An exorcist talks about his work

An exorcist talks about his work
March 24, 2010
Javier Ortega

This article over at the Mercury News caught my attention. I’ve always had mixed feelings when it comes to possession and exorcisms. Well at least most exorcisms that have been reported lately or have been shown on television. Even though I doubt that such a thing like demonic possession exists, I still have to be weary of it and consider the possibility of it actually existing, for it would be ignorant to assume that this was all “hocus pocus” magic tricks done for monetary gains or to proselytize Catholicism.

I’m willing to bet that 100% of the exorcisms you see on reality-paranormal television are fake. Most of the times, the people who claim to be possessed are really just having some form of psychotic breakdown. I’ve read of cases in which witnesses (believers and non-believers) have observed paranormal phenomena while attending exorcisms, but these cases are rare. Far and few in between.

I know that the Catholic Church is very strict when it comes to exorcisms. They require the exorcists to study the patient for awhile, present the evidence and psychoanalytic results to a board, before being allowed to exorcise any demons. From what I hear, it is a long process. There might be some truth behind some of these infamous cases.

Then there are those people who have it in their heads that they are possessed. They usually pay a couple of hundred dollars to attend a mass healing (usually at some hotel lounge) with an “exorcist/healer”. They are anointed, the exorcist prays…yells…spits water at them in order to drive out the demons. The “possessed” start the theatrics of what they believe a possessed person should act like.

Regardless of the scam-artists out there, I know better than to assume that we have all the answers.

“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance” – Socrates


Don’t be too quick to doubt.

That would a wise move if you find yourself listening to the Rev. Gary Thomas, a Catholic priest in the Diocese of San Jose who has been schooled in the arcane Catholic art of exorcism.

Skeptics, of course, are quick to poke holes in the rationale for what Thomas does. And why not? Exorcism is seen by many as a bizarre relic of more superstitious times.

But Thomas, speaking in San Mateo last week, asserted that, while many people who believe they are possessed by some sort of satanic influence are, in fact, simply disturbed in one way or another, a small percentage is actually afflicted by something far more malign and need assistance.

Father Thomas, pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Saratoga, declared that he has seen and heard things that defy the imagination and all of our accepted, civilized norms.

Over the past four years, he said, he has participated in five actual exorcisms. Another 100 or so cases of suspected demonic possession turned out to be something less than that and were handled in far less dramatic and, in the end, more traditional ways.

Thomas, who is the subject of a new book, “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” by Matt Baglio, does not appear to be naive, easily influenced by the media spotlight or eager to curry any sort of celebrity favor.

He is mild-mannered, affable, subdued, self-effacing and matter-of-fact. His subject matter is anything but.
He refers to himself as “a discerner,” someone who weighs available evidence and makes a decision regarding the potential for diabolic involvement in a person’s case.

“I operate much like a doctor,” he said. “I am a healer, not of the body but of the soul.”

He noted that the “last thing an exorcist wants is an exorcism.” That’s probably because a formal exorcism can often be extremely exhausting and stressful — though Thomas emphasized, “I am not afraid.”

He said an examination of an afflicted individual can include the services of a team of experts, including a psychiatrist and a psychologist. “I don’t do this by myself,” he said. Good thing. If his stark description is any guide, a full-blown exorcism is neither pretty to observe nor easy to facilitate.

Thomas said a troubled subject likely will drool, hiss, spit, curse, scream, shake uncontrollably, speak unintelligibly, talk in the voice of the demon, slither on the floor like a snake and, perhaps, take on the facial appearance of a reptile as he or she is being freed from the grip of the forces of darkness.

“These experiences are real,” he declared, though some in his audience weren’t so sure. Then again, unless you have walked in his shoes or shared his experiences, it probably wouldn’t be prudent to dismiss him out of hand.

There were no volunteers to join him in his next venture into the paranormal — whenever, or wherever, that may be.

Incidentally, Hollywood, which gave us “The Exorcist” decades ago, is interested in this subject once again.

A movie based on the Baglio book is in the works. Thomas said Anthony Hopkins is ticketed to play one of the key roles in the film.
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