Heather Hastie on Mexican exorcisms

June 19, 2015 • 10:30 am

New Zealand reader Heather Hastie’s website, Heather’s Homilies, is temporarily down: past posts are visible but she’s unable to put up new ones. This may be the result of a hacker attack, but we hope the site will be online soon. In the meantime, Heather sent me a piece of news that she wanted to write about. I found it intriguing because the subject, the increasing prevalence of Catholic exorcism, leading to the exorcism of an entire country, clearly demonstrates the Vatican’s conflict between science and faith. I suggested that Heather put her post here pending reactivation of her own site. She kindly assented, and here it is:


The Power of Christ Compels You: Leave Mexico!

by Heather Hastie

Just when you thought the Roman Catholic Church might be heading towards rationalism with its encyclical on Climate Change, reality bites. It seems that the Church is so concerned with the state of morality in Mexico that an exorcismo magno (“great exorcism”) was carried out there on 20 May. This is apparently only the second time this rite has ever been performed; the first time was by Friar Sylvester at the urging of St Francis of Assisi in Arezzo, Italy in 1224 (see picture below).

In the modern church, the rite of exorcism had become a bit of an embarrassment – an eccentric uncle no one talked about. Some even refused to admit it existed. Belief in hell and the devil himself has been declining, especially in the West. In 1997, a New York Times article reported on a Barna Research Group survey of American beliefs. Although then 95% of the population still believed in God, and most also believed in heaven and angels, only 30% thought the Devil actually existed. Further, only 31% thought hell existed as “a place of physical torment.”

That’s changing.

By December 2013, Pope Francis had been in office for nine months, and perhaps that was long enough for the gestation of some new ideas in the religious consciousness. A Harris poll reported that while U.S. belief in God had dropped to 74%, their belief in the Devil and Hell had both increased to 58%.

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope, he chose the name Francis after St Francis of Assisi. His explanation of that was that the Church needed to focus more on the poor and on its own spiritual nature. But it soon became evident that “spiritual” included the bad aspects of the word, and it wasn’t only St Francis’s work with the poor that the new pope wished to emulate. The “Pope Francis Effect” has become well known since his election in 2013. His frequent references to the Devil and the temptations of evil in his sermons have made exorcism once again a mainstream phenomenon.

Exorcism of Arezzo - Giotto
The Exorcism of Arezzo by Giotto. St Francis of Assisi kneels in prayer and support of Friar Sylvester, whom he called on to drive out the demons Francis had seen over the city. (Source: WikiArt)

In June last year, Pope Francis formally recognized the statutes of the International Association of Exorcists (AIE). They of course were thrilled by this acknowledgment; L’Osservatore reported the head of the organization, Rev Francesco Bamonte, considered “… the Vatican approval was cause for joy.” The AIE has around 300 members worldwide and was founded in 1990, but had never received formal Vatican recognition. They are the elite of the world’s exorcists, meeting every two years in Rome to discuss trends and techniques in their professions.

Coincidentally (yes, I’m being facetious), since the pope’s endorsement of the AIE’s work there has been an increase in demand for their services. The Telegraph’s Nick Squires interviewed several attendees of their week-long conference in Rome two months ago. The reporting is revealing and scary, although not for the reasons the exorcists believe. Father Cesare Truqui, Chief Exorcist of Chur, Switzerland, says that these days about a third of the phone calls received by Catholic officials in Rome relate to exorcism. Truqui also noted that exorcists are able to tell the difference between possession and mental illness. As he also claims to have taken part in around a hundred exorcisms, that’s clearly not true.

On the first day, the 150 attendees of the conference were addressed by Monsignor Luigi Neri, the archbishop of Ferrara. According to Squires, Neri ascribed the increasing need for exorcisms to atheism and consumerism. Throughout the week, other causes were examined as well. These included pornography, television, drug-taking, greater interest in the occult, and Satanism. Previously, Harry Potter and yoga have also been cited as risk factors for possession.

A 2013 YouGov poll demonstrates the widespread belief in the devil, possession and exorcism amongst Catholics. It shows that 94% of them believe that people are sometimes possessed by the Devil, with 67% believing in the power of exorcism (another 25% are unsure):

YouGov Exorcism 2

Dr Valter Cascioli, spokesperson for AIE, warned on Vatican Radio in November, 2014 of “an extraordinary increase in demonic activity.” Dr Vascioli is a psychiatrist; this is another example of the incredible potential for damage faith has when it replaces proper medical care. As Jerry said about exorcism in Faith vs Fact (page 238):

“… who knows how many disturbed people have been subjected to a frightening procedure that is harmless at best, but potentially dangerous, especially when those who use it misconstrue and thus ignore the real causes of mental illness?”

