Vatican chiefs are concerned at what they see as an increased interest in the occult.
They have introduced courses for priests to combat what they call the most extreme form of “Godlessness.”
Each bishop is to be told to have in his diocese a number of priests trained to fight demonic possession.
The initiative was revealed by 82-year-old Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican “exorcist in chief,” to the online Catholic news service Petrus.
“Thanks be to God, we have a Pope who has decided to fight the Devil head-on,” he said.
“Too many bishops are not taking this seriously and are not delegating their priests in the fight against the Devil. You have to hunt high and low for a properly trained exorcist.
“Thankfully, Benedict XVI believes in the existence and danger of evil – going back to the time he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” The CDF is the oldest Vatican department and was headed by Benedict from 1982, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, until he became Pope in 2005.
Father Amorth said that during his time at the department Benedict had not lost the chance to warn humanity of the risk from the Devil.
He said the Pope wants to restore a prayer seen as protection against evil that was traditionally recited at the end of Catholic Masses. The prayer, to St Michael the Archangel, was dropped in the 1960s by Pope John XXIII.
“The prayer is useful not only for priests but also for lay people in helping to fight demons,” he said.
Father Paolo Scarafoni, who lectures on the Vatican’s exorcism course, said interest in Satanism and the occult has grown as people lost faith with the church.
He added: “People suffer and think that turning to the Devil can help solve their problems. We are being bombarded by requests for exorcisms.”
The Vatican is particularly concerned that young people are being exposed to the influence of Satanic sects through rock music and the Internet.
In theory, under the Catholic Church’s Canon Law 1172, all priests can perform exorcisms. But in reality only a select few are assigned the task.
Under the law, practitioners must have “piety, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life.”
The rite of exorcism involves a series of gestures and prayers to invoke the power of God and stop the “demon” influencing its victim.
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