Exorcism and religious intolerance
Diane Vera printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 08:46:33 AM EST
Exorcism and "spiritual warfare" are often accompanied by religious intolerance and attempts to impose theocracy -- at least in the context of the "New Apostolic Reformation," as has been pointed out many times, by Rachel Tabachnick, Bruce Wilson, and others, here on Talk To Action.

Question:  To what extent is this also true of Catholic exorcism?

Recently there's been a flurry of mass media attention to Catholic exorcism, due to the premiere of the movie The Rite, loosely based on the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio.

The Catholic Church is much more restrained in its approach to demonology than Pentecostal, Charismatic, and new-Apostolic "deliverance ministries" typically are.  Whereas the latter tend to see demons, demons everywhere, Catholic exorcists make at least some attempt to distinguish "demonic" activity from mental illness and to recommend appropriate treatment for the latter.

However, at least one Catholic bishop has admitted that the recent Catholic exorcism trend has been influenced by the Charismatic movement.  According to the National Catholic Register story A Nation and Its Demons, January 29, 2010:

The exorcist usually works in union with another priest and/or with a deliverance team.  According to Bishop [Thomas] Paprocki [of Springfield, Ill.], the "deliverance" aspect is a modern addition, having grown up through charismatic prayer groups that focus on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He explained that during the 1960s and 1970s the devil's work received less emphasis in the Church. The charismatic groups which formed during those decades, however, tended to focus more on deliverance of people from evil. Most exorcists today turn to such groups to be part of an exorcism and deliverance team, to pray for and with them. Another aspect to the team approach is the use of health-care professionals to screen for mental illness.

(P.S., February 21, 2011:  In North Dakota, according to the Rapid City Journal news story Bismarck Diocese only in area to have its own exorcist by Mary Garrigan, Sunday, February 20, 2011, the un-named local exorcist is said to work with two lay people who have the "gift of the discernment of spirits."  Most likely these two "gifted" people are Catholic Charismatics, I would guess.)

Talk To Action's "New Apostolic Reformation Resarch Team" might want to investigate the possible extent of crossover between the "New Apostolic Reformation" and Catholic charismatics.  (Such crossover might be possible even though at least some "New Apostolic Reformation" leaders, on the other hand, are very anti-Catholic, even going so far as to regard the entire Catholic Church as being controlled by a demon called the "Queen of Heaven.")

Be that as it may, long before the "New Apostolic Reformation" emerged as a distinct movement, Catholic exorcism has long been associated with the more conservative and authoritarian sectors of the Catholic Church.  For example, back in the 1970's, a leading popular proponent of exorcism was Malachi Martin, a Catholic traditionalist who wrote Hostage to the Devil (1975).

More recently, in 2005, a Vatican-backed course on exorcism was taught at the Pontifical Academy Regina Apostolorum, run by the Legion of Christ, a controversial, notoriously authoritarian conservative religious order founded by the subsequently-disgraced Marcial Maciel.  (See Vatican backs exorcism course:  Church lacks priests qualified to practice ritual by Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2005, re-published on the Boston Globe site.)  The course was taught in the midst of a Satanic panic in Italy, and the course itself featured highly questionable alleged "experts" on Satanism.  (See Richard Bartholomew's posts Italy an Unhealthy Climate for Satanists, January 7, 2005, and More on Italian Satanism, January 10, 2005.)

In November 2010 in Baltimore, there was a two-day closed-door conference on exorcism, for American Bishops, just before the annual fall meeting of the nation's bishops.  According to the New York Times ("For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism Is Revived" by Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, November 12, 2010):

Some Catholic commentators said they were puzzled why the bishops would bother with exorcisms in a year when they are facing a full plate of crises -- from parish and school closings, to polls showing the loss of one of every three white baptized members, to the sexual abuse scandal flaring up again.

But to R. Scott Appleby, a professor of American Catholic history at the University of Notre Dame, the bishops' timing makes perfect sense.

"What they're trying to do in restoring exorcisms," said Dr. Appleby, a longtime observer of the bishops, "is to strengthen and enhance what seems to be lost in the church, which is the sense that the church is not like any other institution. It is supernatural, and the key players in that are the hierarchy and the priests who can be given the faculties of exorcism.

"It's a strategy for saying: `We are not the Federal Reserve, and we are not the World Council of Churches. We deal with angels and demons.' "

Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized a return to traditional rituals and practices, and some observers said the bishops' interest in exorcism was consistent with the direction set by the pope.

The conference on exorcism was organized by Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, who I quoted earlier.  Paprocki was appointed bishop of Springfield, Illinois, in April 2010.  His appointment was protested by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) due to his remark, three years ago, blaming the Devil for the wave of sex-abuse lawsuits against the Church.  (See New Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki Once Blamed Devil For Sex Abuse Lawsuits, by Christopher Will, Huffington Post, April 10, 2010.)

