whom we are His disciples and representatives.
I would like to start by saying that even the superficial reading of the documents which refer to the activity of Jesus Christ shown in the Gospels as well as of the first Christian community, especially in the Book of Acts show very clearly that the practice of exorcism in Jesus Christ as well as in His followers had an important role.
Even though the ministry of Jesus Christ could be divided in three great activities: Preaching, healing and expelling demons, John the Apostle suggests, that given that the goal of Jesus Christ was to release us from the devil and to destroy the works of Satan as we see in his first letter (1Jn 3,8), there is no doubt that His exorcist activity was fundamental in His redeeming works.
In the Scriptures, we can find, it is not by chance that the word “spirit” or “spirits”, as used to denote a demon, occurs twice in Matthew, three times in Mark, and twice in Luke; with the addition “evil”, twice in Luke; with that of “unclean”, once in Matthew, eleven times in Mark, and four times in Luke. The word daimon, usually translated demon, in singular or plural occurs nine times in Matthew, three times in Mark, fourteen times in Luke, and six times in John. The expression “the spirit of an unclean demon” occurs once in Luke, while the verb “to be demonized” occurs in one form or another seven times in Matthew, four times in Mark and once in the Gospels of Luke and John. Summarizing we can find 50 verses in the Gospels referring to the word demon and 14 times the word Satan.
The importance of the deliverance ministry of Jesus is sowed by the fact that just staring His ministry in Galilee, after He called his disciples, He stared proclaiming the Gospel and immediately we can see the opposition of the devil, that will end with his first exorcism, and precisely for this action, the Gospel says, His reputation spread everywhere (Mk 1:21-23). Also, in the same Gospel, Mark refers that the same day he cured and liberated many men oppressed by the devil (Mk 1:34).
Another important passage of His exorcism’s ministry can be found in Mathew 8:31 that refers us to the exorcism of the demons of Gadara; in Mathew 9:33 the cure of a Dumb Demoniac; in Mathew 17:14-21 the exorcism of the epileptic demoniac; in Mk 7,26 the important passage in which he exorcises the Syro-Phoenician daughter; in Lk 4:33 first we can see a man liberated by Jesus at the synagogue of Capernaum; again Lk 8:1 refers that many women liberated and healed by Jesus are following Him. Finally, and as a testimony about the relationship existing between the possession and the illness, Lk 13:11 witnesses the exorcism of a crippled woman.
By reading carefully we can find many teachings of how Jesus Christ carried out these exorcisms and even of the consequences that a person might have, if after been liberated, he/she does not follow a serious spiritual life. (cfr. Luke 11:24-26).
Finally, we can say that the importance of the healing and exorcist practice in Jesus Christ’s project is corroborated by His interest in transmitting to His followers the capacity to apply it and relate it in an inseparable manner to the good news of the Kingdom and the conversion of its ethical part as shown by many passages of which to have a reference I will mention, maybe the most meaningful in Mk 3:13-15 wherein it is very clear that He called all twelve, the heads of the Church to a very specific mission “to proclaim the message, with power to drive out devils” and in Mathew 10:7-8 in which he states: “He gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to drive them out”. Furthermore the mission of the disciples will be the same as is recorded by Lk 10:1.17 even all believers will have the same power as recorded by Mk 16:17. Important here is the fact that among all the signs that will accompany the believer the first one will be this: “In my name they will cast out devils”. It is clear that the movement started by Him should multiply the number of healers and exorcists.
We can then see very clearly that the exorcist practice of Jesus Christ did not constitute a marginal or folkloric element of His public life, but one of the most central and meaningful factors of His ministry.
3. The primitive Church and the ministry of liberation.
The testimonies of the first community leave no doubts that the apostles had received this power to expel demons, as we saw in the sending of the 12 and later on of the 72, and who used this power even after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ to Heaven.
Even though it is true that the texts in the Book of Acts center their attention in the defense against the evil one as shown in the letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5-6), we can’t overlook some of the texts where we can clearly see that exorcism was a common practice among the disciples of the primitive Church.
