There was a fascinating obituary in the Guardian today. The subject was Father Gabriele Amorth, the founder of the International Exorcists Association. I would guess that for most readers of the Barnet Eye, this is a story that wouldn't have hit their radar. For atheists and humanists, exorcism is an outdated and superstitious practice, best consigned to the dustbin. It may not surprise the to know that every baptised Roman Catholic has undergone the right of Exorcism. This is a fundamental part of the process of Baptism into the Roman Catholic religion. I daresay that humanists and atheists will feel that tthe idea of performing an exorcism on a baby that can't walk or talk, and isn't spinning its head projectile vomiting green slime is perhaps as much proof as they may need that the faith is a load of mumbo jumbo.
However, those familiar with right of baptism, will know that it is simply a bit of sploshing of water and a blessing, as part of the ceremony to set the ceremony off with a clean slate. When we talk about exorcism, we usually think of the film and the awful special effects. I am not qualified to answer whether the such things happen and whether there is a rational explanation. I have spoken to priests who have claimed to have performed exorcisms where it has ended a series of 'unexplainable' events. Priests assure me that they only perform such rituals when mental illness has been ruled out and all other rational reasons have been discounted (obviously according to their rulebook). Father Amorth claimed to have performed 160,000 exorcisms, but of these only 100 were of what could be deemed classic demonic possession.
The only person I know who has admitted to using the right of exorcism was my mother shortly before her death. She was elderly and had suffered several strokes and was not in the best of shape. She was worried about various unexplained, to her, events in her flat. Things moved. Things disappeared. Things reappeared. For the family, there was a perfectly rational explanation, in that she was a bit forgetful and a bit cranky, but she insisted that this was not the full reason. One day she asked me if I could arrange for a local Catholic priest to visit and "exorcise the house". I must confess that I felt a tad embarrassed at this. Although I am a Roman Catholic, I am not overly superstitious in these matters. I went to the Sacred Heart and discussed it with Fr Jack, one of the team of priests.
He said "Old Ladies often ask for this. I'll go and say a few prayers, sprinkle some holy water and tell any malign spirits to go away. Hopefully she'll feel better after that". So he went around, had a cup of tea and a chat, then proceeded to perform his duties. He went in every room, every cupboard and at the end said "there that should do the trick". My Mum insisted he had a scotch after, which seemed to go down quite well. Then he was off.
After that, whatever was troubling my mum stopped. She often informed me that Father Jack had done a marvellous job. I bumped into him at the Ace Cafe (he used to ride a ratherdecent Royal Enfield bike). He told me that he didn't really sense any malign presence there, but years of practice had taught him the value of diligence. Whatever it did, I was grateful as it did help my mum and he took her worries very seriously. Maybe that is the lesson for us all when people seem a tad irrational. Don't dismiss them. Listen to their concerns and try and help. It is all very well telling someone that their fears are irrational and to be sensible. Whether it is a child scared of a monster under the bed, a granny with a fear of poltergeists or me worrying that my daughter is a long way away and bad things may happen. We all need a bit of care and comfort sometimes