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Battling the Demonic: An Interview with America’s Exorcists

Battling the Demonic: An Interview with America’s Exorcists

They’ve witnessed the stuff of Hollywood-horror variety, including levitation. They’ve trained under a master exorcist in Rome, and have counseled hundreds of individuals suffering demonic influence. They’re humble, they acknowledge personified evil, but are never afraid, because Christ’s sacrifice has already conquered evil.

While recent popes have reemphasized the importance of exorcism, it is often misunderstood both within the Church and in the secular world. To provide insight into this vital ministry, I’ve recently had the opportunity to speak with two of America’s most experienced exorcists:

Fr. Vincent Lampert

Fr. Vincent Lampert

Fr. Vince Lampert is the exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He has ten years of experience in dealing with the demonic, and has lectured extensively on the topic, drawing from his expertise and experience.

Fr. Gary Thomas is the exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, California. His 2005 apprenticeship in Rome was the basis for the 2011 thriller, The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins.

 

 

Peter LaFave: How did you enter the ministry of exorcism?

Fr. Lampert: This was not something that I sought out. In 2005, I was appointed to this ministry by my bishop because he wanted a priest who believed in the reality of evil, but would not rush to assume that everyone who came to him was actually possessed. An exorcist in many ways is trained to be a skeptic first. I was fortunate to train under an experienced exorcist in Rome during a three month period in 2006 and was able to sit in on 40 exorcisms.

Fr. Thomas: In no way did I ever seek out this position, rather It simply “came” to me. My bishop initially asked my closest friend to become exorcist in February 2005. He was a terrific candidate and would have made a tremendous exorcist because of his academic qualifications and pastoral skills.

Fr. Gary Thomas

Fr. Gary Thomas, photo by Elizabeth Deffner

However, after discernment, he chose to decline the offer and informed me. I simply said, “I could be the exorcist” and the rest is history. He informed the bishop with my permission and I was sent to Rome, where I took the course on exorcism at the Regina Apostolorum Seminary. During that time, I apprenticed under an Italian exorcist for 3.5 months, during which I had time to pray, study, and learn this ministry.

There are many in the United States today (even Hierarchy in the Catholic Church) who are skeptical about the existence of demons and the ministry of exorcism. As highly trained and experienced exorcists, what do you say to this?

Fr. Lampert: Many people within and outside of the Church view the practice of exorcism as outdated. Yet Scripture contains many accounts of a clash between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. The name “Jesus” means “God saves.” If we deny the reality of evil then we deny the need for Christ to be our Savior.

Fr. Thomas: Read the Gospels: Christ performed exorcisms and the demonic recognized Him.

Have attitudes in the Church shifted in recent years?

Fr. Thomas: There are many Catholics who do not believe in personified evil, i.e. Satan and the demonic realm. In the post-Vatican II Church, the definition of sin became obtuse and the concept of personified evil became vague in many areas of the Church, including Seminaries, where eschatology or its related subjects were no longer emphasized.

However, I do believe that there has been a shift in recent years, of more priests believing in personified evil. Since 2011, the U.S. Catholic Church has quintupled the number of known exorcists, largely because bishops are receiving so many requests for investigations into demonic activity.

Is demonic activity on the rise?

Fr. Lampert: Yes, though the increase in demonic activity is not merely because the Devil has “upped his game,” but also because more people are willing to play his game today, through activities that are opening up doorways to evil in their lives.

Demonic influence is grouped into two categories: ordinary and extraordinary. While ordinary influence can be described as regular temptation, extraordinary influence is divided into four chief categories: infestation, vexation, obsession, and possession. Can you briefly describe characteristics of each?

Fr. Lampert: Infestation describes the presence of evil associated with a specific location or object. Demons can torment humans by unexplained noises which include: footsteps, knocking on walls, clattering of chains, mysterious voices, shouts, and laughter. Infestation can also include displacement of objects, pictures falling off the walls, furniture moving, levitation of objects, and so on.