The movie The Rite is loosely based on the experiences of Father Gary Thomas, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Saratoga, Calif.  Father Thomas regards all non-Abrahamic religions as opening doorways to demons.  He has even said that "any new age activities," or dabbling in witchcraft, "immediately disqualifies" the practitioner from running for public office!  According to an interview in The Catholic Spirit, "Book focusing on US priest's training as exorcist being made into movie," January 25, 2011:

Asked about the case of Republican U.S. Senate aspirant Christine O'Donnell of Delaware, and her comment that she had "dabbled into witchcraft" in high school, Father Thomas replied, "I find that incredibly troubling that a person who had taken part in witchcraft would run" for office.

O'Donnell made the comment in an appearance on a 1999 television show. The segment had never aired until the host of the show, Bill Maher, aired it during the election campaign.

"I think that immediately disqualifies her from public office (as it would for) anybody who engages in witchcraft or engages in any new age activities," the priest said. "It opens doorways to the diabolical. I think it impairs people's judgments.

Of course, there were other, better reasons to object to O'Donnell's candidacy.  (See Ask Christine O'Donnell the Right Questions - Not if She is a Witch by Rachel Tabachnick, Thu Sep 23, 2010, here on Talk To Action,)

According to an interview with Father Gary Thomas by Peg Aloi, on January 26, 2011, Father Thomas believes in pretty much the entire "Satanic Ritual Abuse" meme, complete with recovered memories.  Here again he also condemnts polytheism, including traditional Native American religions, as "opening them up to a spirit realm that could be very dangerous."

Another well-known exorcist is Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, former president of Human Life International: "The Pro-Life Leader Who Is Also an Exorcist."  Euteneuer is the author of two books, Exorcism and the Church Militant and Demonic Abortion.  In an interview by Deal W. Hudson in Inside Catholic, republished on the Catholic Online website, 7/20/2010, Euteneuer said:

Exorcism and the Church Militant is intended, in part, as a warning to parents who allow their children to be desensitized to "the dark world" by books and films like the Harry Potter series and the vampire books of Stephanie Meyer. Father Euteneuer told me possession is almost always a result of someone getting involved in some sort of occult practices, such as witchcraft, Wicca, tarot cards, and Ouiji boards.

"Harry Potter and these Twilight vampires glamorize the power of evil," Father Eutenener explained, "and this has lead to many, many cases of possession among young people." It may begin with a child or teenager simply "playing around" with the occult, but that seemingly harmless act is "opening a window" to possession.

Yes, he really believes that reading vampire fiction is evil and dangerous, if the following blog post has accurately reprinted a statement of his: Vampire Logic, Monday, July 26, 2010.

In August 2010, Euteneuer was removed from public ministry by his bishop, for undisclosed reasons.  More recently, some Catholic bloggers have alleged sexual improprieties.  (An example is "Of Aquinas, Augustine, and Euteneuer: reflections on Fr. Tom on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas" by Tom O'Toole on the right wing website Renew America, January 29, 2011.)  Another blogger, Frank Weathers, questioned the accuracy of Euteneuer's autobiography, in "For Cults of Personality, Not! (Or My Brush with Fr. Thomas Euteneuer)," Sunday, January 30, 2011.

(P.S., Feb. 5, 2011:  Frederick Clarkson has called attention to the Bene Diction Blogs On post Father Thomas Euteneurer, the cult of personality, moral failure and the blogosphere, February 1, 2011.  Apparently the talk of a sex scandal has been verified.)

(Further P.S., February 6, 2011:  The following blog post includes a history of Thomas Euteneuer's anti-abortion activism:  The Shame of an Exorcist Admitting Violation of Chastity by Michelle Goldberg, The Daily Beast, February 2, 2011.  And here is a relevant news story:  Anti-abortion group says multiple women have complained about disgraced priest by Lona O'Connor, Palm Beach Post, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011.)

Pagan blogger Jason Pitzi-Waters has written the following posts about the recent  Catholic exorcism revival and accompanying attitudes toward polytheistic religions:

Anyhow, the recent mass media attention to exorcism, thanks to the premiere of The Rite, may result in some good opportunities for activists here to call attention to the political implications of the larger "spiritual warfare" trend.

In my experience, the pagans and non-Christians have been far more accepting and even loving (and willing to listen and willing to help) than the "Christians" ever were.  I will admit that this might be due to being a persecuted minority in this area, but I don't think so.  Ditto for the Unitarians and Universalists.

Maybe they want to cast out the "spirit" that makes those people more Christ-like?  Instill one that is hateful and judgmental?

