Priests flock to Rome for exorcism courses as demand for ritual surges

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Exorcism, the Catholic-sanctioned ritual to root out demons, doesn’t just exist in movies. In fact, the practice has become so popular that the Vatican’s weeklong workshop on the practice is now gaining attention – and attendance is booming.

About 200 Roman Catholics arrived at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University in Rome on Monday for a series of lectures on topics such as spotting differences between demonic possession and mental illness, and witchcraft in Africa, according to Reuters.

“They call me and we speak and that’s how I do it,” Cardinal Ernest Simoni of Albania told the news agency after his lecture, adding that he reads prayers in Latin over the phone.

The focus of the course, titled “Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation”, is “to offer a rich reflection and articulation on a topic that is sometimes unspoken and controversial,” Italian priest and exorcist Benigno Palilla told Vatican Radio in February.

"We touch on the most burning issues: from the sects linked to Satanism to the [telling] their story of liberation [from] their possession,” he added.

The course was set up amid the increasing popularity of tarot cards readers and fortune tellers that opened “the door to the devil and to possession,” Palilla said.

Professor Giuseppe Ferrari, an organizer of the event, told Reuters that the “number of exorcisms has definitely increased over the years, as the requests to carry out exorcisms has increased.

“This course is useful because it prepares the priests who carry out exorcisms to have a complete vision, a multi-disciplined view of the situation,” he added.

The BBC reported that the course has been offered since 2005 and over the past 13 years, the number of priests attending has more than doubled.

Theologians, psychologists, doctors and criminologists are reported to be among the lecturers this week.

Students who complete the course will receive a certificate, but Ferrari told Reuters that only priests with a license or permission from a bishop can carry out exorcisms.

“It is Jesus who liberates. It is his power,” Simoni was quoted as saying. “In all the exorcisms I have done, the Lord has helped me. I am not the great one.”

Palilla noted that the demand for exorcism services tripled in the last few years, to 500,000 cases in Italy, although most cases of alleged demonic possession were prompted by psychological and spiritual issues.

In France, the demand for exorcists has also soared, but the services were outsourced to “independent operators,” who conduct the exorcism, as the Catholic Church neglected for years the training of priests in the practice despite strong public demand, The Economist reported.

There are roughly 100 exorcists in France, yet most remain inactive.

Palilla warned about using untrained priests for getting rid of demons.

“A self-taught exorcist certainly meets errors," he said. "I will say more: it would also take a period of apprenticeship, as happens for many professionals."

In 2014, the Vatican officially recognized exorcism as a practice under canon law.