Prominent Psychiatrist Dr. Richard Gallagher Says Demonic Possession is Real and People Seeking Exorcisms Shouldn’t be Ignored

Francisco Goya's 1795 painting, "St. Francis Borgia Helping a Dying Impenitent"
Francisco Goya’s 1795 painting, “St. Francis Borgia Helping a Dying Impenitent”

It is a phenomenon that is on the rise throughout the world: The number of cases of demonic possession – and demands for priests to carry out exorcisms – is, according to multiple sources, soaring.

Medical science remains sceptical. However, a Princeton-and-Yale-educated mainstream psychiatrist believes demonic possession is indeed very real – and claims that the majority of Americans agree with him.

With 25 years experience in a private psychiatric practice and as a professor at New York Medical College and Columbia University, Dr Richard Gallagher has a rare vantage point to observe human behavior. And then there is the inhuman.

He is also a sought-after psychiatrist for discernment, the initial step in determining the need for exorcism. Dr Gallagher has evaluated hundreds of cases of possible possession and, in a wide-ranging and rare interview with the Telegraph, explains why he believes the phenomenon is genuine.

In April, at a Vatican training course for exorcist priests, participants were told that demand for exorcism is booming as a result of a decline in Christian faith and the internet providing easy access to black magic, the occult and Satanism.

Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded his followers that Satan is “a real being, roaming the Earth to devour souls like a lion”. In April, he wrote: “Hence, we should not think of the Devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.” He observed that life can be “a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil”.

Last year, speaking to priests attending a Vatican course on confession, the Pope said confessors “should not hesitate” to refer penitents who are suffering from “genuine spiritual disturbances” to exorcists. Describing the Rite of Exorcism as a “delicate and necessary ministry”, the Pope admonished that exorcist priests must be selected with “great care and great prudence.”

In the US, the number of priest exorcists has increased from twelve to fifty over the past decade. While demand for exorcism continues to surge, Dr Gallagher’s medical assessment of whether a person is mentally ill or possessed by demons will determine whether some exorcisms are conducted.

Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded his followers that Satan is “a real being, roaming the Earth to devour souls like a lion”. In April, he wrote: “Hence, we should not think of the Devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.” He observed that life can be “a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil”.

Last year, speaking to priests attending a Vatican course on confession, the Pope said confessors “should not hesitate” to refer penitents who are suffering from “genuine spiritual disturbances” to exorcists. Describing the Rite of Exorcism as a “delicate and necessary ministry”, the Pope admonished that exorcist priests must be selected with “great care and great prudence.”

In the US, the number of priest exorcists has increased from twelve to fifty over the past decade. While demand for exorcism continues to surge, Dr Gallagher’s medical assessment of whether a person is mentally ill or possessed by demons will determine whether some exorcisms are conducted.

Of the cases referred to him for possible possession, he noted that they are people who “suffer tremendously”.

“There is very strict criteria for determining the person’s problem. I am not just intuiting. I’m dealing with it from a very scientific point of view,” he said.

Speaking to the Telegraph at his office in Westchester County New York, Dr Gallagher said that while possession is very rare, in his medical opinion, it is real. “There are cases of spirit possession in pretty much every culture,” he said. He has evaluated cases referred to him by priests, rabbis, Christian ministers and representatives of other spiritual traditions.

Dr Gallagher does not view himself as being outside the American mainstream in his beliefs about the existence of demons. Noting that the United States is a more religious country “than somewhat secular countries in Europe”, he cited poll numbers indicating that about 70 to 75 per cent of Americans believe in the Devil and at least half of those believe that demons have the ability to affect human beings, possessed or otherwise.

“Then you can go to some countries like Madagascar where about 100 per cent of the population believes in spirit possession,” he said. “So it varies a lot from country to country. Haiti is another country that believes a lot in demons and spirit possession. It depends on what subculture you’re addressing. Some secular subcultures on the east coast and the west coast of the United States are very sceptical but the majority of Americans are not only open to these ideas but believe them. So I don’t feel that I’m out of the mainstream.”

At one time, Dr Gallagher, a board certified psychiatrist with a primary focus on individual psychotherapy and psycho pharmacology, was also doubtful. Although a practicing Catholic, he had never volunteered to evaluate people for possession. But early in his medical career two prominent exorcists, one of whom helped found the International Association of Exorcists, referred cases to him that were so dramatic, he concluded that possession exists. One such flamboyant and dramatic case was that of “Julia”.

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SOURCE: Rachel Ray
The Telegraph