Screenshot taken from Bob Larson's website.
One weekend in February, Archbishop Isaac Kramer got called to a home in Parma, Ohio, for what began as a simple house exorcism and turned into a real trial – the possessed 19-year-old growled, spoke in Latin, and even threw his friend across the room.
“Where the [possessed] man was standing, all the snow melted under and around his feet, and he was barefoot and acted like it didn’t even bother him,” said Isaac, who is the primate of the Anglo-Catholic Church, a branch of Protestantism that borrows heavily from Catholicism. “When I started doing the blessing of the house, he would run out of the room I was in. He wouldn’t want to be in there. All of a sudden, he was running around without a shirt on, and there were red rashes all over his chest… Then he would begin growling at me.”
Incidents like that are what most people picture when they think of exorcism – a personal conflict between a priest and a demon, a lot of drama, “the power of Christ compels you,” etc. But just like everything else, demonic possession has been changed irrevocably by technology. Demons are now being cast out remotely via webcam or cell phone, and the next generation of exorcists take themselves just as seriously as Isaac does.
Carlos Oliveira, a Brazilian Christian exorcist who’s been plying his trade for almost 25 years, first in Brazil and now in Fresno, California, told me that he frequently banishes demons during phone calls with clients. His connection to Jesus Christ, a connection that enables him to drive away evil, can manifest itself on a landline or even a wireless hub.
“In order for me to talk to you – if you are in another state – the only way I can communicate with you is over the phone or over Skype or over the internet,” Carlos told me. “Demons communicate with one another, and they don’t have cell phones, they don’t have internet, and they don’t need that.”
Carlos, who doesn’t strictly follow the Catholic Church’s rules about expelling demonic forces, makes a living as a freelance exorcist, which sounds extremely difficult. He doesn’t charge for his services but will accept donations from clients – this is his full-time job, after all.
“I don’t get paid by nobody,” Carlos said. “So I do ask people to consider helping me out with a donation for my time and for the education. Of course, it’s up to them to say yes or no.”
The issue of paying for exorcisms is a pretty thorny one. Isaac refuses to accept payment for his services and abhors anyone in the industry who does, possibly because priests who charge for their services can come off like con men. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of demon fighters who regard their work as a career, not just a calling. For instance, Bob Larson, an infamous televalengelist, is now offering to conduct exorcisms on Skype for a suggested donation of $295 (£177).
“They’re doing more harm than anything,” Isaac said of people in the industry like Larson. “They’re completely fake. When you perform an exorcism, it involves several prayers. It involves commanding the demons. It involves holy water. It involves other things… that you just cannot do through a computer screen.”
Arguments among exorcists about procedure may sound silly to a largely secular public who see their craft as the stuff of horror films – indeed, a priest in Indiana who performed a high-profile exorcism sold his story to a movie production company earlier this year. People may question whether demons can be driven out via webcam, but mostly they’ll just question whether demons exist in the first place. When something strange is going on in your friend’s head, who are you going to call – an exorcist or a psychiatrist?
“I would say about 30 percent of the time, [our profession is considered to be real],” David Biery, an Anglo-Catholic colleague of Isaac’s, told me. “Our society is becoming too secularised, and people are losing their morality. We have been so desensitised over the last 30 years, and it is making our fight tougher. It seems that these cases are becoming more common.” (Demonic possession might be on the rise as David claims – in January, it was reported that the Catholic Church is training more priests to perform exorcisms in Spain and Italy.)
“This is a calling,” Carlos told me. “This is a gift from God. I don’t cast out demons because of my name. I don’t cast out demons because of my expertise. I don’t cast out demons because I’m powerful. I cast out demons because of the name of Jesus Christ.”