Dr Vascioli doesn’t even have the excuse of not knowing the real cause of mental illness; he simply ignores them in favour of faith.

As a result of the increased demand from believers for spiritual healing, the training and appointment of exorcists has become widespread. According to other reporting from Nick Squires, three years ago only about half of English and Welsh dioceses had an official exorcist; now almost all of them do. He has also seen similar increases in the number of exorcists throughout the world. For example, the archbishop of Madrid sent eight priests for training due to “an unprecedented rise” in instances of “demonic possession”.

And so we come to Mexico, which according to the Pew Research Center (2014) has a populace that is 81% Catholic. The Church decided it was time to do something about the problems of Mexico, which according to them are drug cartels, high levels of violence, and abortion. So what did they come up with? Education? Programs to help the poor? Community outreach? Job creation? Community health centres? No. What they decided on was prayer. But not just any prayer. For the first time in almost 800 years they were going to perform an exorcismo magno, and they were going all out! It wasn’t just a town this time, but a whole country!

Under the leadership of Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, the archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara, a group of exorcists got together behind closed doors in the cathedral of San Luis Potosí, strategically located in the centre of Mexico for the best dissemination of anti-demonic forces. The event wasn’t announced beforehand because, according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA), they wanted “… to avoid any misguided interpretations of the ritual.” I’m not sure what they imagine “misguided interpretations” would entail. My only interpretation, which I don’t consider “misguided”, is that it was a colossal waste of time, and by not announcing it there wasn’t even hope for a placebo effect.

“If” it doesn’t work, though, those taking part have already provided several explanations. Spanish demonologist and exorcist Father José Antonio Fortea, who attended the ceremony, spoke to CNA:

The Spanish exorcist explained, however, that the celebration of this ritual will not automatically change the difficult situation Mexico is going through in a single day.

“It would be a big mistake to think that by performing a full scale exorcism of the country everything would automatically change right away.”

Nevertheless, he emphasized that “if with the power we’ve received from Christ we expel the demons from a country, this will certainly have positive repercussions, because we’ll make a great number of the tempters flee, even if this exorcism is partial.”

“We don’t drive out all the evil spirits from a country with just one ceremony. But even though all will not be expelled, those that were removed are not there anymore.”

Fr. Fortea emphasized that “when the exorcists of a country drive out its demons, it has to be done in faith. You’re not going to see anything, feel anything, there’s not going to be any extraordinary phenomenon. We have to have faith that God conferred on the apostles a power, and that we can use this power.”

I bet Beelzebub is shaking in his boots.


Gratuitious photo added by Professor Ceiling Cat:


79 thoughts on “Heather Hastie on Mexican exorcisms

    1. They can’t be too happy about it.

      This is entirely true. In their state of non-existence, the demons can’t be too happy, or even happy enough, or even mildly contented with the Papal Bicycle.
      Oh, Internet ; you’ve let me down. Or human ingenuity has failed. I was sure that someone, somewhere would have built a bicycle powered muck-spreader and posted images, but alas, alack!, no joy. The idea isn’t utterly unfeasible though.

    1. Didn’t Jesus do that?

      I guess it never sticks. Must be like a flea collar; you have to replace it regularly to keep the demons away.

      I’m kinda surprised the Vatican went with Mexico rather than the US. Did we lose our status as Most Sinful Nation or something?

    2. They will. They call it the End Times. The ultimate mix of physical and supernatural in a universal grudge match.

  1. I would add that not only can exorcisms be dangerous because they can delay treatment, but also because they may distress the (what should be a) patient, reinforce delusions, etc.

  2. Are we in the midst of a resurgence of ghost busters or has someone one put some LSD in the reservoir?

    Seriously, between the mindless discussions about exorcism and continued references to ghosts and sightings I have to believe Armageddon will be less related to biblical prophecy and more related to a brain inflaming bat-shit virus.

  3. We don’t drive out all the evil spirits from a country with just one ceremony. But even though all will not be expelled, those that were removed are not there anymore.

    Uh Oh, looks like the immigration issue just got a little more nuanced. We better hire some paranormal experts on the border, just in case.

    Great post Heather…simply unbelievable. This is a good example of truth being stranger than fiction.

    1. Did you know that what isn’t here is no longer here? This is the stuff of faith and reason working together. We know by reason that what isn’t here isn’t here because A cannot be not A. But it is only by faith that we know it isn’t. For faith is the stuff of reason and reasonable faith is the best argument for God. It is what it is.

  4. The number of people who are just too stupid to even answer consistently is remarkable. To the question, “Do you believe someone can be possessed by the devil or some other evil spirit?” 24% of Catholics said ‘No’. But then only 6% of Catholics said ‘Never’ when asked how frequently people are possessed.

