The number of exorcisms in Italy has tripled recently, with experts predicting that around 500,000 requests are made a year.
These figures emerged at a conference for exorcists taking place this week in Sicily, which also discussed the need for more priests - and better training - for those tasked with liberating people from demonic possession.
“All the people who come to us suffer, but they are many and we are few,” Fr Paolo Carlin, a Capuchin Friar and spokesman for the International Association for Exorcists told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
The exorcists event in Palermo this week takes place a couple of months before a similar gathering from 16 to 21 April in Rome at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum Institute. Among the speakers at that event will be Father Cesare Truqui, a student of Fr Gabriel Amorth, the world’s best known exorcist.
“Many Christians no longer believe in the existence [of evil],” Fr Truqui told Vatican News. “Few exorcists are appointed and there are no more young priests willing to learn the doctrine and practice of liberation of souls.”
Fr Amorth, who died in 2016 at the age of 91 after spent many years as the Diocese of Rome’s exorcist, claimed those possessed by demons would vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron, and even argued the devil had got into the Vatican.
The actions of “the evil one”, Fr Carlin explained this week, take place in two forms. “The normal way: temptation. And the extraordinary way: the obsessions, which strike the mind or on the body. Even more rare are real possessions when the enemy takes possession of a person or gets into places.”
The Sicily gathering blessing of local bishops and was attended by dozens of exorcists from all over Italy. While there are no officially collected figures of exorcisms, one priest said the numbers are growing in part because people are “ready to go to magicians, or tarot card readers as grown.”
Fr Benigno Palilla, a Franciscan friar and prominent exorcist in Italy, added that “doing so opens the door to demons and to possession.”
He argued that more training was needed for priests in this area saying that many clergy were ill-equipped to deal with those in the grip of evil spirits, and that formation should take place in seminaries.
The exorcists international association has 400 members of which 240 in Italy. According to the Church’s canon law, an exorcist must be given specific permission to carry out exorcisms by his bishop and has to be a priest who has “piety, knowledge, prudence and integrity of life."
Fr Carlin pointed out that there were a number of ways to recognise someone possessed by an evil spirt. These include: a “furious aversion” to the sacred or sacred objects; signs of abnormal physical strength; a knowledge of languages such as Aramaic and Latin previously not known and a deep knowledge of the occult.
PICTURE: An exorcism ritual is performed at a house church in Colombia ©PA