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Pope Francis Urges Priests To Call Out The Exorcists

It's enough to make your head spin.

21/03/2017 1:35 PM AEDT | Updated 21/03/2017 1:35 PM AEDT

Seems like that kind of time. Pope Francis has called on priests to contact “exorcists” when their parishioners are facing spiritual crises linked to “supernatural” causes.

Any such exorcists, however, should be chosen with “great care and prudence,” the pontiff cautioned.

Francis offered his advice last week to hundreds of priests attending a Vatican seminar on dealing with sins of the faithful recounted in the sacrament of reconciliation, or confession.

A priest needs to take action when he is confronted with “real spiritual disorders,” the pope advised, according to Agence France-Presse. When such crises are caused by “supernatural” forces, Francis added — presumably referring to the devil — a confessor “must not hesitate to refer to exorcists.” Priests must take care, however, to differentiate between mental illness and demonic possession.

The Vatican also holds training sessions for exorcists, who are charged with expelling the devil from people thought to be “possessed.” It’s not a Catholic practice often openly spoken about by church leaders because it’s highly controversial and disdained by skeptics who doubt the existence of a devil and view the practice as based in ancient superstition. 

Film fans got a first taste of the unusual Roman Catholic ritual in the 1973 hit horror movie “The Exorcist.” Though the possession depicted in the movie was extremely lurid and controversially profane, the bestselling author of “The Exorcist” and script writer William Peter Blatty, a Catholic, said the film was based on an actual exorcism in the U.S. in 1949. He also researched prayers and incantations used in the ritual, he said.

The film’s director, William Friedkin, witnessed an exorcism in 2016, which he recounted in Vanity Fair. There were many similarities between the actual ritual and the rites in the film, without the dramatic horror. Friedkin said he was invited to the ritual in Italy by exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth because the priest admired the movie. 

A 90-page document issued by the Vatican in 1999, “De Exorcismis,” updated church guidelines on the practice. It acknowledged that some apparent demonic possessions are actually mental illness, and, if necessary, psychiatrists should be consulted. But the report also noted that the devil also possesses individuals, describing Satan as a “lion looking for souls to devour.” Signs of possession can include super-human strength, speaking in unknown languages and a visceral aversion to God, according to the document.

The pope has referred to the devil a number times and in 2014 recognized the International Association of Exorcists, an organization of 250 priests around the world who have been prepared to conduct exorcisms. 

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