    For what it’s worth, here are the numbers for all of 1000 US adults (no surprise, it ain’t just Catholics):

    How often do you think people are possessed by the devil?
    Very Frequently .6%
    Frequently . . . 9%
    Occasionally . .29%
    Rarely . . . . .45%
    Never . . . . . 11%

    1. I often wonder at the validity of these kinds of polls, especially the sliding scale questions such as the above. I think that given a sufficiently large sample they would revert to the bell curve. Most respondents will go for the middle values and will rarely pick the extremes.

      Unless you really think about the question “How often do you think…” (it already begs the question) many people will just assume its a reasonable question with some probability of happening. They will not often say “never”, so I think I would include the “rarely” and perhaps even the “occasionally” as people who don’t really believe it.

  5. Nearly half of all people are below average.

    My excuse is I’m typing with one eye corrected by cataract surgery and one eye still severely myopic. The lack of blending has interesting effects.

      1. About 90% of American households have a net worth less than the average household net worth.

        1. And if you, me, and Bill Gates walked into a bar…we’d still need a punch-line…but between the three of us, we’d have an average net-worth in the billions.

          1. Well I’m definitely above average, and so are most people. I have two eyes, two arms, two legs…

            (If you allow for the few unfortunates with just one of [any of the above], the _average_ must be something like 1.999999. So I’m above it!)


  6. Last May the Pope explained in an interview that “the devil has punished Mexico with many problems because of this [pointing to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe]. The devil hasn’t forgiven Mexico for her having revealed her son there. That’s my interpretation. So, Mexico is privileged in martyrdom for having recognized and defended his mother”.

    Thanks for explaining, Pope, it all makes sense now.

    Here’s the video of Francis saying that(in Spanish): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHMgugJAXh4

    1. Holy crap. The classic Christian thing of “winning through losing”. Thanks for this massively creepy information. Can we all now finally stop talking about Pope Francis like he’s some progressive thing? 👿

  7. Maybe the Republicans are right, we do need a good wall at the border. How many illegal aliens coming across are actually disguised demons that were expelled by the exorcism? We probably need to style the wall after the wailing wall for the best protection. What century is this again?

    1. How many illegal aliens coming across are actually disguised demons that were expelled by the exorcism?

      Zero. Every demon knows that your best bet to sneak into the US is riding in a white citizen returning from vacation. The older males are best as they get the best treatment, but young females are a close second. The smarter demons go blond for a particularly easy and comfortable ride across the border.

    2. Maybe the Republicans are right…

      You need to smack yourself whenever you say that. Like one of those cute little white rats receiving aversion conditioning in a Skinner box, you’ll learn to stop — and the world will be a better place for it.

  8. Excellent article.

    In my opinion this is the real future of the Catholic Church: superstitious, backwards, credulous, childish, medieval. The appeals to intellectuals through humanism (“global warming is real!”) are sooner or later doomed to fail. A rational, skeptical mindset is not going to continue to sit well with religious faith in a diverse world in which all the rationalizations and apologetics are increasingly laid bare.

    The only alternative then for religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular is to go back to their supernatural-laden roots and increase the numbers by seeking and keeping members who don’t self-identify as ‘intellectuals’ or value a ‘rational faith.’ If that means exorcisms, miracles, and Jesus appearing in the shape of stains and mildew, so be it.

    1. What do you think is the future of the Protestant sects?

      I have a fuzzy memory from not a few years ago of some Southern Baptist religioso claiming that Southern Baptists were not “Protestant.” Rather, they were as close an approximation as possible in modern times to the “true New Testament church” as could be found in the late 20th century, or words to that effect. In other words, So. Baptists are “speeeecciiiaaaall.” From my direct, substantial, personal experience, no one comes close to the certitude of a male Southern Baptist.

      1. I’ve yet to meet any religious or spiritual believer who thinks that the other guys are honestly trying their best to seek and follow God in its purest form, but they’re inserting all sorts of human baggage and ego into religion in order to reform God into their own image. The certitude of the Southern Baptist might stand out more because of its exclusivity than its confidence.

        The Protestants are split along the same liberal-humanist vs. conservative-supernatural lines as the Catholics. I think the former one is doomed into turning into humanism — and the latter is going to isolate itself more and more from any intellectual credibility.

        Today I read an interesting article examining some of the reasons people give for leaving Christianity, whose numbers are falling rather dramatically in the U.S. Here is what disappointed the Christians:

        1) Judgment instead of community,

        2) Bureaucracy instead of engagement,

        3) Doctrine instead of conversation,

        4) Moral prescription instead of action in the world, namely serving the poor.

