Thoughts occasioned by Dr. Woestman’s advisory opinion on exorcism
William Woestman, omi, the famous canonist from Arkansas, emeritus from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa and now an episcopal vicar in the Archdiocese of Chicago, has published a short but good advisory opinion on exorcism (1983 CIC 1172) in the 2010 Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions. I take the occasion of his remarks to offer a few of my own.
The delay in getting an English translation of the Rite of Exorcism (the editio typica has been available for nearly a decade!) is inexcusable.
An important, if critical, article on the revised rite was published by Dr. Daniel Van Slyke in Antiphon (2006) and is on-line here.
I wonder whether the apparently deliberate use of the word “presbyter” in c. 1172 (see my Incrementa in Progressu at 1038) excludes the appointment of bishops (say, auxiliaries) as exorcists.
Exorcists should keep in mind that verification of mental disorders in an individual does not preclude the possibility of concomitant possession.
Woestman’s point about exorcists being on guard against tricks used by the Devil to discourage resort to exorcism is well illustrated, I think, in a scene from “The Exorcist” (1973) which film, notwithstanding some exaggerations, is pretty good at describing possession and exorcism. At one point in the film Fr Karras sprinkles water on Regan that she would have guessed was blessed. Regan, who might have known that evil spirits detest holy water, writhes in apparent agony. Later, Fr Karras discloses that the water was plain tap water, and that Regan’s violent reaction to non-blessed water is not consistent with her being possessed. That, of course, is the whole point: the devil contorts Regan in an attempt to make her look like an imposter in the hopes of throwing Fr. Karras off the trail. It’s a brilliant depiction of the wiles to which the Father of Lies will resort.
Woestman’s suggestion about exorcists forming a small group of discreet prayer supporters is a good one reflected, obliquely, in the older rites.
It goes without saying that an exorcist will want to avoid publicity. The potential, once one’s identity or special work is made public, for being hounded by every odd ball in town is obvious.
Finally, it is very important not to believe or disclose any comments made by the devil/possessed during the rites. Falsehoods are bad, but falsehoods mixed with truths can be devastating. No matter how many truths about oneself or about others that one might hear during the rites, one should not assume that any other comments are, or even might be, true. Nothing disclosed or even intimated by the possessed can be trusted. Absolutely nothing.