The Devil is lurking in the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican’s chief exorcist claimed on Wednesday.
Father Gabriele Amorth said people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron.
He added that the assault on Pope Benedict XVI on Christmas Eve by a mentally unstable woman and the sex abuse scandals which have engulfed the Church in the US, Ireland, Germany and other countries, were proof that the Anti-Christ was waging a war against the Holy See.
“The Devil resides in the Vatican and you can see the consequences,” said Father Amorth, 85, who has been the Holy See’s chief exorcist for 25 years.
“He can remain hidden, or speak in different languages, or even appear to be sympathetic. At times he makes fun of me. But I’m a man who is happy in his work.”
While there was “resistance and mistrust” towards the concept of exorcism among some Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI has no such doubts, Father Amorth said. “His Holiness believes wholeheartedly in the practice of exorcism. He has encouraged and praised our work,” he added.
The evil influence of Satan was evident in the highest ranks of the Catholic hierarchy, with “cardinals who do not believe in Jesus and bishops who are linked to the demon,” Father Amorth said.
In a rare insight into the world of exorcism, the Italian priest told La Repubblica newspaper that the 1973 film The Exorcist gave a “substantially exact” impression of what it was like to be possessed by the Devil.
He also condemned the Harry Potter books, saying they were dangerous because they dabbled in the occult and failed to draw a clear distinction between “the Satanic art” of black magic and benevolent white magic.
Father Amorth, who has just published Memoirs of an Exorcist, a series of interviews with the Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti, said that the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II in 1981 had been the work of the Devil, as had an incident last Christmas when a mentally disturbed woman threw herself at Pope Benedict XVI at the start of Midnight Mass, pulling him to the ground.
Father José Antonio Fortea Cucurull, a Rome-based exorcist, said that Father Amorth had “gone well beyond the evidence” in claiming that Satan had infiltrated the Vatican corridors.
“Cardinals might be better or worse, but all have upright intentions and seek the glory of God,” he said. Some Vatican officials were more pious than others, “but from there to affirm that some cardinals are members of satanic sects is an unacceptable distance.”
Father Amorth was ordained in 1954 and became an official exorcist in 1986.
In 2001 he objected to the introduction of a new version of the exorcism rite, complaining that it dropped centuries-old prayers and was “a blunt sword” about which exorcists themselves had not been consulted. The Vatican said later that he and other exorcists could continue to use the old ritual.
He is the president of honour of the Association of Exorcists.
Father Fortea said that Father Amorth’s charge was based on two sorts of evidence.
Some evidence comes from mystics who claim special insights; the accuracy of their messages is difficult to judge. Father Amorth also reported that during exorcisms, demons themselves claimed to hold the allegiance of Vatican officials.
But Father Fortea notes that it is impossible to know when the demons are telling the truth. He concluded: “Among exorcists, some have come to similar conclusions as those of Father Amorth. Others have not.”