Just to have an idea of the application and power the disciples had in fighting against Satan. The best example can be found in the Book of Acts in chapter 16 where Paul expels a demon from a girl who practiced divination under the spell of the demon (Acts 16:16-19). On the other hand, in Acts 19:12 we are told that it was enough to have a handkerchief which had been touched by Paul to be able to carry out an exorcism (Acts 19:12).
In addition to these testimonies we have others where we can see the great power the apostles had over the demons, who not only had the power to expel them but even to make the demons useful in correcting those who have strayed from the gospel life or hinder the growth of the kingdom as shown by the first letter of Paul to Timothy where he hands over the blasphemous to Satan (1Tim 1:20); we have, similar to this passage, the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians where he asks the community to hand over to Satan that person who had married his step mother, so that this person might repent and be saved (1Cor 5:5).
It is clear then, that even though the apostolic texts center their attention in the conversion and in corrective elements to the community, the practice of exorcism was never excluded from the evangelization and the building of the kingdom.
4. The ministry of liberation in the Church today
We can say that the Church, in its general context, has never stopped using the practice of exorcism; however it would very good if we could reflect on the way it is done today.
In our days the practice of exorcism and liberation, is done mainly by bishops who have, through the apostolic succession the power to expel demons, as we have already seen in the texts of the NT where it is very clear that one of the reasons for which they were called was precisely this one.
The “Canonic Code” establishes that the Bishops can and should delegate this authority which is carried out as a “sacramental” to wise and holy priests duly chosen by them (cf. Can. 1172).
We have found that there are very few Bishops and priests who exercise this ministry, which is a very important part of the ministry of Jesus Christ. The reasons? They could be very different, however, among the most common ones we find the following:
a. It is not necessary… why should we do it?
Some priest and Bishops believe that today this ministry is not as necessary as was in the ancient word because we now live in a world where the demon, in any case, can only harm you through a temptation which can be rejected with a good spiritual life. Others, as I pointed out before, believes that the exorcisms carried out by Jesus Christ (for those who believe in this), belonged to situations of the old world or in any case to cultures where this was easier to happen. Others, at last, believe our world is okay and that there is no need to exercise this ministry.
Contrary to all this, the world today has opened its doors to the demon. Today the satanic sects don’t have to hide anymore. They can even be registered as churches in some governments such as Mexico where there is a registrar for the “Church of Satan”. We have music with words and elements clearly satanic that does not have any kind of restriction from anyone. And we could mention many more elements which speak of a total presence of Satan in our society. And what about TV, the movies and the rest of the Mass Media where we can find a lot of promotion for the devil to perform with freedom?
On the other hand, in the modern world and society it is very common and considered as a “game” to “play” with the Ouija boards. The experience tell us that a person who “toys” with Ouija boards, reads the horoscopes, is associated with astrology, fortune tellers, spiritualists and mediums; this person is playing with fire because the chances for him/her to be possessed by a demon will increase exponentially.
We are living in a world that has strayed from God and has introduced its entire life into the devil’s fields. This allows us to see the importance and urgecency of the deliverance and exorcism ministry today not only in the church but in all our society.
Finally, most of the priests who have no knowledge of this issue, as we have already said at the beginning, believe that the people who come before them with symptoms of possession or disturbance caused by the enemy, really have only psychological problems. Therefore causing a great spiritual harm (and sometimes physical and moral) because many of them will end in the hands of people that works precisely for Satan .
b. Fear of reprisals from the devil
Other people believe that the devil can retaliate against those who are part of an exorcism, which is totally false, and only reveals the ignorance on the issue of the devil and his activities in the world and especially on human nature.
If they had more information about this issue, they would know that the devil can not exercise his power as he wished he could because he will always be subject to the God’s will and sovereignty.
