Fr. Gabriel Amorth on the Reform of the Rite of Exorcism
This interview was originally published in the June 2000 issue of 30 Days, a popular Catholic magazine based in Italy
30 Days: Father Amorth, the Italian translation of the new Ritual for Exorcists is finally ready.
Father Gabriel Amorth: Yes, it is ready. Last year the CEI didn't want to approve it because it contained errors in the translation from Latin to Italian. And we exorcists, the ones who would have to use it, we took the opportunity to point out that, on a number of points, we were in disagreement with the New Ritual. But the underlying Latin text has remained the same in this revised translation. This long-awaited Ritual has turned into a farce. An incredible obstacle that is likely to prevent us acting against the demon.
30 Days: A heavy accusation. What is it that you are thinking of?
Fr. Amorth: I will give you but two examples. Two spectacular examples. Point 15 treats of evil spells and how one should behave when dealing with them. An evil spell is an evil brought about on a person by means of recourse to the devil. It can be accomplished under a variety of forms like spells, curses, the evil eye, voodoo and macumba. The Roman Ritual used to explain how one should confront it. The New Ritual on the other hand categorically declares that it is absolutely forbidden to perform exorcisms in such cases. Absurd. Evil spells are by far the most frequent causes of possessions and evil procured through the demon: at least 90% of cases. It is as good as telling exorcists they can no longer perform exorcisms. Then Point 16 solemnly declares that one should not carry out exorcisms if one is not certain of the presence of the devil. This is a masterstroke of incompetence: the certainty that the devil is present in someone can only be obtained by carrying out an exorcism. What is more, the authors of the Ritual failed to notice that on two points they were contradicting the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For this points out that exorcism should be practiced in cases of diabolical possession and in those of evil caused by the demon. And it also recommends that it be performed on people as well as on things. And in things, there is never the presence of the demon, there is only his influence.
The declarations contained in the New Ritual are very serious and very damaging. They are the fruit of ignorance and inexperience.
30 Days: But wasn't the New Ritual put together by specialists?
Fr. Amorth: Not at all! During these last ten years, two commissions worked on the Ritual; one which was made up of cardinals and which was responsible for the Praenotanda, that is to say the initial provisions, and the other which was responsible for the prayers. I can affirm with certainty that none of the members of these commissions had ever performed an exorcism, had ever been present at an exorcism and ever possessed the slightest idea of what an exorcism is. Here lies the error, the original sin of this Ritual. Not one of those who collaborated on it was an exorcism specialist.
30 Days: How is that possible?
Fr. Amorth: It is not me you should be asking. At the Vatican II Ecumenical Council, each commission was aided by a group of experts who assisted the bishops in their work. And this custom was kept up after the Council, every time that parts of the Ritual were redrafted. But not this time. And yet, if there were ever a subject that demanded the participation of specialists, it was truly this.
30 Days: And yet?
Fr. Amorth: And yet we exorcists were never consulted. And what is more, any suggestions that we were able to make were unfavorably received by the commissions. It is a paradoxical history. Do you want me to tell you what happened?
30 Days: Of course.
Fr. Amorth: As Vatican Council II had requested, the various parts of the Roman Ritual were gradually revised. We exorcists were waiting for title 12 to be addressed, that is to say the Exorcism Ritual. But apparently this Ritual was not considered an important subject, for the years went by and nothing happened. Then, quite unexpectedly, on 4 June 1990, there was published a Ritual ad interim, that is a trial Ritual. This was a real surprise for us, as we had not been consulted beforehand. And yet we had prepared a whole series of requests in view of the Ritual's revision. We were asking, among other things, that the prayers might be amended so that invocations to the Virgin, which were completely absent, might be incorporated, and that the number of prayers specifically relating to exorcism might be augmented. But we were not given the chance to make any kind of contribution. However, we were not discouraged: after all the text had been drawn up for us. And as in his letter of presentation, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship at the time, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, had asked the Episcopal Conferences to send in, over the following two years, "any advice and suggestions made by priests who would make use of it", we got down to work. I brought together eighteen exorcists, chosen from among the most expert on the planet. We examined the text with great attention. We used it. We immediately commended the first part in which the evangelical foundations of exorcism were summarized. This part deals with the biblical and theological aspect of the question, and on this head no lack of competence was apparent. It is a new section not found in the Ritual of 1614, which was composed under Pope Paul V; besides, at that time, there was no need to recall these principles, since the whole world knew them and accepted them. Today, on the contrary, this is indispensable.