When we were in the Episcopal church, we heard about exorcisms.  Every time a "charismatic" was involved, and often were supported by a team of Pentecostals/Dominionists (usually Assemblies of God).

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 01:10:20 PM EST

...the phenomenon of recovered memories is completely real.  That is not to say that all who believe they have recovered memories are remembering accurately, but, for myself, I have recovered memories of ritualized abuse that have been corroborated with other people.  That is not to say what occurred to me was "Satanic" - it was wholly Christian-theology based ritualized molestation.  I think religious leaders have simply capitalized on the phenomenon and labeled it "Satanic."  It's possible there are people who believe in Satan who molest kids, but not as likely as Christians who don't believe in Christianity who molest kids.

by OldChaosoftheSun on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 08:31:54 PM EST
If your memories can be corroborated, then they're valid.  However, there are lots of ways that false memories can be implanted too, such as the hypnosis that was very faddish back in the 1980's.

There do exist, alas, some Satanists who have molested kids.  But there is no hard evidence of a large generations-old network of same, as is commonly-claimed by believers in "Satanic Ritual Abuse."

Also, it's possible extract false testimonies from children via persistent leading questions.  Back in the 1980's, vast numbers of people were accused and even convicted of alleged crimes that most likely never even happened.

by Diane Vera on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 08:55:21 PM EST

in demanding corroboration.  In some cases, repressed memories can be corroborated if one is lucky.  In others, they can not, but that does not mean that they're implanted or fake.  (And yes, I know that does happen, but sometimes people seem to go too far the other way IMO.)

In my case, I had memories that were repressed for decades.  The timeline of my life was broken and I knew that I had repressed memories.  When someone mentioned last year how they had been hooked into the dominionist church, it caused a massive flashback and the final pieces of my "timeline" fell into place.  My memories of my Pentecostal days are still hazy and a bit disjointed, but at least there are no more huge gaps.  I'd been regaining one small memory after another throughout the years before that - and I'd walked back in 1982.

I found that the memories returned when I was mentally strong enough to deal with them, and they usually came back in flashbacks.  The flashbacks used to be so strong that I'd describe them as "stopping the world", but they are not that strong any more - they only require a little self discipline to 'keep going'.  I'm talking full flashbacks - reliving the (horribly painful) situations and not just strong memories.  (Now they seem to be more along the line of strong memories, but I still get full flashbacks on occasion, and I know I still have a few repressed memories, but I don't think of anything that huge.)

However, I've had people try to deny some of the memories.  The problem is, my wife or others were party to a corroborating conversation or even had knowledge of the situation in question, and were able to help me hold on to the fact that they were true.  The Pentecostals/Dominionists/Fundamentalists are bad about that - they don't want people to know just how bad they can really be, so they deny everything they can... including memories.

I might add that I find it extremely tiresome to have people demand I prove everything.  I AM in the process of documenting the things I can, but at the same time, there is much that I cannot.  But I'm not in the habit of lying, and when the memories are sometimes flashback-strong (including details on the surroundings and even odors and physical sensations), I'm not going to let anyone tell me again that they couldn't have happened.  Especially since so often, something has happened to prove the naysayer to be a liar.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 11:17:26 PM EST

I know a person whose entire childhood is repressed, and that person cannot remember anything before their teen years. I cannot even mention gender (confidentiality rules), but I can say that the person is in therapy and the counselor also said that repressed memories are a defensive mechanism and has told the person not to fight them or try to remember, that the memories will return once they're strong enough to deal with them.  The repression was caused by horrific abuse from infancy through mid-teens.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 11:25:28 PM EST

Bob, I'm inclined to believe you.  One of these days, if you're okay with this, I would like very much to have a phone conversation with you.  You might be able to help me gain some insight into the question of when a recovered memory is likely to be true.  (There are also other topics I'd love to discuss with you as well.)

I do know that certain kinds of "recovered memories" are utterly unlikely to be true.  For example, the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare was started by a book (Michellle Remembers), many of whose claims were disproven.  Subsequently, lots of other people's "memories" of SRA involved things that were downright physically impossible.  And, today, the smoldering remnants of the SRA scare feed the "Illuminati"/"New World Order" claims that are advocated by many dominionists -- and which are also one of the causes of the witchhunts in Africa.

Unrelated to SRA, I myself have occasionally had "memories" that were demonstrably false.

My concerns about the SRA scare, plus my own experiences with unreliable memory, naturally predispose me to be very skeptical toward "recovered memories."  However, to avoid one-sided black-and-white thinking on the issue, I would be interested to learn more about the circumstances under which a recovered memory is likely to be true.

by Diane Vera on Wed Feb 02, 2011 at 12:11:39 AM EST

In the meantime, based upon my experiences, there are a few rules of thumb about true repressed memories.

