ROME – Worried about the lure of the devil, a Vatican-linked university on Thursday debuted its latest course offering: a class on Satanism, black magic and exorcism.
The class for clergy and seminarians at Rome's Pontifical Academy "Regina Apostolorum (search)" has arisen from alarm about Satanic practices among young people, especially in Italy.
In one case in Italy in January, eight people believed to belong to a Satanic sect were ordered to stand trial for their alleged role in three ritual killings.
One of the victims was a 19-year-old girl stabbed to death in 1998. She may have been targeted because her killers believed she was a personification of the Virgin Mary (search), prosecutors allege. The suspects belonged to a heavy metal band called "Beasts of Satan."
The Vatican is also concerned about a growing number of young people who develop personal forms of Satanism, outside the sects that are closely monitored by police. They often learn about the devil through the Internet.
"It's a more spontaneous and hidden phenomenon, a problem of loneliness and isolation, a problem of emptiness, that is fulfilled by the values of Satanism," said one of the teachers, Carlo Climati, a specialist on youth culture and Satanism.
Climati said concerned parents had been asking for a special course for priests.
The pontifical academy is run by the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative order, and teachers for the class include exorcists and psychiatrists.
In 1999, the Vatican issued its first new guidelines since 1614 for driving out devils, offering cautions to exorcists about taking psychiatric problems into account.
The updated exorcism rite, first issued in Latin and contained in a red, leather-bound book, was a reflection of Pope John Paul II's (search) efforts to convince the skeptical that the devil is very much in the world. At the time, he gave a series of homilies denouncing the devil as a "cosmic liar and murderer."
Among the widely accepted signs of possession by the devil are speaking in unknown tongues and demonstrating physical force beyond one's natural capacity.