Just to make this ignorance more obvious, let me state that the devil gets angrier (madder) whenever a priest performs an in-depth confession to a brother, than when he performs an exorcism, because in the first case the priest really snatches the victim from the devil’s hands, which without the help of the priest would have been dragged into hell; while in the second case the only thing the devil would have done is to disturb that person during his/her time on earth, and nothing more. Whenever a priest, with God’s help is able to achieve an in-depth conversion, the devil, if he had a chance, would destroy him. Satan hates in the worst way possible all those saintly priests even though they are not directly related to the deliverance ministry.
c. Very little holiness and spiritual life
In addition to the previous statements, we have the fact of the poor holiness of the priests, which is certainly a requirement to face the devil. Unfortunately, as has already been stated especially by His Holiness Benedict XVI, many of our brother priests live in a situation where their holiness is not the expected or desired one, not only to face the devil, but even to properly guide God’s children. With the excuse of a huge work load, many of our priests pray very little and have seriously reduced their spiritual life. Certainly, to face the devil in these situations would be useless or even dangerous to the spiritual and moral life of the priest.
d. Lack of generosity
Finally, we can also find strong elements that speak of the lack of generosity of the priests, because whenever they face the devil, it is a difficult task that places the priests’ life in jeopardy. Whoever is willing to serve his brothers to overcome this problem will never have enough rest. The Gospel tells us that there were so many people looking for Jesus Christ and His apostles, they didn’t even have enough time to eat. Today, unfortunately, we want as priests to live as the rest of the people and to have our life in order and everything programmed, especially, our leisure time.
As we can see, because of different reasons, the reality is that there are very few priests and bishops today who render this service in the Church.
This lack of ministers who could render this service in a normal way has taken us to a situation where this ministry is carried out by lay people with results which are not always the best. That is why the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1984 issued a note to all the bishops requesting them to pay more attention to these situations and excesses to avoid any harm to the faithful as well as any distortion of the faith. However, this note still leaves a void in the Canonical Law since it says nothing about the urgency of the shepherds for providing holy priests who could carry out liberation and exorcism practices as stipulated by the Canonical Law.
Aware of this situation, last year Monsignor Andrea Gemma, obispo emeritus of Isernia-Venafro and well known exorcist, had an interview with the Holy Father Benedict XVI to request, in the name of the entire Church, that the Pope do something to acknowledge the need of this ministry in the Church. And the outcome was that the Pope answered, according to an Italian publication: “I am already taking care of this situation. In fact, a few days ago I have spoken again with the competent Dicasterios and now I am even more convinced that it is necessary to remedy this lack of exorcists”.
To confirm this note, a short time ago Father Amorth, the dean of exorcists in Rome and a person who has strived tirelessly for this ministry to be recognized as important within the priestly ministries, has said that he has already seen the note that the Holy Father will send to the bishops of the world to stipulate the rules and to request the appointment of exorcists in the different dioceses of the world.
Anyway, I am convince that whit this note or with out it, to have more priest involved in the deliverance and exorcist ministries will depend on the priests to have more generosity and the desire to help their brothers in disgrace, in being for them God´s instrument to free all those who are oppressed by the devil.
I would like to end with some conclusions as well as some recommendations which could be practical, for those that are already involved in this ministry of liberation, as well as for those that are not yet involved.
It is an undeniable fact, especially for Christians, the existence of Satan in the world, and that he is always angrily seeking the destruction of men and women. He does this in different ways, especially with temptations, and in special cases by possessing the will of his victims or by disturbing them from outside in their goods, health and social relationships. Therefore, we can not ignore him, as has been done lately, because this allows him to act with a greater ease and poison our society.
Jesus Christ’s ministry was centered in preaching and casting out the demons as part of His healing ministry, and this, as the gospels state, was a fundamental part of His gospel project. The same primitive Church, in the figure of the apostles, bear witness that this was also part of the first evangelists. The previous statements lead us to conclude that the ministry of liberation is not optional in the church and priesthood, but is a fundamental part of their mission, which just like its founder, seeks to establish the Kingdom by casting the devil out of the life of man (in all its forms of attacks, disorders and disturbances).
It is a reality that our world needs, today more than ever of the liberating action, since the devil is working today in our society which has opened its doors and has taken away all restrictions for the sects, magi, sorcerers, etc., with severe harm to the people of God.