But when we came to examine the practical part that demands a specific knowledge of the subject, the total inexperience of the writers really showed through. We made numerous observations, article by article, and we sent these on to all interested parties: the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, end the Episcopal Conferences. One copy was handed directly to the Pope.
30 Days: How were your observations received?
Fr. Amorth: Badly, and they achieved nothing. We had taken our inspiration from the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium in which the Church is described as the "People of God". In number 28, it speaks of priests collaborating with bishops, and in number 37 it is clearly stated - and this applies to the laity also - that "by reason of the knowledge, competence and preeminence they enjoy, they are empowered, indeed sometimes obliged, to manifest their opinion on things that pertain to the good of the Church." This is exactly what we did. And we were ingenuous enough to think that the directives of Vatican II had found their way into the Roman Congregations. But instead we found ourselves up against a wall of rejection and derision.
The Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship gave a report to the Commission of Cardinals in which he said that those who had contacted him were bishops and not priests and exorcists. And with regard to our own humble attempt to help them by giving our advice as specialists, he added - and I quote verbatim - "One should also take note of the fact that a group of exorcists and "demonologues", who subsequently formed themselves into an international Association, were busy orchestrating a campaign against the rite." An indecent accusation: we have never orchestrated a campaign! The Ritual was intended for us, and yet not one competent person had been called upon by the commissions; so it was only to be expected that we should seek to make our contribution.
30 Days: Does this mean then that, for you, the New Rite is unusable in the struggle against the demon?
Fr. Amorth: Yes. They were looking to give us a blunt weapon. Efficacious prayers, prayers that had been in existence for twelve centuries, were suppressed and replaced by new ineffective prayers. But, as luck would have it, they threw us a lifeline at the last moment.
30 Days: What was that?
Fr. Amorth: The new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Jorge Medina, attached to the Ritual a Notification in which he specified that exorcists were not obliged to use this Ritual and that, if they wished, they could ask their bishop for authorization to use the old one. The bishops must in their turn ask for authorization from the Congregation which, as the Cardinal writes, "willingly accords it".
30 Days: "Willingly accords it"? That is a very strange concession...
Fr. Amorth: Do you want to know where it comes from? It comes from an attempt made by Cardinal Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and by Cardinal Medina to introduce into the Ritual an article - it was article 38 at that time - which would authorize exorcists to use the previous Ritual. It was undoubtedly a maneuver in extremis to fend off on our behalf the grave errors found in the definitive Ritual. But the two cardinals failed in their attempt. Then Cardinal Medina, who had understood what was at stake in this matter, decided to grant us this lifeline anyway and he added a separate note.
30 Days: How do you exorcists see your position within the Church?
Fr. Amorth: We are very badly treated. Our brother priests who are charged with this delicate task are treated as though they are crazy, as fanatics. Generally speaking they are scarcely even tolerated by the bishops who have appointed them.
30 Days: And the most striking manifestation of this hostility?
Fr. Amorth: We organized an international congress of exorcists near Rome. We asked to be received by the Pope. To avoid pressurizing him and adding yet another audience to those he had already granted, we simply asked to be received in a public audience, that of Wednesday in Saint Peter's. We were not even asking him to address us his personal greetings. We made our request for an audience in the proper manner, as will be perfectly recalled by Mgr. Paolo de Nicolo of the Prefecture of the Pontifical House, who received our request very warmly. But on the day before the audience, Mgr Nicolo told us - to tell the truth, he was very embarrassed and it was very apparent that the decision did not depend on him - not to present ourselves at the audience, and that we had not been admitted. Unbelievable: 150 exorcists from five continents, men appointed by their bishops in accordance with the rules of canon law which requires that they be men of prayer, knowledge and good reputation - and thus in some way the cream of the clergy - ask to take part in a public audience with the Pope and are shown the door! Mgr Nicolo told me, "I promise to immediately send you a letter explaining the situation." Five years have passed and I am still waiting for this letter. It [was] certainly not John Paul II who excluded us. But the fact that 150 priests should be forbidden to take part in a public audience with the Pope in Saint Peter's shows what kind of obstacles exorcists encounter even within their own Church and to what extent they are frowned upon by a great number of ecclesiastical authorities.
