The Vatican is to hold a training course for priests in exorcism next month amid claims that demands for deliverance from demonic possession have greatly increased across the the world.
The Vatican-backed International Association of Exorcists, which represents more than 200 Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox priests, said the increase represented a “pastoral emergency”.
According to a priest from Sicily, the number of people in Italy claiming to be possessed had tripled to 500,000 a year, and an Irish priest has said demand for exorcisms has “risen exponentially”.
Last year, the Christian thinktank Theos reported that exorcisms were a “booming industry” in the UK, particularly among Pentecostal churches.
But some warn that “deliverance ministry” can be a form of spiritual abuse. Critics also say LGBT people and those with mental health issues are targeted for deliverance in the belief that their sexuality or psychiatric problems are the result of demonic possession.
The Vatican training course, which will be held at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome between 16-21 April, will focus on exorcism and the prayer of liberation, a prayer commonly used for deliverance from possession.
“The fight against the evil one started at the origin of the world, and is destined to last until the end of the world,” Fr Cesare Truqui, one of the speakers, told Vatican News.
“But today we are at a stage crucial in history: many Christians no longer believe in [the devil’s] existence, few exorcists are appointed and there are no more young priests willing to learn the doctrine and practice of liberation of souls.”
Fr Benigno Palilla, an exorcist from Sicily who reported a tripling of demonic possession cases on the island, acknowledged the issue was controversial, but added: “The demoniacs … suffer a lot.”
Training in deliverance was essential, he told Vatican Radio. “A self-taught exorcist certainly makes errors. I will say more: it would also take a period of apprenticeship, as happens for many professionals.”
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SOURCE: The Guardian, Harriet Sherwood