Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Rite: The Making Of A Modern Exorcist

This movie is based on a true story of an American priest who travelled to Italy to study at an exorcism school.


Matt Baglio’s curiosity was piqued.

An exorcism course at a Vatican-affiliated university in Rome? It was an unusual topic. As an American journalist living in the Eternal City, he thought it might make for an interesting article; as a non-practicing Catholic at the time, he approached it with some skepticism.

Taught by exorcists and experts in theology, satanic cults, criminology and psychology, the course he took challenged many of his assumptions. But what really intrigued him was the openness and honesty of a fellow student, Father Gary Thomas, a priest from the Diocese of San Jose, Calif., whose bishop, Patrick McGrath, had asked him to undergo training as an exorcist.

As the two got to know each other, a friendship — and a book — were born. The book, in turn, gave rise to a major film starring Anthony Hopkins, The Rite, to be released in theaters Jan. 28.

Baglio’s book, The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist , follows Father Thomas through his hands-on training with an experienced exorcist in Rome and accompanies him on his first exorcisms. At the same time, Baglio’s research provides a more detailed understanding of the history, rites and rituals of exorcism according to Catholic teaching.

Baglio spoke about some of the insights he gained from researching and writing The Rite.

It’s unusual for a layperson to write about a topic such as exorcism. What were you hoping to achieve with this book?

I wanted the book to be as real as possible. Too often in the past, most books on the topic have fallen into two categories — either they were written by priests who believe 100% or they are written by skeptics who don’t want to believe. I fell right in the middle. I didn’t discount the possibility that it was real, but there were some aspects that didn’t convince me.

Even exorcists admit that 90% of the people who come to see them don’t need an exorcism. I tried to focus my research on that remaining 10% and came to the conclusion that even though some of these cases could be explained, there were still a few that remained outside the scientifically explainable.

Being naturally curious, I wanted to understand what was going on. I wanted to shine a light on this phenomenon so that believers and skeptics could look at this topic and say, “I’ve never seen it talked about like this before.”

In addition, while I had read books on the theology of exorcism before, I’d never read a book about what it was like to actually be an exorcist, and the book was really an attempt to present the topic through the eyes of this journey.

What did you learn that changed your previous assumptions about exorcism?

One was that the exorcist has to be the ultimate skeptic. At first, the skepticism surprised me, but then it made sense — because the last thing you want is a priest who sees the demon behind every corner.

I was also surprised by the sophistication of many of the exorcists; they had doctorates, spoke many languages, and they didn’t have the fundamentalist approach I had expected. Every exorcist I talked to was also incredibly humble. They weren’t these action-hero types you’d expect. Some of them were very old, frail, shy and timid. During an exorcism, they pray the ritual very calmly and quietly. Hollywood wants the dramatic elements; they want the holy water to hit the person, the scream, the cross, etc., but it’s usually not like that.

Another was that exorcism is not a one-shot deal. People think that once the exorcist begins praying the ritual, he doesn’t stop until it’s over, and if the demon isn’t cast out, the exorcism was a failure. But it’s really a journey, a process.

Many people think that exorcism is on the fringe. I was surprised to learn that the theology behind exorcism isn’t. Exorcism was central to what Jesus was trying to do in his public ministry. There was spiritual warfare in the early Church, and it has been passed on to priests today who are now exorcists.

It’s important to note that exorcism works in tandem with the sacraments, especially reconciliation. The goal is to weaken the power of the demon so that the person can return to practicing their faith, praying and receiving the sacraments.

How does an exorcist distinguish between cases of psychological illness and cases of demonic possession?

Exorcists have to work with mental-health experts, because there is a fine line between mental illness and demonic possession, and it can be difficult to discern. Someone who says he hears voices or demons talking to him could be suffering from schizophrenia, for example.

The priest has to be cautious, and there has to be a process. To discern the presence of an evil spirit, they look for various signs: First, they have an interview with the person, then they send the person to see a mental-health specialist, and then the person comes back and the exorcist begins to pray blessings over them.

Exorcism is not an exact science. There’s a lot of mystery to it. In the end, everything depends on the will of God and on the person’s free cooperation.

How do people become victims of demonic possession in the first place?

It’s said there are various ways a person can open a doorway and become possessed. Exorcists told me that it’s mainly people who take their focus away from God, who don’t practice their faith, go to church or receive the sacraments.

According to exorcists, the No. 1 reason is an involvement in the occult. There could be other factors at work, such as a curse or being part of a Satanic cult.

Every case is different, but the one common factor seems to be that it’s about personal choice, personal responsibility. I had one exorcist tell me that demonic possession isn’t a disease; there are no predisposed qualities that a person has that can cause them to become attacked by a demon. A person needs to open up a doorway, and so in this way, we must be aware of our actions and try to avoid grave sins.

This also means that in order for a person to become liberated they have to be proactive and correct the behaviors or actions that may have led them into becoming a victim in the first place.

How faithful is the movie to the spirit of the book? We know that the character of Father Gary Thomas was changed from a priest to a young seminarian having doubts about his faith; that’s one major departure from the book. Does the movie present the priesthood and the theology of exorcism accurately?

