ExorcismI wrote about the increased demand for exorcisms since the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy back in June – what many are calling the “Pope Francis Effect”.

In June 2014, Pope Francis formally recognized the statutes of the International Association of Exorcists (IAE). This recognition gave them a validity they hadn’t had before and has led to a huge demand in the requests for exorcisms. Pope Francis approves of this – he has a desire to revive what he calls the “spiritual” side of the Roman Catholic Church, and he sees this as a good way to do it. Bringing fear back to religion was always a great way to get people grovelling at the altar. It would be laughable if it wasn’t for the real damage being done, particularly to those with serious mental health illnesses.

The post I wrote in June (linked to above) was about the exorcism of Mexico, and yes, I mean the whole country. Since then, I’ve also seen a story in NPR entitled Help Wanted: The Philippines Needs More Exorcists by Simone Orendain. I’ve reproduced the full story below:

Alvin Bailon and his wife were at their wits’ end last September. Their 12-year-old son, an honors student, had begun having anxiety attacks, mostly about school. “And then all of a sudden he would slowly lose consciousness,” Bailon recalls. “We term it as doze off. He would doze off and he would fall down slowly.”

They brought him to three doctors, had his brain scanned (no irregularities were found), tried all sorts of anxiety pills prescribed by doctors. They even went to healers who use crystals for therapy.

Then they tried a beach retreat that the healers had recommended. Their son did well, but Bailon says on the car ride home the child “dozed off” and whispered in a totally unfamiliar voice, “Shhh, you might wake him up.”

That’s when the Bailons did what many in the overwhelmingly Catholic country do when facing a family crisis: They turned to the church — and its Office of Exorcism, opened in 2006 to address a growing number of cases and run by Father Jose Francisco Syquia.

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Father Jose Francisco Syquia heads the Office of Exorcism in the Philippines. (Source: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images)

Dressed in a short-sleeve button-down shirt, the Rome-trained exorcist says he has been driving demonic spirits out of people and houses for more than a dozen years. He has seen a steady increase in cases in the past decade, with 200 so far this year.

“At any given time we have at the minimum 30 cases,” says the 48-year-old. “And we’re only five exorcists.”

Father Syquia leads a team of four priests who get additional assistance from volunteers: psychiatrists, doctors, lawyers and laypeople.

Given the number of cases he’s juggling, Syquia recently sent a letter to the Philippine bishops conference asking that it send one resident exorcist to each of the country’s 86 dioceses.

“[The] majority of them do not have exorcists or a team of exorcists that deal with these kinds of cases,” says Syquia. “Therefore many of the Filipinos tend to go to the occult practitioners, what we call the faith healers, spiritists, etc.”

Syquia believes these occult healers are responsible for the increased number of demonic possessions. The healers leave a person with “spiritual openings” that allow demons to latch on, he says.

Meanwhile, it’s a draining job for the official exorcists. Just one session of prayers for a possessed individual can last four hours. And it may take several sessions, according to Syquia, to drive out evil spirits.

“That’s very tiring,” says Father Winston Cabading, secretary general of the University of Santo Tomas and a member of Syquia’s team.

Not only that, the exorcists also have to deal with the aftereffects. They believe that demons retaliate against the priests.

“You expect that there will be more, what we call, retaliations because you are jumping into enemy territory and retaking … what truly belongs to God,” says Syquia. “And therefore it’s more like maybe a commando raid behind enemy lines.”

At least one of Syquia’s trainees quit. Syquia says the trainee believed he had developed unexplained illnesses because of the work he was doing.

Nonetheless, Syquia believes young priests and seminarians have a real interest in spiritual warfare. And if they stick to it, they can help people like Alvin Bailon’s son. After 10 months and 14 prayer sessions, Bailon says the boy is almost his old self.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvement in my son’s condition, which is most important,” the father reports. “He’s back in school. He’s doing so well, he’s actually very independent.”

The Philippines is, of course, a heavily Catholic country (86% Catholic). It’s the only Asian Christian country, and so seen as a bastion of the faith there. Pope Francis visited in January – on the final day it’s estimated between six and seven million attended an outdoor mass. During his visit he spoke about the need to show compassion for the poor. However, it’s the practices taught by his church that are causing some of the biggest problems in the country.

The government of the Philippines has recognized that population growth is it’s biggest problem, and the main contributor to poverty. They are actively trying to reduce the birthrate and have several programmes running, the main ones being focused on contraception and elective sterilization. For all its nice words about helping the poor, the Church opposes these programmes. It’s likely his visit, which cost US$4.5 million in security alone, did a lot of damage to the government’s efforts.

Anyway, back to exorcism. You will have noticed the pic at the top of this post. It’s an ad for “The Most Dangerous Night Ever On Television,” “The First Ever Exorcism: Live” in suitably evocative font.

Here’s the trailer for the show:

I really don’t know what to say about this. The trouble is, I know jolly well that it this was broadcast in New Zealand, I’d watch the bloody thing, thus contributing to the ratings.  At the same time, I’d be worrying about all the people who will take it seriously, and whether that number will increase because of this show, or at least the way it’s presented.

According to Lee Spiegel of the Huffington Post:

Destination America’s “Ghost Asylum” team will descend on that hellhole of a home on Oct. 30 for TV’s first live exorcism, to cleanse the home of whatever it is that inspired William Peter Blatty’s 1971 best-selling novel and 1973 Academy Award-winning movie.

And to add to the “excitement”:

The Actual House

The Actual House!

Joining the “Ghost Asylum” team in the camera-filled St. Louis house, is Bishop James Long, the presiding archbishop of the United States Old Catholic Church, who has performed 27 documented Solemn Rite of Exorcisms on individuals claiming possession by demonic forces.

Also on hand to de-demonize the house is paranormal investigator Chip Coffey, who believes his psychic abilities will allow him to directly connect with the house and those entities that may dwell within it.

“I’ve learned that demons’ whole reason for existing is that they want to bring down human beings — they want to destroy us, to unravel us,” Coffey told HuffPost. “I know — as a psychic and a medium — if you set out a dysfunction buffet for negative energies, they’re going to come and eat.

“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on in this kind of genre, and even for me, I’ve stopped and asked myself, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ This is really some serious, serious stuff.”

FFS! Lee Spiegel concludes:

If there are demons in this house, and if the team shows up with a variety of prayers, holy water and whatever other tools are used to rid a home of such annoyances, it will be interesting to see if the so-called demons have their own agenda and won’t leave without a fight.

I really hope he was writing that final paragraph ironically. Surely no serious journalist actually believes this stuff? The thing is, I’ve seen multiple seemingly serious websites where those of us who dismiss the idea that evil spirits exist are either pitied or mocked.

Faith vs Fact 2As Jerry Coyne said about exorcism in Faith vs Fact (page 238):

“… who knows how many disturbed people have been subjected to a frightening procedure that is harmless at best, but potentially dangerous, especially when those who use it misconstrue and thus ignore the real causes of mental illness?”

Real people are being harmed by exorcism. Exorcists prey on the vulnerable. It is another case where religion is doing real harm to society.

Anyway, perhaps US readers could watch this for us on Friday night and report back on just how ridiculous the whole thing was. I’d like to think the show will expose exorcism for the placebo it is at best, and the exorcists, including Bishop Long, as the charlatans they are. I don’t hold much hope.