VATICAN CITY – Hundreds of priests are gathering in Rome this week for a Vatican class on exorcism. They’re arriving from over fifty countries to take part in the 13th annual course titled “‘Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation”.
The course was first offered in 2005. Since that first class, the number of priests attending has nearly doubled.
“The course proposes an academic and interdisciplinary research on the ministry of the exorcism and the prayer of liberation,” the official course description reads. “It will cover a wide range of issues: anthropological, as well as phenomenological, social, theological, liturgical, canonical, pastoral, spiritual, medical, neuroscientific, pharmacological, symbolic, criminological, legal and juridical ones.”
Those attending the class will look at the devil’s influence in magic, satanic worship, drug addictions, the cult, and pedophilia. They’ll also be discussing what role the devil may play in addictions to pornography. Child pornography is addressed on the last day of the class.
“Does it come only from human causes – psychological, familial, social or cultural – or is there more?” Father Pedro Barrajon said to journalists. He said that the course aims to “open a space to see if there is a possibility to show influence from the devil.”
The course is held at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome. The material is presented in collaboration with the Group for Socio-religious Research and Information (GRIS) of Bologna.
The course comes on the heels of remarks from Pope Francis encouraging priests that, if a parishioner approaches them with signs of “genuine spiritual disturbances” they should “not hesitate” in referring them to an exorcists.
But there’s not enough exorcists to go around. In Italy alone, over half a million people have sought an exorcism this year. Few churches have trained exorcists. Dioceses like Sicily and Chicago are developing their own exorcism courses to meet the need.
Students of the Vatican course will receive a certificate – but that won’t allow them to cast out demons in major exorcisms. Only priests can perform major exorcisms, and it must be with the bishop’s permission.