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Soldiers for the Battle

As of late 2008 the two most requested articles at our website were “The Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare” (Dec. 1994) by Bobby Jindal and “A Case of Demonic Possession” (Mar. 2008) by Dr. Richard E. Gal­lagher. Both articles are real-life accounts of their authors’ experiences with supernatural phenomena; Jin­dal’s case involves untrained college students and Dr. Gallagher’s highly trained professionals. As we wrote in a New Oxford Note in our November 2008 issue, “One is, at first blush, inclined to dismiss the popularity of these two articles” as being the result of “a type of voyeuristic curiosity.” But upon further consideration, we wrote, “we see in the enduring popularity of these articles a more reaching need.” In a word, “Catholics have an intense hunger for proper catechesis on how to ‘fight the good fight.'”

And so we published more articles on exorcism, the nature of evil, and related topics, each of which was well received, including “Peering Into the Abyss” (Oct. 2008) and “Perfect Possession” (May 2009) by Maria Hsia Chang, “The Primeval Struggle” (Jul.-Aug. 2009) by Terence J. Hughes, “Why Is There Evil in the World?” (Dec. 2009) by Arthur C. Sippo, and Fr. Thomas J. Eute­neuer’s six-part Líbera Nos a Malo column series, which ran from December 2009 to June 2010.

All this time we were virtually alone in identifying and trying to counteract the Church-wide silence on the topic of demonic evil and its presence in our world. No longer. Finally, someone of rank in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has also identified and is trying to address this “more reaching need.” That someone is Bishop Thomas Pap­rocki of Springfield, Illinois, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance. Bishop Paprocki sponsored the Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism, which took place in Baltimore on November 12-13, just prior to the U.S. bishops’ annual fall meeting.

Only a tiny number of American priests are trained in the rite of exorcism — reportedly only five or six nationwide — and these few have been overwhelmed by requests to evaluate claims of possession. Exorcism training falls under the jurisdiction of Bishop Paprocki’s canonical affairs committee, which he says has been receiving increasing numbers of inquiries from priests about the rite. Paprocki explained that the conference was organized primarily to provide guidance for bishops because, according to canon law (specifically can. 1172), exorcisms cannot be performed without the express permission of the local ordinary.

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