Back in June, I posted on the ad hominem “mean-spirited.” Now, I’m going a similar route with “over the top.” I have been hit with that one from plenty of “conservative” and “pro-life” Catholics when I talk about issues like vaccines.
If you challenge people to strive after perfection in any way, or you set an example of following the Gospel to an extreme, you’re labelled “over the top.” When it comes from secularists, it’s one thing. But “orthodox” Catholics should know better. After all, Jesus was accused of being “over the top” in the terminology of His day. So were all the prophets and all the Saints.
Today’s candidate for being labelled “over the top” is Italian Exorcist Fr. Gabriel Amorth.
I’ve talked here before about spiritual warfare. There is an inherent link between spiritual warfare and the pro-life movement, on several levels. Of course, the most prominent is that Satanism has been tied with infanticide throughout history. Someday, I would like to do historical research on the link between witchcraft and abortion/contraception–that witches “in the old days” were merely the “Planned Parenthood” of their day.
Think about what would happen in a “witch hunt.” Often, the “witch” was accused of doing something to cause this woman to “miscarry” or that woman to be infertile, or includincing someone else to be a “loose woman.”
Anyway, that’s for another project. The current tie-in is Fr. Gabriel Amorth. I’ve been wanting to read his book for years, and due to some recenty family crises, have finally done so. As signs from God go, it was pretty noteworthy. I ordered the book from Amazon on a Wednesday, and used Super-saver Shipping. Amazon, of course, said the book would not even ship for at least 5 business days on Super Saver.
Yet the package was sitting on my doorstep Saturday morning.
I found his book very interesting. Taught me some stuff I didn’t know. I definitely agree with Fr. Corapi that you need a solid foundation to read Fr. Amorth. Even I was a bit disturbed by a couple of his generalizations. The book isn’t perfect, but it does have something to say.
Neverthless, there appear to be a great many Catholics of the “orthodox,” “conservative” sort who would like to write Fr> Amorth off as a kook.
Fr. Amorth writes about what are considered “extraordinary” demonic activities (possesion, obsession, oppression, physical attack, infestation and occultism/subjugation), which are distinguished from the “ordinary” activity of temptation.
LIke Fr. Corapi, Fr. Groeschel, myself and others, Fr. Amorth criticizes the false dichotomy of psychological and spiritual matters. Many people who have psychological illnesses are also influences in someway by the Devil, even if they aren’t “fully possesed” and in need of ritual exorcism. Most people who are demonically influnced will probably have some kind of psychological problems, as well. Fr. Corapi compares it to having a physical wound (psychological problem) and the wound being infected by bacteria (demonic influence).
Fr. Amorth’s critics don’t want to address that issue directly, and instead label him as being off the wall. They take the “extraordinary” or “rare” nature of the phenomena he describes to mean they *never* happen. Yet, in the Church’s terminology, lay ministers of Communion and baptism by desire are both “extraordinary,” yet they probably occur quite frequently.
If something happens to only 1% of the population, it’s rare. If something happens to a person only once in his or her life, it’s rare, especially compared to something like temptation, which happens constantly.
But the fundamental issue is that Fr. Amorth’s critics are the kinds of people who don’t even want to see the Devil behind “common temptation.”
Fr. Amorth clams to perform “exorcisms” as a diagnostic tool, though arguably he’s talking about deliverance prayers and using “exorcism” in a general sense. His critics thus accuse him of violating canon law. They say, “Canon Law says you need to rule out all scientific explanations before resorting to exorcism,” yet Fr. Amorth is very clear that most people come to him as a last resort, only after other sources have failed them.
And, again, if the psychological profession is so great, why do so many people languish in mental hospitals without the drugs, counseling, etc., doing them any good? Why do so many people suffer their entire lives with mental health issues “in the real world,” in and out of therapists’ and psychiatrists’ offices, yet nothing helps them?
I’m not a big fan of Charismatics, but I was once pressured to attend a Charismatic Healing Mass. One part that interested me was a woman who gave a testimony about being “schizophrenic.” She said, “I’d hear the voice of the Devil all the time, telling me to do horrible things.” She was in medical treatment for years, and the doctors, the drugs, etc., did nothing to help her. But a priest prayed over her, and the voices went away.
Anyway, the way I look at Fr. Amorth is this: I have a “rare” genetic disorder. Yet because I have that disorder, I know about it. So I have an eye for catching people in a crowd who either have it or have something similar. Most people probably know someone who has Marfan syndrome. Like most disorders, though, the name probably goes in one year and out the other.
Now, in my experience, most doctors have a vague idea what Marfan syndrome is, and think of it as something in a textbook. Often, when I tell doctors I have Marfan syndrome, they’ll ask questions like, “How do you know?” or “Have you been officially diagnosed?”, to which I respond, “Let’s see, I practically grew up at Johns Hopkins, and I was one of the patients in the study where they isolated the FBN1 gene.”
