What once was a very private practice in the Catholic Church has apparently become big business for others.
An estimated 600 non-Catholic groups are now performing exorcisms, allegedly ridding people of their demons.
“It’s happening. It’s a phenomenon. Why? Pick up the paper — crime, drugs, violence … horrendous sexual abuse,” said Bob Larson, who has made a national name for himself. “This is all the work of the devil.”
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As a radio and television evangelist, he is a self-proclaimed, self-taught exorcist. He says that most times he can look into a person’s eyes and see what he believes is the devil.
“Not always but very often,” he said. “Jesus said the eyes are the mirror of the soul. When you look at somebody’s eyes you are really connecting soul to soul with that person.”
Recently, Larson brought his fiery brand of ministry to the Valley.
He founded the Center for Spiritual Freedom in north Scottsdale.
“I don’t get any money from this book,” he said. “The money goes to the ministry to teach people, to train people,” he said. “The evil that is taking place is happening because the Western world has lost its moral compass.”
Over the years, people have questioned Larson’s morals and motives.
He’s been accused of using Lucifer as a lucrative business strategy.
He answers to his critics by saying you have to have resources to help people, referring to his $1.2 million facility.
“In fact, we rejoice and let everyone know,” he said.
According to Larson, there are so many people now seeing exorcisms, he actually has a waiting list.
“Some people have had their demons for so long, they think it’s normal. They think it’s normal to live a dysfunctional confused life,” Larson said. “We tell people it’s not.”
A spokesman for the Diocese of Phoenix said he is not familiar with Larson.
Father Timothy Davern said that the Catholic Church has seen an increased number of people requesting exorcisms.
However, Davern cautions that this is a not a ritual to be taken lightly and he said all exorcisms performed by Catholic priests have to be approved by the bishop.
“Sometimes people believe they are possessed. They are very sincere, but there are psychological problems involved,” he said. “If your issue is mental health, an exorcism is not going to fix you.”
Larson said that he’s performed more than 10,000 exorcisms and now a television pilot is being made about his life as an exorcist.
“When people say you’re just going Hollywood. I say, absolutely,” he said. “Can you think of any place that needs more exorcisms than Hollywood? More messed up people than Hollywood?”
And like a Hollywood movie, this story line may seem farfetched.
“People have this idea, this strange idea that slimy green creatures are going to come oozing out on the wall and people’s heads are going to spin around 360 degrees,” Larson said.
However, Larson maintains that exorcisms are fact, not science fiction.
“If people don’t believe, I say come and observe,” he said.
Now Larson has made millions and has millions of followers.
But is the man known as “The Exorcist” for real?
Just a few months ago, Larson made the Valley his new home.
And with that new home, came a new church and daily services. But what’s unique about Larson’s services is that they often include exorcisms.
It’s an ancient practice that is taking place more and more in the Valley and every week, Larson’s followers flock to his newly built $1 million church in Scottsdale in hopes of being delivered from demons.
“My whole life I’ve felt like I’ve been searching for something and this place is it, I can feel it inside me,” said follower Tracy Post.
Follower Brett Payton said it’s not like any ministry he’s been to before.
Payton has experienced a few exorcisms, but he believes more are in his future.
“It’s like they tell you here, it’s like an onion,” Payton said. “God only lets you deal with what he feels you can deal with. He doesn’t want to put nothing too heavy on you because it is important to get that spiritual freedom.”
On this particular night, it was clear Larson doesn’t shy away from publicity.
In fact, he talked at length about an upcoming story on Channel 3 and even teased his congregation about their reaction to the cameras.
“You know what’s really fun tonight is watching you people out there. Wherever I go, there are TV cameras and I’m used to television cameras being stuck in my face,” he said. “So I’m sort of used to that kind of thing but you folks — you’re just not quite as used to it as I am.”
So with 3TV’s cameras rolling, Larson did something that some of his followers said is typically done by appointment only.
Payton said he didn’t know it was going to happen, but he ended up going through his next exorcism right in front of us.
The exorcism progressed from an interrogation to a moment of forgiveness. But just when we thought it was over, Larson brought Payton to the congregation.
And a few minutes after the confession, the exorcism went to another level.
Davern said while he’s not familiar with Larson, he did say that when it comes to the Catholic Church performing them, they’re very careful that it’s in fact a possession.
“And that there not some psychological causes for a person’s seeming possession,” he said.
Regardless of what you think about Larson and his thousands of exorcisms, these followers said he’s brought peace to their lives.
“To have that release, it feels like something’s taken off you. It’s a heaviness that’s just gone,” Post said. “The feeling you get from being set free, there’s just nothing like it.”