Vexation is the action by which the devil and demons attack and harass humans physically through cuts or burns, scrapes, stings, bites, blows that leave bruises, swelling and bleeding sores, and incisions of letters in the skin using words or signs that persist for some time or suddenly disappear.

Obsession refers to mental attacks whereby demons assault someone’s external and internal senses. Demons affect the external senses through either horrifying or enticing visions, disturbing noises, chants that are both blasphemous and obscene, and by physical touch. On the internal senses, the imagination can be filled with thoughts or images that are both rationally absurd and terrifying. Because obsession ranges in degree, it is one of the most difficult to assess, more than that of vexation and even demonic possession.

During possession, the devil or evil spirit(s) takes control of a person’s body, during which the person feels powerless to act. The demons can control the entire body; causing the individual to speak, walk, and do obscene gestures. Those who suffer from demonic possession may lose all or part of their consciousness of what is taking place.

Can demons read our thoughts?

Fr. Lampert: Demons do not know what we are thinking. They are intelligent creatures who can use their reason to deduce what we might be thinking or how we might act. God alone knows a person’s mind.

A skeptic might assert that someone undergoing obsession or possession is really suffering mental issues. How do you distinguish?

Fr. Thomas: An exorcist is trained to be a skeptic first. I consult with professionals to rule out the natural causes before moving toward the preternatural ones. I have a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and clinical psychologist with whom I consult with on a case-by-case basis. Everything depends on the circumstances. There are key indicators of demonic involvement: aversion to the sacred, inordinate physical strength, knowledge of hidden things, proficiency in foreign languages previously unknown to the person (including Latin and Greek), foaming at the mouth, and epileptic type body movements without any kind of stimulation.

Fr. Lampert: Before confirming demonic involvement, an exorcist will rely on experts in the mental and medical health fields to assess the individual. They look for every possible physical or mental cause to explain what is taking place. This is the protocol that is followed before an exorcism takes place:

  • Obtaining a thorough physical examination by a qualified physician with appropriate specialists consulted as needed.
  • Obtaining a thorough psychological examination by a qualified clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.
  • Taking a “life history” of contact with demons, Satanism, the occult, witchcraft, or any eastern religious practice which cultivates relationships with “gods” and “goddesses”.
  • Normalizing the spiritual and sacramental life of the energumen.
  • Inventory of the extraordinary signs of possession from the Rite of Exorcism.
  • Careful compliance with diocesan legal and canonical processes.
  • Composition of a letter to the bishop regarding the need for a major exorcism.

Can you describe the process of an exorcism?

Father Lampert: I will first prepare myself by going to confession, celebrating Mass, and spending time in prayer. I will then determine the location of where the exorcism will take place. It is always in a sacred space of my choosing. These are the steps:

The rite begins with the sprinkling of holy water, followed by recitation of the Litany of Saints, Psalms, Gospels, apostles Creed and renewal of baptismal vows. After several prayers, the troubled individual is shown a crucifix, which represents Christ’s victory over the Devil. Following additional exorcism prayers, the Devil, in the name of Christ, is directly commanded to withdraw from the troubled person.

What are some of the most extreme manifestations of possession that you’ve witnessed?

Fr. Lampert: I have witnessed such things as superhuman strength, eyes rolling back in the head, extreme laughter and roars, supernaturally loud or deep voices, foaming at the mouth, foul odors, dislocation of the jaw, and levitation.

Levitation?

Fr Lampert: Yes, during an exorcism in Rome, the demon became very agitated during the deliverance prayers. The violent thrashing and obscenities continued until everything went calm and the possessed person began to levitate in her chair. This manifestation was done by the demon as an attempt to interrupt the prayer and cause fear to those in the room.

Fr. Thomas: I’ve had individuals exhibiting foreign languages previously unknown to them, violent attacks physically with restraints, snake-like movement, serpent-like facial appearance during deliverance prayers, and violent rejection of the Eucharist.

Do demons believe in the Eucharist?