30 Days: You fight against the demon every day. What is Satan's greatest success?
Fr. Amorth: To succeed in making people believe that he doesn't exist. And in this he has almost succeeded. Even within the Church. We have a clergy and an episcopate who no longer believe in the devil, in exorcisms, in the extraordinary evil that the devil can cause, nor in the power that Jesus has given us to drive out demons.
For three centuries, the Latin Church - in contrast with the Orthodox Church and various Protestant confessions - has almost entirely abandoned the ministry of exorcism. As the clergy no longer practice exorcisms, as they no longer study them and have never seen them, they no longer believe in them. And nor do they believe in the devil either. We have entire episcopates who are hostile to exorcisms. There are countries in which there is not a single exorcist, as for example Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. A terrifying deficiency.
30 Days: You did not mention France. Is the situation any different there?
Fr. Amorth: There is a book written by Isidore Froc, the best known French exorcist, entitled: Exorcists, who are they and what do they do? This work, translated into Italian, was written at the request of the French Episcopal Conference. Nowhere in this book is it stated that exorcists, in certain cases, perform exorcisms. And the author has several times stated on French television that he has never performed an exorcism and that he would never do so. Out of a hundred French exorcists, there are but five who believe in the devil and carry out exorcisms. All the rest send those who contact them to the psychiatrist. And the bishops are the main victims of this situation of the Catholic Church in which belief in the existence of the demon is in the process of disappearing.
Before this new manual appeared, the German episcopate sent a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger in which they declared that there was no need to create a new Ritual because exorcisms should no longer be performed.
30 Days: Is it down to the bishop to appoint exorcists?
Fr. Amorth: Yes. When a priest is appointed bishop, he is faced with an article in the Code of Canon Law which gives him absolute authority to appoint exorcists. The minimum one can ask of a bishop is that he has taken part in at least one exorcism, given that he has to make such an important decision. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. But if a bishop finds himself before a serious request for an exorcism - that is to say one that has not been made by someone deranged - and he does nothing, he commits a mortal sin. And he is then responsible for the terrible sufferings endured by this person. Sufferings which sometimes last for years or even an entire lifetime, and which he could have prevented.
30 Days: Do you mean to say that the majority of the bishops in the Catholic Church are in a state of mortal sin?
Fr. Amorth: When I was a child, my old parish priest taught me that there are eight sacraments: the eighth is ignorance. And the eighth saves more than all the others together. To commit a mortal sin, there must exist grave matter, but also full awareness and deliberate consent. To fail to give one's aid is, for bishops, a grave matter. But these bishops are ignorant: there is therefore no deliberate consent and full awareness.
30 Days: But if one does not believe in the existence of Satan, does one's faith remain intact, is it still the Catholic faith?
Fr. Amorth: No. I will tell you a story. When I met Don Pellegrino Ernetti for the first time, a celebrated exorcist who had practiced in Venice for forty years, I said to him, "If I could speak to the Pope, I would tell him that I meet too many bishops who do not believe in the devil." The following afternoon, Father Ernetti came back to see me to tell me that that same morning he had been received by John Paul II. "Holiness," he had said to him, "there is an exorcist here in Rome, Father Amorth who, if he met you, would tell you that he knows too many bishops who do not believe in the devil." The Pope answered him briefly: "He who does not believe in the devil does not believe in the Gospel." That is the reply which was given to him and which I repeat.