The movie is slightly different from the book, but there’s nothing in the movie that isn’t theologically posited in the book, so they’re not pulling things out of left field. The filmmakers have tried to be very faithful to the theology of the Church on the dynamics of demonic possession.

The message is very similar to my book, which is this idea that evil likes to stay hidden, but it’s through belief, through faith, that you’re able to overcome it.

I helped on the set of the film, and Father Gary Thomas was also on the set. He said the exorcisms they were filming were “very believable.” They were very careful to make this film as real as possible. When you’re dealing with this topic, you don’t have to sensationalize it too much. The topic is dramatic enough.

Source: National Catholic Register

Free ebook download for The Rite here.

Read the interview with Matt Baglio in Time Magazine - here.

If you're interested to lean more about evil and demonic possession, listen to prominent Catholic theologian and exorcist Fr. Malachi Martin on The Nature Of Evil, Exorcism & Possession and watch a real video on an exorcism in America. Watch also this documentary showing a real exorcism in the Philippines.

Fr. Gabriele Amorth, Rome's chief exorcist's book is definitely worth a read. This milestone book is a great resource on demonology and diabolic possession. Read about how one can get possessed and how to protect yourself and your family - here.

Additionally, for a further understanding of this ancient rite, you can also watch this video about the Catholic Rite Of Exorcism.

If you need help pertaining to cases of demonic possession or oppression, please contact a deliverance prayer group in your area listed in this worldwide directory.

Please post your comments.



Sean said...

As a practicing Catholic, and someone who's read the memoir this movie is based off of, I'm excited to see how Hollywood will portray modern exorcisms. I encourage everyone to read it (religious or not).

Robert Doyle said...

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican are both in serious need of an exorcism, as both have demonstrat­ed themselves to be capable of tremendous evil.

Wayne said...

possessions are real, things have happened and witness by me and family members. sometimes witness by 2 or more. there are disorders and there are possessions. i'm a witness to these things.

Roy THK said...

I am studying for a post graduate degree in cultural anthropology and have taken a special interest in the supernatural. My interest has led me to read and study lots of material about spirits, demons, possession, and exorcism performed by Catholic priests, Protestant ministers and metaphysical practitioners including those from the Orient. Demonic / spirit possession is very real. There appears to be a varied number of ways in which possession can take place and this book (apart from Fr. Gabriele Amorth's books) is excellent in understanding how the Catholic Church sees it, the experiences of its priests and real stories of actual demonic possession. I was told by an old Jesuit priest, many years ago, that only a few priests can be exorcists as the strain will cause them to be burned out after a few years and have to quit. It seems that it takes much faith and energy to overcome this spiritual darkness. Whether there are actual demons or strong negativity of evil within the possessed man's mind, there is some unhealthy and harmful energy existent that needs to be cleansed.

Anderson said...

Its about time the Church takes this seriously and return to the forefront in fighting evil through this renowned heritage with its great spiritual resource. The Church has been timid in this area for far too long. This Church's role should not be confined to helping the poor,sick, educating the young and being a global peacemaker. Going back to basics of combating evil by reviving this ministry is a great move in the right direction.

Silas said...

Many priests, not wanting to turn their backs on the rich history associated with their faith, while at the same time wanting to embrace the modern view of reality in which the Devil is seen as a metaphor, would like to have it both ways. Others believe in the traditional teachings, but prefer not to talk about it. On the extreme end, some priests just flat out deny the Devil’s existence.

Vincent said...

Since Vatican II the belief in the devil's influence on our daily lives has has been hushed up. The devil is very real. I suggest that every Catholic pray Pope Leo XIII exorcism prayer for St. Micheal's intersession. I hope priest would take the reality of Satan more seriously and encourage prayer by the faithful for his admonishment.

Nerf said...

I don't believe in the supernatural. I think these people are just suffering from mental disorders. Go see a shrink.

DL said...

If anyone asks if I believe in ghosts, I'd say no. But I tell them I believe in demons. I do not believe in the "supernatural" but angels, fallen or not, are part of this world. Demons are fallen angels and they want our damnation. We must be aware of this if you care about what we're up against. But there is hope because the demons are defeated by Christ.

Eddie said...

Exorcist priests need to have a lot of patience and be a person who is willing to fast and pray more than an average priest would.

Wilson said...

Horror fans may be disappointed by this excellent drama, which aspires to the serious religious feeling since the The Exorcist but delivers little of its shock or gore. This film made me rethink my religious convictions. I intend to read the book.

Bernie George said...

This movie was apparently extremely controversial when released with people fainting and vomiting in the cinemas. Its based on a true story. There are many forms of possession today. I do believe in supernatural powers.

JT said...

I liked the movie. Its not a horror movie as most people expected it to be but it is based on a true story of one priest's struggle with faith and confrontation with evil.

Charles said...

great article. very informative. ive seen the movie and have been persuaded to believe in the existence of real demonic powers.

Benard Eitoin said...

BEWARE!!! "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Ephesians 6:12

Post a Comment

Please use a name or a pseudonym when posting a comment.