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Pope Francis Is Bringing Back Exorcisms in a Big Way

The Catholic Frankenstein may have a new, relatively enlightened mouth but it’s still weighted down by an arm that believes in the bible as historical truth, a gangrenous foot of Islamophobia and some genitals that suffer from serious neglect.

This guy believes in actual demons. Image courtesy Flickr.

I like Pope Francis. He seems like the kind of pope you could sit down and have a casual sacramental wine with. He condemned the global financial system, spoke out against the marginalization of gays, met with victims of clerical sex abuse, kissed the feet of AIDS patients, and called the destruction of the environment a sin of modern times. The only way he’d get more positive press is if he made an “evolution of ecclesiastic dancing” video with Jimmy Fallon. 

However, he’s still the head of an institution that thinks the dark ages had some good ideas. The Catholic Frankenstein may have a new, relatively enlightened mouth but it’s still weighted down by an arm that believes in the bible as historical truth, a gangrenous foot of Islamophobia and some genitals that suffer from serious neglect.

One of those vestiges, let’s call it the silly mustache, is the practice of exorcism. It gained new legitimacy last week when the Vatican formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists (IAE), affirming their belief that gay marriage is a less valid institution than The Ghostbusters. 

It seems that Pope Francis, for all of his modern, progressive views, is VERY concerned about the devil—and not as a metaphor for moral weakness. The actual devil. It’s a frequent topic of his sermons and last year he was seen saying an exorcism prayer while grasping the head of a man apparently possessed by four demons. Four demons?! That guy’s either a demon hypochondriac or he let his satanic possession fester for way too long.

The IAE was founded in 1990 by six priests, including the Holy See’s chief exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth. Amorth, 88, is like the Sugar Ray Leonard of exorcists. He claims to have sent 160,000 demons back to hell. 160,000! You could repopulate Detroit with that many demons. It might not help the crime problem, but it would definitely increase the tax base. You know some of them had to be former bankers. 

Amorth claims he’s seen possessed people “vomit shards of glass,” “pieces of iron as long as a finger” and even “rose petals.” Although that last one may have been a goat. He also said the film The Exorcist gave a “substantially exact” depiction of demonic possession, though he didn’t seem nearly as impressed with Ghost Dad. 

He’s also stated that: “Practicing yoga brings evil as does reading Harry Potter.”

Okay I can understand Harry Potter—it’s a godless cesspool of black magic—but yoga? Doth Satan dwell in flexible, toned muscles? Will God only come into your heart if it has sufficiently high blood pressure and poor circulation? Maybe that’s why cherubs are so chubby…

The Vatican’s endorsement of IAE comes at a time when Catholic churches are increasing the number of priests trained to perform exorcisms. It turns out that evil is a growth industry. As the head of IAE explained:

“Diabolical possessions are on the increase as a result of people subscribing to occultism.”

Of course, referring to the popular new PaganGo streaming app (part of Satan’s Evil Everywhere strategy), which carries high-degradation content ranging from Game of Thrones to just full-on snuff. 

According to Church law, exorcisms need to have permission from a bishop and be preceded by a medical examination to exclude the possibility of mental illness. But that hasn’t stopped unsanctioned exorcists like Arizona reverend Bob Larson who performs exorcisms over Skype for $295 (it’s a tax-deductible donation, also casting Uncle Sam out of your wallet). One of the Vatican’s goals in sanctioning the IAE is to weaken this black market for white magic. And just a tip here: if you’re going to talk to a demon over Skype, remember to block it completely afterwards. If not, they’ll message you every time you sign in. They’re very clingy.

The Vatican’s move is likely disappointing to many who see exorcisms as a medically dangerous farce and who hoped Pope Francis would be more enlightened in his views of science. But while Francis wrote in 2011 that: “We should not meddle with scientists’ autonomy.”He went on to say: “Unless, that is, they step outside the boundaries of their own fields and step into the transcendent.” 

Now THAT is a loophole. A literally infinite loophole. 

So while Pope Francis has earned some praise, we shouldn’t expect too much from the head of an institution that only apologized to Galileo in 1992. The scientific revolutionary had “stepped into the transcendent” 359 years earlier, and as neuroscientists, physicists and astronomers continue to horn in on the mystical, let’s hope Christians learn to take it in stride. At the same time, non-believers can’t get too judgmental. There’s a reason The Exorcist scares the shit out of us.

Scott is a comedy writer/performer and member of the sketch group Picnicface. He did some recent work with Conan, and in May he “punked” a right-wing news network in this interview like a real punk.

Follow him on Twitter here: @mescottvrooman