30 Days: Explain to me if you would: does this mean that there are many bishops and priests who are no longer Catholic?
Fr. Amorth: Let us say that they do not believe in a Gospel truth. Therefore, I would possibly accuse them of propagating a heresy. But let us understand: someone is only formally heretical if he is accused of committing an error and he persists in it. But because of the situation in the Church today, no one would ever accuse a bishop of not believing in the devil or in demonic possession and of not appointing exorcists because he has no belief in these things. I could mention a great number of bishops and cardinals who, as soon as they had been appointed to a diocese, withdrew from all exorcists the faculty of exercising their powers. Or of bishops who openly maintain: "For myself, I do not believe in these things. They are beliefs of the past." Why is this? Because unfortunately there has been an extremely pernicious influence exerted by certain biblical experts, and I could mention the names of some very well-known people. We who every day come into close contact with the world beyond, we know that this influence has had a hand in many of the liturgical reforms.
30 Days: For example?
Fr. Amorth: Vatican Council II had asked for certain texts to be revised. But this order was disobeyed, as there was a desire to rewrite them all from scratch. No thought was given to the possibility of making things worse rather than better. And many rites were spoiled by this mania for jettisoning everything from the past and of rebuilding everything from top to bottom, as though the Church had, until today, hoodwinked and misled us, and as though there had now finally arrived a time of great geniuses, of super-theologians, of super-biblicists, of super-liturgists, who knew how to give the Church what was sound. It is all a lie: the last Council simply asked for these texts to be revised, not to be destroyed. The Exorcism Ritual, for example, was to be revised, not rewritten. There were prayers in it which had been in use for twelve centuries. Before suppressing these ancient prayers which had proved so efficacious, one should have thought long and hard. But no! We exorcists have all tried out the new prayers in the New Ritual ad interim and we have come to realize that they are absolutely ineffectual. But the rite of baptism for children has also been spoiled. It has been so drastically overhauled that the exorcism against Satan has virtually been eliminated. This had always held a very great importance for the Church, so much so that it is called the minor exorcism. Paul VI himself publicly protested against this new rite.
We find the same degeneration of the rite in the new benedictionary. I have read its 1200 pages minutely. Well! any reference to the fact the Lord must protect us against Satan, that the angels protect us from the attacks of the demon, has been systematically suppressed. All the prayers for the blessing of homes and schools have been suppressed. Everything should be blessed and protected, but today there is no longer any protection against the demon. There no longer exists any defense or any prayers against him. This same Jesus had taught us a prayer for liberation in the Our Father: "Deliver us from the Evil One. Deliver us from the Person of Satan." This prayer has been mistranslated and today people pray saying, "Deliver us from evil." One speaks of a general evil whose origin is essentially unknown. But the evil against which Our Lord Jesus taught us to fight is, on the contrary, a concrete person: it is Satan.
30 Days: You are in a privileged observation position: is it your impression that Satanism is spreading?
Fr. Amorth: Yes. Enormously. When the faith retreats, superstition makes progress. In biblical terms, I can say that people are abandoning God to give themselves up to occultism. The terrible retreat of the faith throughout the whole of Catholic Europe makes people throw themselves into the arms of magicians and fortunetellers, and satanic sects prosper. Devil worship is the object of great publicity among the masses through satanic rock and celebrities like Marilyn Manson. Children are also under attack: there are magazines and comic strips that teach magic and Satanism.
Spiritualist seances in which the dead are called up to answer certain questions are very widespread. People are now being taught to perform spiritualist seances through the computer, the telephone, the television, the video recorder, but above all through automatic writing. No longer is there a need for a medium: this is a spiritualism that each can practice by himself. According to polls, 37% of students have on at least one occasion played the game with letters and a glass, which is a veritable spiritualist seance. In a school where I had been invited to speak, the students told me that they used to play this game during the religion lesson, under the obliging eyes of the teacher.
30 Days: And does this work?
Fr. Amorth: There is no difference between white magic and black magic. When magic works, it is always the work of the demon. Every form of occultism, like this widespread resort to the religions of the East with their esoteric suggestions, are open gateways to the demon. And the devil enters. At once.
