Don Gabriele Amorth next to a statue of the Virgin Mary, a figure he studied for the first years of his ordained life. Don Amorth was also the editor in chief of Madre di Dio, a Virgin Mary-centred monthly magazine.
Rome’s Garbatella neighborhood can technically be classified as “the projects”, but it looks more like an Italian version of a British garden city. King Victor Emmanuel III founded the settlement in 1920, after World War I, to accommodate the immigration of 50,000 agricultural workers into Rome. Like the rest of the city, Garbatella is home to an astonishing number of stray cats. Still, when one dashes in front of my path, just outside the offices of Don Gabriele Amorth, the “honorary president for life” of the International Association of Exorcists, it feels like a sign from above. Don’t relax. The devil is everywhere.
Tempered and withered by his quarter-century-long fight against Satan himself, 86-year-old Don Amorth is ailing. He was recently hospitalised, and his hearing and mobility are impaired. Yet he still has the nerve – or misguidedness, depending on your point of view – to appear on the local newscast days before my visit, declaring that good Catholics shouldn’t read or watch anything related to Harry Potter (which he says leads to Satanism, of course) and must abstain from yoga, because “you think you’re doing it for stretching, but actually it leads to Hinduism.” This is a man who, in his book Memoirs of an Exorcist: My Life at War with Satan, claimed that “the devil himself, speaking through a possessed woman, threatened to disembowel me in my sleep.”
Don Amorth enters the room wearing a black frock. He is carrying a large leather briefcase, which he opens after we exchange pleasantries. Inside are most of his books (he’s written ten, which have been translated into more than 40 languages), a copy of Madre di Dio (Mother of God, a monthly magazine focusing on the Virgin Mary, which he edited for many years), a sampling of his exorcism tools (more on that later), and a bag of nails, bolts and other metal objects.
“I have two kilos of metal spat out by people possessed by the devil,” he says. “Sometimes they come out of the rectum. There were also many pieces of glass. I can assure you that they materialise once they leave the mouth; they’re never covered by saliva or blood. If you were to take an X-ray of a possessed soul, you wouldn’t find a trace of these in their guts. They appear out of thin air, a few millimetres from their lips, although the person generally confesses to feeling the pain they would cause inside him or her.”
Don Amorth shows us a few of the books he has authored and the bag of nails and bolts spat out by the possessed during exorcisms. I actually held a few of them in my hands, which disgusted the cameraman.
Don Amorth claims to have performed tens of thousands of exorcisms in his lifetime – “I stopped counting at 70,000.” To clarify, this doesn’t mean he has exorcised 70,000 people; it’s just that demons are particularly stubborn bastards, and the 2,000 to 4,000 individuals he has rid of evil have often required dozens of sessions.
“In order to liberate a body from its demonic possession, most of the time I have to work for years, and try to practice at least one rite a week,” he says. “Lots of repetition. That’s the key to success. But the first thing we must do is to realise that the devil exists. If you don’t believe in his existence, then you are doing him a favour. That’s exactly what he wants you to believe. And in that case, an exorcism is useless. But trust me, he is there.”
I nod and begin asking my long list of questions, but he ignores them. I quickly discover that Don Amorth’s poor hearing means that he will be doing most of the talking. “The devil deals in two things,” he says. “He has an ordinary activity and an extraordinary activity. His ordinary activity is to tempt man toward evil, to lead him to temptation, to sin, to push him to break divine law. His extraordinary activity – and it is very rare – is to give people malign disorders.”
According to Don Amorth, Satan can inhabit one’s soul in four different ways. The most severe is demonic possession: “Satan, or one of his minions, enters the body of the possessed, who appear to be living with a devil within. He uses their mouths to talk and their energies to move them. He knows all the languages in the world. He knows the future, and he has superhuman strength. Sometimes I need up to five people to help me keep the person still while they thrash about and spit and blaspheme and shout and curse.”
The second classification of demonic evil is obsession, or torment. This is when evil forces disturb someone from the outside, rather than directly inhabiting the soul. “Think of [stigmatic saint] Padre Pio. He used to be beaten bloody by the devil. He would be thrown off his bed every time he fell asleep, but he wasn’t possessed. He was simply tormented. Or think of people who become fixated on an idea or concept that creeps into their very soul and leads them to madness or even suicide. That is a demonic torment.”