At a top-level Vatican meeting demon-busters and psychiatrists warned that more and more people were dabbling in black magic – and becoming possessed as a result.
Valter Cascioli, the spokesman for the International Association of Exorcists (IAE), which is holding its first ever meeting at the Holy See, said last night: “The practice of the occult, Satanism and abnormal things is opening the gateway to an extraordinary amount of demonic activity.”
Cascioli, a psychiatrist, said that the danger from the Devil was becoming “more and more of an emergency”.
He blamed a “proliferation of media messages, books, television programs and films that encourage younger people to look at, and even practise, Satanism.”
Signs of demonic possession are said to include heightened intelligence, the sudden ability to speak other languages, particularly ancient ones such as Aramaic or ancient Greek, supernatural strength and an aversion to sacred objects.
In July this year Pope Francis underlined his belief that demonic possession was a real and present danger by recognising the IAE, a group of more than 250 demon-busting priests spread across 30 countries.
Father Francesco Bamonte, an exorcist and IAE member from the Diocese of Rome, said that the Pope’s approval of the IAE was “a cause for joy, not just for us associates but for the Church as a whole”.
Pope Francis said last night that “mercy and love” were the best cure for the possessed. He told the meeting: “The Church welcomes those suffering from the Devil’s works.”
But in September, one leading Vatican figure warned that the Church was carrying out too many exorcisms, with some gung-ho padri mistaking mental illness for demonic possession.
The Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, wrote to priests reminding them that exorcisms, which are not without risks, should only be undertaken in certain situations and with permission.
Not all Church figures believe the dangers from the Devil are over-stated, though. Father Gabriele Amorth, who was the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years, claims to have dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession.
Father Amorth has said the dangers are everywhere — from fantasy novels to yoga. Practising the latter, he once warned, was “satanic; it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter”.