For centuries, religious figures have been casting out the demons of possessed people through powerful exorcism rituals. The word “exorcism” is derived from the Greek word exorkismós, which means "to administer an oath." Religions all over the world have developed different ways of practicing the ritual, but in the media, the most commonly depicted rite is the one performed by a Catholic priest. In Deliver Us From Evil, the film depicts the paranormal investigations of Sergeant Ralph Sarchie and the 20 exorcisms of this kind that he assisted.
The process was born out of the belief that Jesus and his disciples were able to command demons out of the possessed discussed in The New Testament and have been traced back to the 2nd century. The practice under this religion has two necessary requirements for its success: the exorcist must have approval from a church official and a strong faith. Like the other Catholic rites, an ordained priest is customarily responsible for carrying out an exorcism, but any practicing Catholic can also cast out the demons. Until the Vatican II in 1969, each child baptized under the Roman Catholic Church would also undergo an extensive exorcism rite to cleanse them of evil. The Vatican minimized the rite, but it is still used to drive Satan away from the infant.
The Catholic Church has kept record of official exorcisms over the years, which have proven to be very rare. According to the Vatican’s past head exorcist, Monsignor Corrado Balducci,only five to six people out of every thousand who seek exorcisms are actually possessed by an evil spirit. But, different points in history have caused an influx in reported possessions. One of these significant periods was the 1970s, where the United States saw a 50 percent rise in exorcisms. In April of 1971 the first exorcism was nationally broadcast on NBC. Viewers were able to experience the chilling paranormal activity as a news correspondent reported from Edwin and Marsha Becker’s Chicago home.
In 1973, the film The Exorcist was released, adding to the paranoia over demons. Moviegoers were filled with such fear of the devil that church attendance was at an all time high. In 1975, James Bozzuto, a psychiatrist, published an article about several alleged cases of “cinematic neuroses,” where after viewing the film people believed they were possessed by the devil. The United States also built more churches in 1974-76 than any other time.
In 1999, the Cardinal announced a New Rite for Exorcisms, requiring that the victim be evaluated for mental illness before undergoing the exorcism ritual. Many of the symptoms associated with demonic possession are also ascribed to illnesses such as epilepsy and schizophrenia. Still with knowledge of these psychological disorders, exorcisms are still ordered by the church.
Just last month, the ninth annual “Exorcism and Prayer for Liberation” conference took place in Rome. Over 200 attendees came from around the world to learn about a multi-disciplinary method to performing the ritual. In attendance were not only priests, but also doctors and criminologists. Currently there are 250 priests in Italy that are authorized to perform exorcisms, but the Church would like to train several more because of Pope Francis’s strong belief in Satan.
Pope Francis, who currently resides as the Bishop of Rome has centered on the devil in many of his teachings over the past year. Many believe that he has been more focused on the paranormal forces of the devil than any other pope since the 70s. It was speculated that he performed a public exorcism in St Peter’s Square last May when he placed his hands over a man and recited a prayer. His papacy has lead to the resurgence of the exorcism ritual and the number of trained exorcists in each diocese.
For over twenty years, Sarchie has been one of the many trained demonologists fighting evil spirits and proving true Pope Francis’ growing concern. According to the church, the wide access to the Internet has been blamed for the increase in occult activity and black magic, leading to the increased presence of the devil. Deliver Us From Evil shows how Sarchie deals with this growing demand for exorcising the demons in New York City.