Since only the priest can perform this activity, it is necessary to have more priests in the diocese who, moved by charity, will be willing to be God´s instrument to free our brothers. These priests should learn more about the enemy and speak out more and without fear about this evil being who is destroying the families. To keep on hiding the issue of the devil so that the people won’t be afraid will just create a great ignorance thereby allowing the enemy to work in completely freedom.
Given that the Priest is an “alter Christus” he must accept that this ministry is not reserved for a few since it is part of the ordained ministry. Even if it is true that that in order to perform a major exorcism we require the consent and permission of the Ordinary, this does not exclude us from performing the minor exorcisms and the liberations and in its due case to request the necessary permits, which are normally granted by the bishops.
If the priests do not perform this ministry then the people who are under the influence of the devil will end up going to the “chamanes”, the witches and other people who say they can help them. This will only cause worse situations for those who have been disturbed or even possessed. Only the power of Jesus Christ, working from inside the Church by those who have received the power to cast out the devil, may cast him out and destroy the devil’s work. So, if we do not assist our brothers we will then be judged with harshness for everything the devil could have done in our brother that was rejected by us. Let me remind you that as an “Alter Christus” we must perform this ministry just as Jesus Christ will do it today, with love and patience.
This ministry must be performed with wisdom and diligence, because if we do not do so, instead of helping, we might severely harm that person. If a person is affected by a physical or psychological situation and the priest suggests it might be a demonic possession, could harm that person even worse that if said person had really been possessed or disturbed by the devil, because the worst devil there is the one we have created by ourselves.
For this reason the Catholic Church has become somewhat cautious in dealing with this problem. Richard J. Woods writes, “Thus, the Church demands that the final judgment about a possession only be made after the expert consultation which today would necessarily include medical, psychiatric and parapsychological tests”.
Certainly in rare cases, especially when dealing with serious situations weather of liberation or exorcism, we must in addition to the authorization from the Ordinary, a special spiritual preparation that would allow the priest to face de devil with strength and power.
As a matter of fact, the Ritual prescribes that a priest called to investigate a claim of possession “should not believe too readily that a person is possessed by an evil spirit; but he ought to ascertain the signs by which a person possessed can be distinguished from one who is suffering from melancholy or some other illness.”
Finally, the priest must not be afraid of facing the devil thinking he might be harmed by the devil. This only happens to those who are not living a life of grace and who are not leading a life of prayer and penance. This should not be a problem, because by its relationship with Jesus Christ and the ministry he performs in the name of Jesus Christ and its Church, a priest should live a life of grace and must be a person or prayer and penance.
I believe all this allows us to see that it is URGENT that the priests retake the ministry and like Our Lord we all stand united and fight together with all our strength to cast Satan out of our society.
Saint John says in his first letter, that the world is under the power of the devil (1Jn 5,19), but as long as there is a generous priest willing to completely assume the ministry of Jesus Christ, there will be a light in the world that will allow the Kingdom of the light to grow.
Dear lay and religious brothers: we need your prayers because that is what holds us up when we have to fight just like Mary’s prayers held her Son up in the final fight in the crucifixion. Do not leave us alone. If we work as one body, with the help of God we will be able to return this world to its rightful owner: Jesus Christ Our Lord, to whom we owe all power, honor and glory. Amen.
Fr. Ernesto María Caro
JESUS Y LOS ESPIRITUS, ESTHER MIQUEL PERICAS, ED. SIGUEME SALAMANCA, 2009
Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1996, c1987).
The works of Josephus : Complete and unabridged (Ant 8.44). Peabody: Hendrickson.
Merrill Unger, Demons in the World Today, (Wheaton Ill.: Tyndale House Publications, 1972) p. 102
Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1971). P. 58
INDE AB ALIQUOT ANNIS, On The Current Norms Governing Exorcisms, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, September 29, 1984 L. S. In Congr. pro Doctrina Fidei tab., n. 291/70
Richard Woods, The Possession Problem, Chicago Studies 1973. P. 99
Ernesto María Caro, Sac.
13 de Julio del 2009