In the case of the Sister who was killed at Chiavenna and in that of Erika and Omar, the two adolescents from Novi Ligure who killed Erika's mother and little brother, I had no hesitation in stating immediately that diabolical intervention was involved, because these children had given themselves up to Satanism. The police inquiry subsequently showed that they were following Satan, that they had satanic books.
30 Days: How does the demon set about seducing people?
Fr. Amorth: His strategy is always along the same lines. I have told him this and he admits it.. He makes people believe that hell does not exist, that sin does not exist, and that he is nothing but one more experience to try out. Concupiscence, success and power are the three great passions on which Satan relies.
30 Days: How many cases of demonic possession have you encountered?
Fr. Amorth: About a hundred. I have stopped counting.
30 Days: A hundred? But that is an enormous number. In your book you say that cases of possession are rare.
Fr. Amorth: And indeed they are. Many exorcists have encountered nothing but cases of diabolical harm. But I have inherited the "clientele" of a famous exorcist, Father Candido, and therefore cases which he had not as yet resolved. Moreover, exorcists send me their more resistant cases.
30 Days: What is the most difficult case you have ever met?
Fr. Amorth: It is one I am "treating" at this moment, and that for two years now. It is the young girl who was blessed - it was not a true exorcism - by the Pope in October, at the Vatican, and whose case caused a great stir in the press. She is buffeted twenty-four hours a day and is the victim of unspeakable torments. The doctors and psychiatrists can make nothing of this. She is completely lucid and very intelligent. A truly sad case.
30 Days: How does one become a victim of the demon?
Fr. Amorth: One can be subjected to the attacks of the demon in four cases. Either because it constitutes a blessing for the person and such is the case with many of the saints, or because of irreversible persistence in sin, or because one is the victim of a curse uttered in the name of the demon, or else when one gives oneself up to practices of occultism.
30 Days: During the exorcism of possessed persons, what kind of phenomena occur?
Fr. Amorth: I recall an illiterate peasant who, during an exorcism, spoke to me only in English and I had to have an interpreter. There are people who manifest a superhuman strength, others who completely levitate from the ground and whom it is impossible even for several men to keep seated in their armchair. But it is only the context in which these phenomena occur which makes us speak of demonic possession.
30 Days: Has the devil ever harmed you personally?
Fr. Amorth: When Cardinal Poletti asked me to take on this role of exorcist, I recommended myself to the Virgin: "Envelop me in Thy mantle and I will be in total security." The demon has often threatened me, but he has never harmed me.
30 Days: Don't you ever feel afraid of the demon?
Fr. Amorth: Me, for that animal? It is he who should be afraid of me; I act in the name of the Lord of the world. But as for him, he is nothing but God's monkey.
30 Days: Father Amorth, Satanism is spreading more and more widely. The New Ritual, in practice, prevents the carrying out of exorcisms. Exorcists are prevented from taking part in an audience with the Pope in Saint Peter's. Tell me frankly: what is going on?
Fr. Amorth: The smoke of Satan has entered everywhere. Everywhere! Perhaps we were excluded from the audience with the Pope because they were afraid that such a large number of exorcists might succeed in chasing out the legions of demons that have installed themselves in the Vatican.
30 Days: You are joking, aren't you?
Fr. Amorth: It may seem like a joke, but I do not believe it is. I have no doubt about the fact that the demon tempts the authorities of the Church especially, just as he tempts every authority, those of politics and industry.
30 Days: Are you saying then that here as well, as in all wars, Satan wishes to conquer the enemy's stronghold in order to take the enemy generals prisoner?
Fr. Amorth: It is a winning strategy. It is one that is always applied. Especially when the adversary's defenses are weak. Satan is also attempting it. But, thank Heaven, it is the Holy Spirit who directs the Church: "The gates of hell will never prevail." Despite the defections. And despite the betrayals, about which one should not be surprised. The first betrayal was the work of one of the closest Apostles of Jesus: Judas Iscariot. Yet, despite this, the Church continues on her way. The Holy Spirit keeps her going and that is why Satan's attacks can only be partially successful. Admittedly, the demon may win battles, and even important battles. But never the war.