More than 250 priests gathered in Rome for a week-long course on exorcism. The event, held at the Legionaries of Christ-run Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University, included sessions on witchcraft in Africa and how to distinguish between demonic possession and mental illness.The annual course was first held in 2005. Since then the number of participants has doubled. Clergy in Italy, Ireland and the United States say that demand for the rite has soared in recent years.
What the media are saying
Many outlets led with the news that some priests are carrying out exorcisms on their mobile phones. But the news was somewhat misunderstood, as Cardinal Ernest Simoni, an 89-year-old Albanian who gave the keynote address, may have been referring to prayers of deliverance rather than full exorcisms.
Professor Giuseppe Ferrari, one of the course organisers, told the Daily Telegraph: “Priests pray with people on the phone to calm them down, but if you are not there you cannot control the physical aspects.” But he said that some priests had tried to carry out parts of the rite by phone. “Whether it is orthodox or correct, I couldn’t say.”
The New York Times noted that Cardinal Simoni had “encountered evil first-hand, surviving decades in prisons and work camps”. Delegates asked for his advice on exorcisms based on his years of experience.
The cardinal replied: “Pray without interruption.” He added that “more than anything, chastity” was key, the New York Times said. The paper reported that he advised using firm language, such as “Shut up, Satan.”
John Allen, writing at Crux, said the emphasis on witchcraft at the summit showed that the Church’s “centre of gravity” was shifting from the north to the global south, where the subject has “long been a burning pastoral concern”.
“Across the south,” Allen wrote, “the working assumption is that magic and witchcraft are real but demonic, so the proper response is spiritual combat.”
✣The most overlooked story of the week
✣Sweden ponders abolition of Catholic schools
Sweden’s ruling party has promised to abolish faith schools if re-elected in September. The Social Democrats, who are in a minority government in coalition with the Greens, said: “Religious influence has no place in Swedish schools.” The country has 71 state-funded religious schools, three of which are Catholic.
Why was it under-reported
It is uncertain whether the centre-left Social Democrats, for many decades Sweden’s leading party, will win re-election, so the threat is still a way off. But for Catholics in Sweden the proposal is still extremely worrying. Cardinal Anders Arborelius told the National Catholic Register that it was the “worst secularist attack on our culture and faith in many decades”, describing it as an “aggressive assault against our Catholic community”. Plans to build the first Catholic secondary school in Sweden have been put on hold, he said.
What will happen next?
There has long been antipathy to any kind of religious schooling in Sweden. Existing faith schools, set up after the country’s “free school” reform in 1992, are already barred from providing religious instruction. More recently, there has been a large increase in Muslim schools, leading to controversies over gender segregation in PE classes and on school buses. This has revived secularist prejudices. Regardless of the outcome of the election, Catholic leaders in Sweden will have to learn how to counter this renewed hostility.
✣The week ahead
Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), an agency of the bishops’ conference, is holding a summit on Catholic social teaching and the world of work on Monday. The conference, which takes place in Manchester, marks 150 years since the first Trades Union Congress meeting. Among its speakers are Bishop William Kenney and union leader Mary Bousted.
Cardinal George Pell will learn whether he is to stand trial over allegations of sex abuse on Tuesday.
A magistrates’ court in Melbourne is considering if the case against him is strong enough after having heard four weeks of testimony from witnesses.
Bishop Philip Egan will give a talk on Jansenism and St Margaret Mary Alacoque at Guardian Angels parish in Mile End, London, on Monday. St Margaret Mary had visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the time of the Jansenist controversy in 17th-century France. The talk is part of a series at the parish: “Saints facing critical challenges in the life of the Church.”