08 January 2021, The Tablet

Priest performed US 'election exorcisms'

Priest performed US 'election exorcisms'

Rioters broke windows and breached the Capitol building in an attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.
Lev Radin/PA

Ever since President Joe Biden emerged as the winner of the United States’ presidential election, Fr John Zuhlsdorf has been carrying out exorcisms about what he describes as “fraud” and “lying” during the vote-counting process. 

The prominent priest-blogger and President Trump supporter, also claimed that his Bishop, Donald Hying of Madison, granted him the authority to carry out the exorcism rite.  

But the bishop – who must give his permission for exorcisms to happen – says he never authorised Fr Zuhlsdorf’s “partisan political activity”.

The priest, who runs the popular “Fr Z” blog, carried out one of his live-streamed daily exorcisms against possible electoral fraud on the day before a group of Trump supporters violently attacked Capitol Hill in Washington DC.

Allegations of widespread electoral fraud in the 2020 election of President Joe Biden, a practising Catholic, have been dismissed by the US courts. Furthermore, no credible evidence has been produced to support the claims.   

“I have the permission of the bishop to say this, which increases the authority of the praying of the prayer,” he said ahead of his 5 January exorcism which he carried out in Latin. “As exorcists will confirm, the demons are very good with electronic equipment.”

Wearing full vestments, and standing in front of the chapel of his home, which is located in the mid-western state of Wisconsin, Fr Zuhlsdorf told followers why he was carrying out the exorcism. 

“I think it’s amply clear, there’s enough evidence to demonstrate that there was fraud in some places, and people had to commit that fraud, it didn’t happen by itself. It seems to have been well-organised. I am deeply concerned that anyone involved in this has put their soul in terrible mortal peril,” he said.   

“We have to be concerned about the people involved in this who might have lied, or who might have committed fraud, concerning this election. This is not cheating to steal the election to 5th grade class president. This is something on a whole different scale, it’s quantitatively so vastly larger, that it’s qualitatively a different kind of a situation and sin. This isn’t like going over and stealing a newspaper off your neighbour’s porch.”

But Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, who has oversight over Fr Zuhsldorf, disassociated himself from the priest’s actions. 

“A number of people have falsely concluded that I, as the Bishop of Madison, gave Fr John Zuhlsdorf permission to perform the rite of the sacramental of exorcism in relation to partisan political activity, to those seeking or holding elected office, or to recent developments in electoral politics in our country,” he said in a statement.  

Instead, the bishop explained, he granted Fr Zuhlsdorf permission to carry out exorcisms “for the intention of alleviation from the scourge of the coronavirus pandemic” for a temporary period. An exorcism is an ancient ritual normally used for people who believe they are possessed by an evil spirit. But it can also be used to exorcise a place, locality or things. A bishop, however, must grant a priest permission to carry out an exorcism. 

Fr Zuhsldorf runs one of the world’s best-read Christian blogs, which offers a combination of liturgical, political and culinary commentary. With tens of millions of visitors since 2006, Fr Zuhlsdorf is a relentless critic of liberal culture and supportive of elements of Trump’s political agenda. Unsurprisingly, he is not a fan of Pope Francis, and at one point told his supporters it was not a sin to pray for the death or resignation of the Roman Pontiff. He later apologised. He has used his blog to criticise The Tablet, the National Catholic Reporter and other commentators with whom he disagrees, and puts some posts under the category “wherein Fr Z rants”.

Following the 6 January violence by Trump supporters, Fr Zuhlsdorf suggested the event will “be the pretext that the powerful Left will use to crack down on our freedoms” while praising an analysis offered by Tucker Carlson on Fox News

“This blog is like a fusion of the Baroque ‘salon’ with its well-tuned harpsichord around which polite society gathered for entertainment and edification and, on the other hand, a Wild West ‘saloon’ with its out-of-tune piano and swinging doors, where everyone has a gun and something to say,” he says on the site. 

The 61-year-old priest started life as a Lutheran and is an outspoken advocate for the extraordinary form of the Mass, which is the liturgy as it was celebrated before the reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council. “Save the liturgy, save the world,” is one of his catchphrases. As he is not involved in any formal parish ministry, his flock are, in effect, the followers of his blog and social media platforms. 

Ordained in 1991 for the Diocese of Velletri-Segni, a diocese near Rome by Pope John Paul II, Fr Zuhlsdorf spent some time in Rome during the early years of his priesthood. However, according to Velletri-Segni’s bishop, Vincenzo Apicella, Fr Zuhlsdorf never carried out any priestly ministry before returning to the US. Bishop Apicella has also questioned Fr Zuhlsdorf’s credibility. 

“There is an agreement between this diocese and that of Madison that Rev Zuhlsdorf must answer for his actions directly to the bishop of Madison, who accepted him and is responsible for him,” Bishop Apicella said in a 2019 letter concerning Fr Zuhlsdorf and has been seen by The Tablet. 

We certainly cannot verify and evaluate from Velletri what is said, written and published in Wisconsin, apart from the fact that, personally, I have never used or contacted any blog or such thing and I have no intention of starting now, given that unfortunately, I belong to a non-digital generation.”

But he added: “On the other hand, one who combines arguments of faith and morals with photos of birds, Chinese food and aircraft seats, as well as boasting about a firearms license, speaks for itself and I do not see what theological or scientific credibility he can have.” 

It is unclear what sanction, if any, Fr Zuhlsdorf will face from his bishop in Madison, although the exorcism incident calls into question the promise of obedience each priest must pledge to their religious superior. 

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