A perceived demonic possession in Saskatoon has caught the Catholic Church there off guard since it has no one trained to perform an exorcism.
The Saskatoon Archdiocese is investigating after a priest was called to a home in late March where a 41-year-old man had carved the word Hell on his chest and was talking in the third person, saying, “He belongs to me. Get out of here.”
Church officials told CBC the priest did his best to calm the man down, including blessing him, before the man was taken to Royal University Hospital for a voluntary assessment.
Bishop Don Bolen explained that the ritual of exorcism is a very structured exercise. He said it was not clear if the Saskatoon man was possessed or experiencing a mental breakdown.
“I would think there are perhaps more stories about exorcisms in Hollywood than there are on the ground,” Bolen said. “But the Catholic Church teaches that there is a force of darkness, and that God is stronger than that darkness.”
Church leaders in Saskatoon have been considering whether Saskatoon needs a trained exorcist.
The last person in the city with formal training, Rev. Joseph Bisztyo, retired in 2003.
Nor does the Regina archdiocese have an exorcist, so Bolen said they are looking to other locations.
“We’re kind of looking at what the diocese of Calgary does — they have a special commission for spiritual discernment,” Bolen said.
He explained that the commission meets with people connected to a possible possession, “to ask whether there’s some kind of psychological or psychiatric explanation to a situation,” he said, adding the commission is also “open to the possibility of demonic possession.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon confirmed a priest was called to a parishioner’s home, but insisted the rite performed was not an exorcism, merely a pastoral visit.
The man in question has since received medical attention, and the priest said he has received no further calls from the family.
“There are many aspects of human experience that we do not fully understand. However, our faith conviction, which is what we have just celebrated in Good Friday and Easter, is that ultimately, while darkness exists in our world, there is absolutely no place that the light and the love of God does not reach,” wrote the bishop, Donald Bolen, in a statement.
Mental-health experts remain skeptical.
Hank Stam, a professor of psychology with the University of Calgary, said people suffering from mental illness who are also devout can often perceive their symptoms as manifestations of dark spiritual forces.
The behaviours the priest described could indicate one of several conditions, including schizophrenia, he said.
“That’s the main risk, you’re leaving what could be a very serious mental disorder, a psychotic break, or a psychotic episode, untreated and people can do damage to another person or themselves,” he said.