First, a person is usually very aware that they have repressed memories, long before they come back (no idea of what about, however).  I was aware of them right after I walked 30 years ago, and some didn't return until last year.
Second, there is also usually gaps in one's "timeline of life".
Third, when a memory comes back, other memories related to or connected to it (in time, space, content, topic, etc.) will suddenly make sense.  Other memories may be disjointed or not logical before that happens.  It's like a piece of a puzzle falling into place, and suddenly you see part of the pattern.
Fourth, it won't conflict with other memories (although you might have to take some time to get things in order).
Fifth, I've experienced false memories, and something about them nagged at me until I checked into things, and found that they couldn't have happened.  I could usually then tell how I'd gotten them... something I'd read, watched on TV, and so on.  I've learned to be aware of that nagging doubt and when in question, doubt.  The memory was like a piece of a puzzle that didn't fit.  I KNOW when it's something I dreamed, or whatever.  The memory "feels" different - not right.
Sixth, for me, true repressed memories were like a piece of my mind coming back into place.  There was a sense of a "hole filled" to best describe it.  Most of these memories, when they first returned, were full-blown flashbacks, and it was like I was having to relive the situation again (or a part of a situation).

I talked long with a therapist about repressed memories several years ago.  She said that they were the way a mind protected itself from things that were too traumatic to stand, or to stand with the strength one had at the time.  She told me at the time to not fight them and not try to drag them back, that they'd come when it was right.  She was right.

There also seems to be a memory that is a cross between a repressed memory and a false repressed memory.  

Memory is a strange thing.  There are different types of memory, and people access memories differently.  I can understand the problem you have with repressed memories, and some real atrocities were committed by charlatans who deserve the worst punishment possible.  Personally, I think a lot of that might have been some bassackward form of projection - because from the stories people have told me (and that I've heard), it's usually the Pentecostal/Dominionist/Fundamentalist leaders and "clergy" that are the ones who have done the sorts of things that were claimed about the innocent victims of the false memories.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if some of those false memories about SRA were actually one of those crossed memories, and maybe the truth was in the church.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Feb 02, 2011 at 10:26:48 PM EST

Thanks for your thoughts on genuine vs. false recovered memories, and thanks for being willing to talk to me.  Let's exchange phone numbers via private message on LiveJournal.

by Diane Vera on Wed Feb 02, 2011 at 11:22:07 PM EST

...I meant that as a general comment, not specifically in reply to yours.

by OldChaosoftheSun on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 08:32:43 PM EST

What you've told me about the Episcopalian exorcisms you heard about is very interesting.  I wonder to what extend Catholic Charismatics, too, are assisted by out-and-out Pentecostal groups such as the Assemblies of God.

by Diane Vera on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 08:45:12 PM EST
When I was Assemblies, I used to hang out with the students being taught to infiltrate other denominations (as teams) and try to "lead the sleeping churches back into God's kingdom".  I knew that they would teach one team for Episcopalians (I vaguely remember the face of one member of that team), another for Methodists, and so on... there was a team being taught for nearly every denomination in the area, except possibly Roman Catholics (and UUs).  I don't remember anyone saying that they were being trained for the Roman Catholic church, although I know they DID struggle against the RC church all the time and were very hostile.  I also remember telling a lay minister from the local big RC church about this, and the person saying that they'd seen some evidence of attempts to disrupt services and so on by college-age youth.  If I remember the conversation, he said that there were some young people trying to get charismatic stuff going, and he thought they were questionable and didn't know if they were really RC or not.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 11:34:17 PM EST

Just before we left the Episcopal church, I remember someone telling me that Howe found himself surrounded by Assemblies of God people (and ersatz ex-Assemblies of God "Episcopalians"), and that he told someone he rued the day he ever got involved with them in the first place.  Admittedly this is hearsay, but that was what was said.

His ordination to Bishop took place in an Assemblies of God auditorium ("Church").  Supposedly it was because there wasn't enough room in the Cathedral, but I've long since doubted that.  (There were lots of Assemblies people in his ordination, and they really looked confused or curious at parts of the ceremony.)

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 11:56:17 PM EST

This is an extensive and well-researched overview of the connections between exorcism, religious intolerance, and various belief systems. The information provided is detailed and thought-provoking, shedding light on the different perspectives surrounding this topic.  International Travel It encourages readers to consider the broader implications of the "spiritual warfare" trend and its influence on different religious practices. Well done!between exorcism, religious intolerance, and various belief systems. The information provided is detailed and thought-provoking, shedding light on the different perspectives surrounding this

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