There is an alarming resurgence in the age-old practice of exorcising demons. Dioceses across Italy and Spain are officially qualifying priests to perform exorcisms. In America, Pew Research data shows that 68 percent of the population believes angels and demons are active in the world.
The legitimation of exorcism is far more frightening than supposed demons. It can lead to mistreatment of psychiatric illnesses, in more extreme cases death, financial exploitation of the vulnerable by con artists like Peter Popoff, and a mockery of religious healing which is about prayer and mediation, not medieval remedies to mental health issues.
The Catholic Church attributes the rise in demonic cases to people dabbling in paganism, Ouija boards and black magic, but my sneaking suspicion is that mental health issues, along with the rise of fiction horror movie fantasies, are a more likely cause.
The Church does readily admit that most of "those claiming to be possessed by the Devil are actually suffering from a variety of mental health issues, from paranoia to depression, and are generally advised to seek medical help." But, according to the Church, in some cases a person is actually taken over by evil spirits, and an exorcism is required.
Violent psychosurgery involving lobotomies were once used to remove what were believed to be evil forces, but of course Western medicine has proven the futility of such practices. Modern day exorcisms have also gone bad.
This past weekend, a 28-year-old mother killed two of her children and severely injured her two others during an exorcism ritual. In 2013, a man was convicted of beating his 2-year-old daughter to death in an attempt to rid her of a demon. In 2010, a 14-year-old was beaten and drowned by those trying to exorcise his evil spirit. In 2003, an autistic 8-year-old was killed during an exorcism performed by church members who were attempting to get rid of a demon they thought was causing his disability.
Aside from the dangers of discouraging those who need conventional mental health from seeking it, the practice of exorcisms also opens the door to financial exploitation of the vulnerable and naïve.
Father Francesco Saverio Bazzoffi was investigated for amassing millions by performing fake exorcisms. Several women in Florida were charged with scamming unsuspecting people into "cleansing" evil spirits in exchange for cash. The list goes on.
Legitimizing exorcisms makes a mockery of religion and poses a threat to society. People should seek clergy guidance on spiritual and emotional issues. While mental health treatment should be the province of medical professionals.