October 13, 2005
First Day of School for Aspiring Vatican Exorcists
ROME -- It was the first day of school, so some students were understandably nervous. But then again, they were not taking just any course, but one run by a Vatican university to teach aspiring demonologists and exorcists.
"There is no doubt that the devil is intervening more in the life of man these days," Father Paolo Scarafoni told the students, most of them priests who want to learn how to tackle the demon if they should ever encounter him.
"Not all of you will become exorcists but it is indispensable that every priest knows how to discern between demonic possession and psychological problems," he said.
The four-month course, called "Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation," is being offered for the second year by Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University on Rome's outskirts.
The about 120 students from around the world will hear lectures on topics such as the pastoral, spiritual, theological, liturgical, medical, legal and criminological aspects of Satanism and demonic possession.
One planned lecture is called: "Problems related to exorcism and correlated issues."
One priest, who asked not to be identified, said he decided to take the course after a "very unsettling experience" while hearing the confession of one young member of his parish.
"Her voice changed, her face was transformed and she started speaking in a language that she did not know," he said. "I've met people who are suffering from this problem and it is not as rare as we might imagine."
So, will he be ready to wrestle with demons of the kind who may have possessed his parishioner in the confessional box?
"If, after this course, my superiors decide that it will be useful for me to become an exorcist, I will do it," he said.
Interest in the devil and the occult has been boosted by films such as this year's "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," and last year's "Exorcist: The Beginning," which was the sequel to the original "The Exorcist" in 1973.
But forget the films. The students will have several real-life and well known exorcists to teach them.
One is Father Gabriele Nanni, who attended Thursday's opening class and spoke to Reuters during a break.
"First thing is the priest has to know if the devil is at work in a person or if the problem is somewhere else," he said.
Nanni said there are four sure signs that pointed to demonic possession rather than psychological problems.
He listed them as:
"When someone speaks or understands languages they normally do not; when their physical strength is disproportionate to their body size or age; when they are suddenly knowledgeable about occult practices; when they have a physical aversion to sacred things, such as the communion host or prayers."
According to some estimates, as many as 5,000 people are thought to be members of Satanic cults in Italy with 17-to 25-year-olds making up three quarters of them.
In 1999, the Vatican updated its ritual for exorcism.
It starts with prayers, a blessing and sprinkling of holy water, the laying on of hands on the possessed, and the making of the sign of the cross.
The formula begins: "I order you, Satan..." It goes on to denounce Satan as "prince of this world" and "enemy of human salvation." It ends: "Go back, Satan."