Full-fledged demonic possession is rare in Wichita, said the Rev. David Lies, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. Yet other forms of demonic activity do occur, he said, adding that he has been present at exorcisms of possessed people in other dioceses.
When that has happened, the priest, who has received the permission of the diocesan bishop, will ask for God’s protection, then read Scripture.
Eventually, the exorcist will order the demon out “only in the name of Jesus Christ,” acting as a channel of Christ’s power, Lies said. The priest may call upon saints to intercede, return to the prayers of exorcism – perhaps repeat the procedure multiple times. It can take hours, days, “God only knows” how long, he said.
“These prayers are afflicting pain upon the evil spirit, and you’re trying to dislodge them to the point they can no longer stand it and they will depart,” Lies said. “It involves the invocation of the name of Jesus Christ and the power of God through the exorcist priest to free this person to once again enter that relationship with God.”
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Exactly what an exorcism looks like varies from denomination to denomination. Exorcisms aren’t limited to Christianity either – throughout history, they’ve appeared in other religions, including forms of Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.
In the United States, exorcisms mainly appear with two forms of Christianity: Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism.
For Catholics, the process follows a strict set of procedures laid out by the church. For Pentecostals, exorcisms can be as varied as Pentecostals themselves.
Catholic exorcisms today
Lies read about how the Rev. Terry Fox, pastor of Summit Church, assessed Rachael Hilyard for an exorcism days before police say she decapitated 63-year-old Micki Davis in her garage. Lies said it was sorrowful how talk of exorcisms had overshadowed the life and death of Davis.
At the same time, Lies said, people need to know the spiritual realm exists.
In the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, full-fledged demon possession hasn’t happened “in recent memory,” Lies said. If a demonic possession and exorcism did occur, it would likely have been kept confidential.
The 1973 film “The Exorcist” is probably the best representation of demonic possession on film, Lies said, with its depiction of a possessed person having extraordinary strength, knowing languages and things they shouldn’t know, levitating and more.
Other demonic-related activities include:
▪ Oppression: when a demon might cause a person to become depressed, to react negatively to sacred things or to have problems maintaining relationships.
▪ Obsession: physical attacks in which a person may have scratches or blows to their body, hear menacing voices or become violently ill.
▪ Infestation: when spirits infest a home or place.
Lies gets calls about infestation at least two to three times a month, he estimates, from people who’ve noticed changes in temperature, foul odors, objects moving, doors slamming shut, shadowy objects, shouts and screams.
As for obsession or oppression, he estimates those happen every few months in the diocese.
Lies takes the calls and can do a home blessing or prayer of deliverance. The priest who is permitted to perform an exorcism is not identified publicly by the diocese.
Referencing an earlier Wichita Eagle article about Fox’s exorcism ministry, Lies said the diocese doesn’t want people calling the exorcist when nondemonic activity may be afoot.
“Similar to what Pastor Fox was saying, we always are very cautious about immediately acknowledging demonic activity,” Lies said. “When I’m interviewing people, I’m asking about family history, traumas, physical and emotional abuse they might have endured, struggles with addictions. Are they experiencing any physical or mental illnesses.”
Today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has noticed a slight increase in demonic activity, Lies said.
“I think that, quite simply, as we become more of a secularized culture, the devil is going to find more openings to afflict people with,” he said.
Variety of belief
An article titled “Exorcism in the Orthodox Church” on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s website explains that “in the New Testament, Christ sent out His apostles to heal and to ‘cast out devils.’ ”
Other denominations have different interpretations of exorcisms in Scripture.
The Rev. Jack Wellman, pastor of Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane, pointed toward a story in Acts in which seven brothers try to cast out demons. In the story, a demon-possessed man attacks them. The Bible doesn’t tell Christians to train exorcists, seek out demons or have special rites, Wellman said, although he does believe in demonic possession.
In fact, it’s better to stay away, he said.
“Exorcism is a needs-based thing,” he said. “When you run into it, you pray for them, ask Jesus to cast them out and leave it at that.”
Wellman said a man once asked him to anoint a house. The person came to him sweating and terrified. Someone else had told them there might be a demon in the house.
Wellman said he prayed over the house.
“I don’t know if that was an exorcism or not,” he said. “It could have just given that person peace of mind. … But I’m not an exorcist. They don’t say in the Bible there’s an apostle, pastor, teacher and then there’s an exorcist. That office doesn’t exist.”
The name of Jesus
The Rev. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog that Christians “do not need a rite of exorcism, only the name of Jesus.” He also wrote: “We are not given a priesthood of exorcists – for every believer is armed with the full promise of the Gospel, united with Christ by faith, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.”
The “name of Jesus” is the most common part of the ritual across forms of exorcism, says J. Gordon Melton, a Methodist minister who directs the Institute for the Study of American Religion at Baylor University.
For Pentecostal exorcisms, the format varies widely, although someone will usually command the demon: “In the name of Jesus, depart.”
A Pentecostal exorcism may be quiet, without many people. Sometimes it is public, in a broader worship service with many emotions. Sometimes the exorcist will place his hands on the person being exorcised or anoint them with oil.
Melton remembers one mass exorcism he attended in the 1960s or ’70s when Pentecostal Bible teacher and author Derek Prince had paper bags passed out, warning the audience that demons might exit them as they vomited.
As Prince commanded the demons in the audience to leave, people vomited into paper bags throughout the audience, Melton said.
“I thought that was more the power of suggestion after lunch,” Melton said. “If he had done that at 11 a.m., I don’t know what the result would have been.”
Melton’s church tradition, Methodism, does not have a history of exorcisms. Most large, liberal protestant churches don’t, he said, or at least exorcisms are “extremely rare.”
The high watermark for exorcisms in the United States was after “The Exorcist” film came out and as the charismatic movement spread through mainline Protestantism.
While the practice of exorcism has subsided in the vast majority of churches across the United States, it’s more common in churches in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, Melton said.
“In the western world, the belief in demons has largely disappeared,” Melton said.