Fr. Thomas: Absolutely, demons believe in the Real Presence and will often show a dramatic, violent aversion to it.

What brings about demonic involvement? What should be avoided?

Fr. Thomas: Ouija boards, dark magic, séances, violent video games, the Charley Challenge, tarot cards, any devices that can muster some kind of spirit in any way that circumvents God

Fr. Lampert: People may think these things are just fun and entertaining but the truth is they are dabbling with evil and can get themselves into trouble.

Fr. Thomas: Pornography and drugs can also be open doorways to the demonic, especially certain drugs such as meth and cocaine. In some cases, curses can be placed on these in order to make them even more addictive.

Curses, spells, satanic rituals, and black magic: do these occur today or are they merely old superstitions?

Fr. Thomas: Yes, there are people who know how to perform spells and magic of this kind.

Fr. Lampert: These things are all real. I believe they are only effective if we are weak in our commitment to God. We can’t control what another person does even if they wish us ill will. We can render their actions meaningless by putting on the armor of God.

How long does a possession last? Does one exorcism get the job done?

Fr. Thomas: Possessions can last years or even entire lifetimes, depending on the individual’s situation and lifestyle condition. One exorcism rarely gets the “job done” because there are usually several demons in an organized hierarchy.

Lengthy exorcisms sound exhausting; how do you unwind after something like that?

Fr. Lampert: I’ll find the nearest Dairy Queen!

You mentioned earlier that the decline in morality of society accompanies an increase in demonic activity. In today’s society what are the key indicators of this? For instance, is there something diabolical about abortion?

Fr. Thomas: Abortion is a doorway to the demonic because it involves the destruction of an innocent human being. The new law in California which legalizes assisted suicide is also a doorway for the same reason. This decline in morality is growing rapidly and provides the opportunity for Satan to have a foothold in a family’s life. I do not believe that most people who are believers in “choice” realize this. That is part of the seduction of Satan who will disguise his presence in these choices.

Fr. Lampert: Anything that attacks human life has to be viewed as evil, for the human person is created in the image and likeness of God. With that said one must always distinguish between evil as an action of our own free will and evil that is the result of demonic activity.

Can other inanimate objects become infested?

Fr. Thomas: Absolutely. A couple of years ago, an acquaintance of mine purchased a statue figurine of a fairy at a New Age book store. After experiencing several strange disturbances at her home, I advised the family to dispose of everything they had purchased as that specific store. While throwing out this statue, it shattered, producing a miniature satanic charm of a headless priest with his hands glued to an altar. I had never seen something so creepy and grotesque. After the objects had been blessed and disposed of, the disturbances ceased.

Do you caution against Eastern meditation such as yoga?

Fr. Lampert: The benefit of yoga for purely exercising is not the issue. What is concerning is the calling upon of energies, spirits, or forces when doing these practices.

Fr. Thomas: When someone doing yoga acknowledges and calls upon spirits or energies attached to certain exercises, this creates serious problems. I know this for fact because I have had people who are fervent yoga users come to me with problems when they have given homage to the gods attached to the movements of the yoga.

Are you ever afraid?

Fr. Thomas: No, it must be a grace because I am never afraid. I am humble and very respectful of personified evil, because without Our Lord, I do not stand a chance but with Him, I have nothing to fear.

In closing, what is the best defense against the forces of evil?

Fr. Thomas: There are four ordinary means of protection against the Evil One: a prayer life, a faith life, a moral life, and a sacramental life. Do those and you will build up the armor of Faith against the forces of Hell.

Fr. Lampert: The best defense against evil is for us to devote ourselves to the things of God and to think about the positive aspects of life. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” [Philippians 4:8].

About The Author

Peter LaFave is a contributing editor to the Christian Review, a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and lives with his wife in Santa Paula, CA. He can be reached at pjlafave@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @peterlafave.

21 Comments

  1. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. God bless you and your team.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much. God Bless you too!

      Reply
  3. Thank you! An excellent guide to help us protect ourselves from the personified evil, so prevalent in our society.

