By Sarah Mac Donald - 10 October, 2018
The Bishop of Waterford & Lismore has said he has received up to nine requests over the past couple of years from people who believe they have encountered evil spirits.
Bishop Phonsie Cullinan said he absolutely agreed with Pope Francis that “the Devil is not just a symbol for bad things, he is a personal force of destruction, wanting to bring down humanity”.
In an interview with WLRFM’s Déise programme, Dr Cullinan warned people off Reiki, a form of hands-on healing that invokes a universal energy.
“I know that people are looking for healing but let’s be very careful where you go for healing – if you are opening yourself up to a spirit and someone is channelling a spirit, you could be channelling the wrong spirit,” he said.
He revealed that he is in the process of setting up a group of people in his diocese who want to be part of deliverance ministry.
“This is something that has to be done in secret because you don’t let these people’s names out – they are going to houses where people are or may have been involved in some kind of New Age thing or some kind of séance and unfortunately they have opened up a door to an evil force – Satan.”
He told the radio programme, “Does Satan want to destroy the human person? Of course he does. Not only the Church but anywhere and everywhere that he will get in – he has come to destroy.”
He recounted the story of a man who had trained as a Reiki Master and was working on somebody one day when he saw a vision of Satan. “He was scared out of his wits and dropped the Reiki and went back to Church.”
“Because you are channelling ‘energies’, you could well be opening yourself up to letting in a spirit which is not good and this is dangerous stuff.”
On deliverance and exorcisms, he told the WLRFM programme, “You have got to pray and with the permission of the bishops recite the prayers of exorcism. It is a tricky area – it must never be done on one’s own and there always has to be prayer behind it.
“I remember one particular priest who was involved in the case of a young girl who came with her mother. There were four men to hold her down in the chair and the priest had warned the four guys beforehand to just make sure they had gone to confession. One guy didn’t go to confession and the girl with the voice that was not hers, a male voice that was coming out of her, actually called out the sins of the guy who had not been to confession, so that’s kind of scary stuff.”
The Bishop said he had felt the presence of Satan himself though he has never seen an exorcism.
He also revealed that a priest in the diocese of Waterford & Lismore is undergoing training as an exorcist.
“We are finding our feet in this area – it is something that there are more and more requests coming in for. I would hope that people will not get scared – let’s pray. Jesus is Lord of all and he is greater than any other force – so let’s trust in Jesus.”
Earlier this year, Irish exorcist Fr Pat Collins called on the bishops to train one or two priests in every diocese in Ireland as ministers of deliverance and of solemn exorcism.
The Vincentian priest highlighted how, due to the growing demand for exorcisms, many bishops in Italy, Spain, Poland and Britain have increased the number of trained exorcists in their dioceses.
Criticising the Irish Church, he said, “I don’t think the hierarchy is taking this pastoral need seriously.”
In a letter to the bishops, Fr Collins described the matter as “urgent”.
“I have been asked by two bishops to handle difficult cases on their behalf. In those cases, I had permission to do whatever I thought was necessary up to the point of solemn exorcism,” he revealed.
But Fr Collins suspects that some priests have been authorised to handle exorcism cases on an ad hoc basis.
The lack of trained, officially appointed exorcists in Ireland “breaks my heart” he said because “afflicted people” end up feeling “let down and abandoned”.
It also means that if a priest is consulted by a person who claims to be spiritually oppressed or possessed, many priests tend to feel ill-equipped to help them.
“Nearly every day of the year I receive an email or phone call from desperate people who feel oppressed by evil spirits or who believe that their home or workplace is haunted in one way or another,” Fr Collins explained.
Acknowledging that the need for solemn exorcism is rare, he highlighted that there is a much more widespread requirement for deliverance ministry, which is sometimes referred to as simple exorcism.
In his letter to the Irish hierarchy, he called on dioceses to form exorcism teams that include a trained priest (canon 1172), a sympathetic psychologist/psychiatrist, and some experienced lay people.
“Bishops also need to draw up ethical guidelines and protocols to be observed when priests and/or lay people engage in deliverance prayer or exorcism,” he said.
Meanwhile, figures released earlier in the year show the number of exorcisms in Italy tripled recently, with experts predicting that around 500,000 requests are made a year.
These figures emerged at a conference for exorcists taking place in Sicily in February, 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 in February took 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 were Fr 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 spending 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.”
While there are no officially collected figures of exorcisms, one priest said the numbers are growing in part because the numbers of people ready to go to magicians or tarot card readers have 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 are 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 spirit.
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.