But most doctors I know have encountered it before, and a few are relatively familiar with it. On the other hand, if you go to a place like Johns Hopkins, or you listen to a Marfan researcher speak, you’d get the impression that Marfans were all over the place *because that’s their specialty.*
Where the average doctor may see one or two Marfans in a lifetime, if someone is famous for treating people with Marfan syndrome, then those patients will flock to that doctor.
So, let’s take the case of exorcists. My parents have always been the kind of Catholics to invite the pastor over for dinner, even when the don’t like him, personally, or disagree with his ideology. In many dinner conversations with many priests over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that most priests are aware of “extraordinary,” preternatural phenomena. Many people will insist they “don’t believe in ghosts” yet recount strainge phenomena they’ve witnessed. Similarly, many liberal priests will talk of their encoutners with the Devil and still try to dismiss them with a laugh or with some psychological “explanation.”
Now, seeing the victim of Satan as a patient, as Fr. Amorth does, let’s re-examine the situation. A person is under *some* kind of demonic influence or attack. That may be an external “attack” like oppression or infestation or assault, or it may be influence like possession, obsession or what Fr. Amorth calls “subjugation.” In any case, the person knows he or she needs help. Most people turn first to secular help: psychologists, etc. Whatever their belief about their sitaution, and whatever the exact nature may be, the Church is usually the last place most people turn for help.
There are many reasons for this. One reason is pride. Obviously, non-Catholics and apostates do not want to come to a Catholic priest for help. And believers often have too much of a social connection to the Church. They see the priest as an intimidating authority figure, and they don’t want the “embarrassment” of coming to the priest with their problems.
On the other side, priests have variosu ways of sending the “don’t come to me for help” message: “I’m too busy” is a common one. “You need to see a psychiatrist” is another. “I don’t believe in a literal devil” is a dead give-away that one should not go to that particular priest for help.
Plus, there is the principle that exorcists supposedly aren’t supposed to “advertise,” although it doesn’t take much asking around to find out who the diocesan exorcist is (if there is one).
So, here in the US, people who suffer “extraordinary” demonic phenomena do not get the relief they need, because they are either too obstinate or too ignorant to go to the Church, and, if they do, the priests are either too obstinate or ignorant to help them.
Yet I know of at least one exorcist here in the US who does exorcisms quite regularly: at least twice a month.
Now, in a culture where these things are more “acceptable” to talk about, and where more diocese actually have exorcists (yet Fr. Amorth criticizes the “lack” of exorcists in Italy!), Fr. Amorth was well-known for being an exorcist before his book even came out. And he studied under the most respected and wel-known Italian exorcist of the previous generation.
Yes, exorcists aren’t supposed to “advertise,” but going back to the analogy, neither are medical specialists. But they can still give talks and write books. And desperate patients are going to seek out the help they need, and find the specialist who can help them. Let’s say that a surgeon sees patients two days a week, and does surgery the other three. And let’s say he gets in about 3 appointments per hour. Therefore, he sees about 48 patients a week, not counting surgeries.
I don’t know what surgeon’s work schedules are, but let’s say he only works 40 weeks out of the year. He finished a fellowship at Johns Hopkins or Baylor 10 years ago, and has been in practice for ten years, dealing almost exclusively with patients with Marfan syndrome, possible Marfan syndrome or related disorders.
Now, let’s say that only a small percentage of those patients are not actually Marfans but either falsely diagnosed or related conditions. After all, he’s a top-level specialist and only deals with this one situation. He will only accept patients with referrals and a fairly solid diagnosis. In 10 years, he’d have about 20,000 office visits. Now, it would be difficult to estimate *exactly* how many *individual* patients he’d seen without cataloguing his files, since many of those office visits would be repeat patients.
But if asked how many “patients” he sees per year, or how many he’s seen in his career, our hypothetical specialist would probably just make a rough estimate based upon his office visits, and say, “I’ve seen about 15,000 Marfan patients.” Maybe he’d lower the number to “10,000.”
Now, let’s say that doctor were in practice for 30 years, instead of 10. … .
So, as for the claim that Fr. Amorth is “over the top” or that he is the “Wilt Chamberlain of exorcisms”:
1. He doesn’t need to “investigate,” the way a parish priest would if a person came to him as a first time case. Fr. Amorth’s cases are all people who come to him as a last resort–usually on referral from other priests–after the medical profession and other sources of help have failed.
2. Likewise, since he gets the “worst cases,” his understanding of things is more “extreme” than most people’s would be.
3. He is well known enough, at least in circles where exorcists are well-known, that he gets a lot of “patients” and does this as a full-time job.
So, Fr. Amorth claims to have treated 30,000 victims of the Devil in his career. He is probably estimating based upon the number of “patients” he sees in a day, and the fact that only a small percentage of those he sees have no actual demonic problem (after all, he’s the “top-level specialist” whom the other specialists refer to their patients to). He even notes that he seems most patients multiple times, so he’s clearly stating a generalized guess based not upon a head count but upon his daily grind.