    Reply
  4. Could anyone tell me if it’s at all possible to post this on LinkedIn? I really would like to, but I don’t see any “link” that I can do this with. Thank you very much. Hopefully it can be. Saw the link on SpiritDaily.com

    Reply
    • Tanya, yes, all you have to do is copy and paste the link into your Linkedin posting area. Let me know if that works, thanks, Deal

      Reply
  5. I read that even Fr. Gruner said evil was the “absence of good.” I don’t believe that, I believe evil is a definite Thing. Satan.

    Reply
    • Good is a thing because God, the very foundation of being is in and of himself good. What God created was good but when the creature turns from this proper ordering they become disordered and are lacking what they are created with. Evil is the lack of Good and is not a thing but a disordered existence

      Reply
      • When someone turns from God, rejects Him (by mortal sin, especially unto death) Who is their Creator and Good, they become corrupted to the point that they become a new creation—but one that is horrid.

        In the enemy of God, who is a who, the corrupted person would become like that. Therefore, evil is more than the “absence of good.” Evil is a person and any persons who choose to support that person.

        Even a black hole appears empty, but we know that it is not—it has terrific power to draw in.

        Reply
    • well, Christianity is not a dualistic religion. evil *is* a privation of the good (Augustine said so, and he certainly believed in devils). but real spiritual persons do exist who do evil. There is a danger here in the opposite direction for certain kinds of Christians (though most people have the opposite flaw: they refuse to consider the existence of demons): Satan is not some kind of super-evil, anti-god–to consider him this way is to exaggerate his importance. he is simply a very power fallen being who has irrevocably dedicated himself to rejecting God.

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    • I recently encountered a student in my school who rolled his eyes backwards, showing only the whites of his eyes. I had thought it was a “skill” he had mastered, but now, I’m not so sure it is as simple as that … The boy is “notorious” for being defiant against authority (even when it comes to our Vice Principal) and his appearance doesn’t help to make him at all likeable nor sufferable. I don’t teach him and my path crossed with his when I was invigilating an exam. which he took.

      Reply
  6. I thank God for the wonderful service to the world of Catholic exorcists. I agree with the spirit and practice of Catholic exorcism described in this article. I would venture to claim, though, that the majority of exorcisms performed on this planet, conducted in the same Spirit, are among the huge, rapidly-growing, but largely ignored, Pentecostal/charismatic Holy Spirit movement that is projected to reach 811 million in only four years. Among this diverse group, the consensus is that ALL Christians, not just professionals, are commissioned by Jesus to “have authority to cast out evil spirits” (Mark 3:15)–a continuation of the mandate to all mankind, in Adam, to “guard” the Garden–God’s creation–presumably against the serpent (Genesis 2:15; 3:1). It is true that these “lay exorcists” are often inexperienced, lack training, and therefore make mistakes. But far more often, their sincere faith and zeal for the ministry of the Lord Jesus overcomes the power of the evil one. In any case, they should be commended for at least trying to obey the universal mandate commissioned by Jesus Himself as a core experience of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

    Reply
    • Group consensus does not make it true. Many of these individuals end up getting hurt because of their pride. The first sin was one of pride and disobedience. It is important that we don’t think ourselves so great that we can accomplish the abolishment of evil apart from the Church and by our own authority. The demon will latch on to that narcism and the “exorcism” will cause more harm than good. Notice that neither of these men chose to be exorcists, they were chosen from a higher-ranking individual and submitted in humble obedience.
      These “lay exorcists” misunderstand the Scripture. Giving dominion over creation is very different than giving authority to practice exorcism. And the passage of Mark you refer to specifically applies to the 12 apostles, from which the hierarchy of the Church descends. He did not issue the command to the masses, He issued it to the 12.

      Reply
  7. thanks for this awesome piece.i loved the movie the rite. but are there curses that run in families? So that children born in a particular family who had nothing to do with why the curse was placed are affected?