        Uh huh. Those first elements are pretty much what separates and defines ‘religion’ from secularism. Ironically, a lot of believers apparently think more emphasis on community and good works and less emphasis on doctrine and moral prescriptions are going to lead them in the true direction towards Jesus. They should definitely go for it, and good luck with that.

        We’ll be here pointing out why its no longer faith.

        1. Sastra
          I like this a lot. I think that’s exactly right.

          And there will be interesting conversations with people trying to turn anything good that people do into some new definition of “religion” because they don’t want to step away from it. Or be seen to.

      2. What do you think is the future of the Protestant sects?

        Same old “man-on-top, get-it-over-with-quick dutiful hump with the lights off in the missionary position for procreative purposes only” as always…

        …oh, you said “sects.” Never mind.

  9. Devil kitty is not happy.

    Exorcizamus te, omnis immunde spiritus, omni satanica potestas, omnis incursio infernalis adversarii, omnis legio, omnis congregatio et secta diabolica, in nomini et virtute Domini nostri Jesu Christi, eradicare et effugare a Dei Ecclesia, ab animabus ad imaginem Dei conditis ac pretioso divini Agni sanguini redemptis

        1. Credo in at most unum deum
          Caveat nabisco mausoleum
          Coitus interruptus come what mayum
          Kemosabe watchum what you sayum
          -PDQ Bach

          1. Very good everybody!

            I’d put that in Latin, but I always get my tenses wrong.)

  10. So if I’m a climate skeptic, am I more or less likely to pay attention to the poop if he pushes genuine climate science on the one hand and exorcism on the other? I’ve got it, the Pope can just exorcise the excess CO2 to the sun or something.

  11. Well, we must make sure we remember this initiative. Even though they have done their best to inoculate themselves against failure, fail they will. And, as Sastra says, all their rationalisations and apologetics will be laid bare.

    Will that register with the flock? Maybe only with a few of them. But over time a few may turn into a lot. I hope.

  12. while the church obviously would prefer to believe that the corrupting influences of tv and movies etc are to blame for an “increased need for exorcisms”, it’s also obvious that supernatural evil has always been a very popular plot device that helps keep alive belief in the power of exorcism and other imaginary weaponry …

  13. I must say, the NY Times has “fleaed” to death this “encyclical” in today’s hard-copy edition. Is global warming more legitimate because the Pope (should that be capitalized?) has pronounced from on high about the matter? How are those good Catholics, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (I assume they’re both Catholic) going to react to this? Conservation capitalist types are saying to the effect that the Pope should keep his mouth shut, that he is not competent to hold forth on such matters. Just who is bloody competent to hold forth on this – and ANYTHING else – Politicos/political science majors? Corporate tyrant CEO’s? Economists?

  14. It has been argued that there was a significant increase in American belief in the devil and the practice of exorcism in the wake of the three movies Rosemary’s Baby(’68), The Exorcist (’73) and The Omen(’76).

    Although the author of the novel “The Exorcist” is a believing Catholic (and creationist), the author of the novel Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin) had no actual supernatural beliefs and later said he slightly regretted having contributed to the trend (while admitting it did not stop him from cashing royalty checks).

    (The Omen is not based on a pre-existing novel.)

    1. “Although the author of the novel “The Exorcist” is a believing Catholic (and creationist). . . . ”

      Seems he would owe God royalty payments. Ditto with the “Left Behind” series authors.

      1. David Seltzer,the screenwriter of “the Omen” said that he was astonished that people took it seriously.

  15. I was going to get all huffy about the poll because I misread the title as “YourGoy Poll.”

    Yes, I’ll show myself out ….

      1. Now that is elite. What better recognition for an exorcist than to be played by a renowned actor who is perhaps most well known for playing a cannibal? Both are pretty serious about the partaking in body and blood thing.

  16. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    395 The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries – of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature- to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.”


    If the whole situation wasn’t absurd enough on its own, it would seem that exorcists actually work against God’s permissive will.

    1. Excellent point!

      Bit like all prayer really – God has a plan, and it was decided before you were even born, and it’s important even if you can’t work out why, and you have the cheek to ask Him to change it just for you.

  17. I just love how the church has set this up for future proof of its power:

    No immediate results? Perfect! That’s what the church was expecting.

    No later results? Okay! That’s what we anticipated and are prepared for, with more exorcisms to come.

    Later improvements in quality of life in Mexico? Hey, that’s us! We did that for you! We exorcised your demons, for you, remember? All this goodness never would have happened, if it weren’t for that! You owe us big time. Now, let’s get started with that payback…

  18. If only we could exorcise the “demon” of Catholicism out of Mexico (and all of South America, for that matter). It has condemned countless people to lives of ignorance, superstition, poverty, and misery for FAR too long….

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