Friday, February 14, 2014

Exorcizing Properly

The widely circulated report of demonic possession by an Indiana family has been of special interest to me since it occurred here in our local diocese. For those not familiar with the story, it involves strange events that affected a Gary woman and her children in 2012. While some of these happenings such as flickering lights or swaying blinds may have natural explanations, claims of a levitation might lead one to believe this is a family seeking publicity or suffering from mental illness. That seemed to be the assumption of various agencies called in to investigate until the story took an even stranger twist.

According to the Indianapolis Star article, the two young boys in the family were taken to the family physician where they cursed the doctor in demonic voices. Medical staff said the youngest boy was "lifted and thrown into the wall with nobody touching him," according to a DCS report. The doctor’s office called 911 and the boys were taken to Methodist Hospital in Gary.

DCS family case manager Valerie Washington was assigned to interview the family at the hospital. At one point, she and registered nurse Willie Lee Walker brought the two boys into a small examination room to be interviewed. Their grandmother Rosa Campbell was also in the room. Washington’s DCS report says the nine year-old boy walked backward up a wall to the ceiling, flipped over his grandmother and landed on his feet. Washington and nurse Walker became frightened and ran from the room at this point.

Eventually, the hospital chaplain called a local parish priest, Father Mike Maginot, who was asked to do an exorcism. This is where the story gets a little uncomfortable for me as a Catholic in this diocese. Father Maginot is admittedly not an exorcist. Our Bishop, Dale Melczek, initially denied Father Maginot’s request to do a church-approved exorcism and told him to contact other priests who have performed exorcisms. The Catholic Church does have priests who are exorcists. Father Maginot decided to do a minor exorcism not requiring church approval. Even then, he had to learn the rite from the Internet.

Father Maginot performed the minor exorcism on the mother of the children, and later, Bishop Melczek did grant permission to do the church-approved exorcism on her which Father Maginot did three times. After the third exorcism, which Father Maginot performed in Latin, the demon was apparently dispelled. Read the news accounts to get the full story. While all of this occurred more than a year ago, Father Maginot now finds himself in the limelight.

A recent television interview with Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News network did not go especially well. I was watching as O’Reilly questions ventured into the damaged credibility of the Catholic Church. While much of the mainstream media reporting on Church matters has been negative, sometimes justifiably so, the Church is making no claims in this particular case. The Church was asked to intervene in a situation where others had no answer.

Should the Church have handled this differently? While our diocese may not have an experienced exorcist, they do exist, and a situation this serious would seem to call for someone qualified to perform an exorcism following a thorough evaluation to determine the necessity. Any public comment surrounding such an event should be handled by someone firmly grounded in Catholic understanding of demonic possession rather than an inexperienced priest who learned the minor rite from the Internet.

Now, Father Maginot has apparently signed to do a movie and documentary on these events. He says it is important to get this information out so people will know God and evil are real. While his motives may be well-intended, I sense a potential impropriety here. When apparitions are alleged to occur, the Church is extremely cautious before approving their authenticity, and with good reason. Tremendous harm could be done in affirming anything that turned out to be false. The investigation of an apparition can take years, even decades. Case in point is Medjugorje. Similarly, it would seem to me the local Bishop should take an active role in any public pronouncements about cases of demonic possession after a very thorough investigation.

Adam Blai is a Roman Catholic Demonologist who helps train priests to distinguish between actual demonic possession and the mundane. His website states the most common signs of possession are supernatural strength and aversion to the holy. In the case of the family in Gary, the mother convulsed when a crucifix was placed on her. Of course, anyone seeing a nine year-old boy walking backwards up a wall might assume a preternatural influence, or at least question his own sanity. Although Father Maginot did not witness this event himself, he obviously felt that an exorcism was in order. Adam Blai however cautions that nobody should perform or assist at an exorcism without proper training and supervision.

Demonic possessions are believed to be rare, although I wonder sometimes when seeing what evil human beings can perpetrate on one another in this world. According to Father Maginot, Bishop Melczek had never authorized an exorcism in his twenty-one years as bishop. Before getting involved with movie deals and documentaries that could impact lives and Church credibility, prudent action would be to take step back and allow qualified authorities to investigate. Furthermore, priests should perform their service humbly for Christ, and let the people involved tell their own story if they desire. What an individual reveals to a priest in confession is sealed. In a Church approved rite where personal behaviors are revealed, it would seem confidentiality should be respected here also.