Spirit Daily


Famous Exorcist Says Laymen Can Also Cast Out Evil Presences And Influences

First story

Are laymen allowed to assist at exorcisms? What role does the laity have in deliverance? Should they cast out demons themselves?

To an extent, says Rome's official exorcist, Father Gabriel Amorth, the answer to each of those queries is a surprising -- to some, even a shocking -- "yes."

Laymen have a large role in the actual rooting out of evil.

This is an area that deserves great caution, and let us note immediately that a full-scale exorcism can only be conducted by a priest with the permission of a local bishop. In severe cases, the Church should immediately be consulted; the stole of the priest is a tremendous protection. Without it, there can be danger. But that doesn't exclude the laity from active spiritual deliverance, according to Father Amorth, the world's most famous exorcist.

"A lay person who prays for deliverance from demons offers a private prayer, calling upon the common priesthood of the faithful and the power granted by Christ to all believers," says Father Amorth. "The priest who prays for the same purpose also recites a private prayer. Everything being equal, it is more efficacious than the first, because he calls upon his ministerial priesthood and his mandate to bless. When an exorcist administers an exorcism, the efficacy is greater still, because he is practicing a sacramental, which is a public prayer, invoking the intercessory power of the entire Church.

"However," adds Amorth, "let us be clear on this: The Lord takes faith into account. Therefore, a simple prayer of a lay person, even though it is private, could be more efficacious than the prayer of anyone else."

Father Amorth cites the example of Saint Catherine of Siena: When an exorcist could not liberate a demoniac, he would send the afflicted person to her. "Then the saint would pray and obtain liberation," writes Amorth. "Her prayer was not an exorcism; she was neither an exorcist nor a priest. But she was a saint!"

As Father Amorth notes, it all comes down to faith: Christ Himself admonished His followers to cast out spirits, but He also pointed to a lack of faith as the reason they weren't always able to succeed. It is faith that is our shield. It is our faith that unlocks the power of God -- which readily overcomes all evil.

What's the difference between an "exorcism" and "deliverance"?

Efficacy differs in degrees, says Amorth -- but the aim is the same: deliverance from an evil presence, manifestation, or influence. "Canon Law speaks of exorcism relative to those who are possessed (CIC 1172), in other words, those who are victims of a true demonic possession," the famous priest writes in An Exorcist: More Stories. "While there is nothing to forbid the use of exorcism for all other forms of evil influence, and all exorcists do so, there are other types of interventions for minor or less severe circumstances, such as deliverance prayers."

Amorth has criticized changes to the official exorcism rituals that he says has weakened them. He also has criticized bishops for not paying more heed to evil infestations, fretting that many dioceses do not even use the services of an exorcist despite the rise of evil around us. He especially warns about witchcraft. "It has been practiced throughout human history and by all civilizations. Still today many fall into its clutches. Many priests underestimate the danger of witchcraft. While they rightly trust in the salvific powers of Jesus, Who died to free us from Satan's bonds, they forget that the Lord never told us to underestimate the devil's power; he never told us to defy him or to stop fighting him. Instead God gave us the power to expel demons."

Father Amorth, who has worked with the Pope himself in exorcisms, also points to the Eucharist in cases where evil seems to be present. Sacraments themselves offer relief from evil spirits. "The usual means to obtain grace -- prayer, sacraments, fasting, charitable works, and so on -- may be sufficient," he notes. "Confession and Communion are worth more than a strong exorcism."

In Time Of Priest Shortage And Demonism, Questions Raised On Lay Role In Exorcism

Second story

It comes at an interesting time, the question: can laymen cast out demons? It's an interesting time because if we could see with spiritual eyes we would observe evil spirits filling the landscape.

It was what was seen by mystics like Anna Catherine Emmerich -- who was beatified Sunday. It was what visionaries like St. Padre Pio also witnessed. The Pope himself, before becoming Pope, saw the present time as that of an apocalyptic confrontation.

And so when the issue of laymen casting out demons comes up it bears relevance.

Debate was sparked recently when, at a major conference of priests and exorcists in Mexico -- the first national one -- a key participant, Father Mendoza Pantoja, who coordinates eight exorcists in his archdiocese (and helped organize the very event), noted in an interview with Zenit News Service  that the role of casting out demons was in the hands of bishops because when Christ granted that power, it was to His apostles -- not to everyone.

A bishop can then designate a priest to perform exorcisms.

"Priests help with prayer of liberation and the laity with prayer of intercession," said Father Pantoja. "A priest who is not an official exorcist can carry out a minor exorcism, also called prayer of liberation, helped in turn by all the laity who support him in discernment and with prayers of intercession. The laity cannot recite prayers of liberation."
A key word here: "liberation." That sounds like the actual freeing of a person from a demonic influence. In charismatic circles, it is known as "deliverance." Many are the lay people who cast out evil in the Name of Jesus.

Father Pantoja properly cites Mark 3:15, when Jesus was speaking specifically to His apostles -- forerunners of our bishops. But in that same book of the Bible, at Mark 16:17, Christ seemed to be speaking to everyone when He said:

"These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My Name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." 

That seems to open the door to more direct lay involvement -- although not with high-level cases of exorcism; laymen cannot lead deliverance in such a case.

It is important to get the issue straight because we are not only in a time of great demonic infiltration, but also a time when many dioceses do not assign priests to perform exorcisms. As demons seem to have multiplied, there is a dire shortage of priests.

"Everything in the quote is correct [from Father Pantoja] except the last sentence," noted an American expert, Father John Hampsch of California, to a recent inquirer. "The laity can recite prayers of deliverance (liberation), as we do in the Our Father: 'Deliver us from the evil one' (proper translation). What is forbidden to the laity (and also to any priest not assigned by the bishop to act as exorcist) is to recite the official prayers of exorcism for cases of demonic possession. In less serious cases, like those of obsession, oppression, only deliverance,  or 'minor exorcism,' it is permitted by both priest and laity, based on Mark 16:17. The bottom line is anyone can pray a healing prayer of deliverance for themselves and others -- and the Lord's Prayer in its closing sentence is precisely one way of doing that."
A similar opinion is held by the world's most well-known exorcist, Father Gabriel Amorth of Rome, who has pointed out that St. Catherine of Siena -- who was certainly not a priest -- herself performed deliverance. "Unfortunately today it is difficult to find an exorcist," wrote Father Amorth. "Therefore, it is useful to know that, in the majority of circumstances, their ministry is not required."
That is, most problems with evil are not cases of full-fledged possession -- which must be brought immediately to the attention of the local bishop. Such severe infestations can be very dangerous to unprepared intercessors, especially if there has not been adequate discernment, strict fasting, and extensive prayer. Moreover, the priest has consecrated hands to lay on the possessed and also carries the power of his stole -- which is highly powerful in countering the enemy and unavailable to laymen.
Laying hands on someone who appears afflicted can be hazardous without extensive preparation. Priests should be consulted and any actions preceded by Confession unless a priest is simply not available.
But it is a time in which we must all pray for deliverance.
The best way?
At the conference, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City called on participants to “make Christ your center, Who through His passion, death and resurrection, through the cross, triumphed over Satan, and offers Himself to us through bread and wine in the Eucharist, so that united to Him we might participate in His victory, together with Mary, star of the Evangelization, principal cooperator with Christ in the work of redemption and in crushing the head of the serpent and his seed.”
[resources: Father Amorth's books and Father Hampsch's tapes  (in Bookstore)
Oct 2004

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