    Reply
    • Yes, there are curses that can afflict successive generations in families. More often one will see repeated sin patterns carrying on from generation to generation. However, one might find a persistent curse afflicting a family when there seem to be many untimely and traumatic deaths recurring across generations. There can be reasonable coincidental causes for something like this, but I would not rule out some kind of persistent curse. And, unless I am grossly mistaken, certain degrees in the Masonic Lodge call down curses upon the successive generations among their own children when they make vows as they progress in that organization.

      Reply
  8. Great Q&A! Thanks.
    I also strongly recommend those who are interested in the subject matter to read Fr Gabriel Amorth’s book on his exorcist experience. There are actually two books but reading the first book shall suffice. It’s called “An Exorcist tells his story” something like that.

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  9. Interesting .
    I have worked as chaplain in mental health for years , but fortunately have never ever come across a patient who could be described as ‘possessed’ etc by a demon . I often have to deal with patients who believe they are ‘possessed ‘ , but it is plain to see that the disturbance etc stems from a psychiatric condition , illness . I would be interested to know if any psychologist or doctor believed the condition was a spiritual one , which needed the services of a priest/excorcist . ? On the whole I am very sceptical of this deliverance ministry .

    Reply
    • Thank you very much for this article, which I find informative. It also serves as very useful guidance for discerning evil and to protect ourselves by persevering to ensure or lives are always right with God. I feel every Catholic should read this article for their spiritual benefit.

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    • I think it is altogether possible and probable that anyone suffering from any illness but especially mental illness, is an easy mark for demons- and that there often is some form of oppression or harrassement ongoing there in addition to the physical and psychological and emotional issues. I want to say Satan is the king of chaos-but really he is always and only a puppeteer of sorts, definitely a perverted and undone version of what he/they might have been in all their beauty and original glory before their rebellion, but still not superlative in any way. Superlatives indicate something of value even inversely- and there is no value and nothing substantive in the actual absence of good- we only even recognize there is an absence because of the presence of the ‘good’. In this way , good always triumphs over evil.

      Reply
  10. If I may, can I ask for more clarification with regards to yoga? To my knowledge, I’ve heard that the spiritual side of yoga (from the hindu perspective) is about the ‘clearing’ of energy centers within the body. Apparently, there are bundles of clogged up or twisted energy throughout the body, and yoga clears these through its exercises. The main purpose of this is to facilitate better meditation subsequently. Since meditation is about calming the spirit to get in touch with the divine, yoga is supposed to make this easier.

    I’m a Catholic who is very skeptical of the spiritual side of yoga, however harmless it may seem, but it does seem to be about clearing the bad energy from the body as opposed to what is stated above, which is to invite certain energies into it. However, I also have heard the side of yoga that does this too, such as chants to invite at least the participation of a deity in the activity.

    Thus, I just want clarification as to what kind of yoga a Catholic could do, for the sake of bodily health. A little detail would be good, as I want to order the yoga I do toward the best possible way.

    Reply
    • I had tried a Kundalini Yoga class many years ago for about a 2 months duration, one night a week. I went into it because I had been told that it was very relaxing and peaceful exercise to try. My instructor in no way indicated to the class that this exercise was spiritual by any means. She said a mantra at the beginning and then we tried different poses in which she walked around to make sure that we were doing them correctly. At the end of the class she lead us through a peaceful, neutral, non spiritual meditation. Everything in this class seemed harmless and it did not interest me for very long so I quit. About a year later I had learned more in depth information regarding yoga and its roots. I had learned that each pose in yoga honours a false god which goes against the First Commandment. I also learned that you cannot separate the spiritual from the physical in this exercise. I desired healing and deliverance for practicing yoga and when I repented and renounced and asked for forgiveness, I felt the release of the Kundalini spirit and have been forever set free!!! Thank you God for healing me!!
      A recommended book to read is “Spiritual Deceptions in the Church and the Culture A Comprehensive Guide to Discernment” by Moira Noonan and Anne Feaster.

      Reply

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