The archdiocese will not name the priests, or say exactly how many there are for fear of a flood of phone calls.
Msgr. Kevin Beach says all the men are experienced clergy with overseas experience, some in areas of the world where belief in demons is more robust than North America.
He said it wasn’t easy to find men with the right qualifications, nor was it easy to persuade them to take the duties.
“I think they had to give prayerful consideration. If they are looking for the job, that’s not the person you want.”
The archdiocese doesn’t receive any more than seven or eight calls a year about exorcism.
But exorcism has always been part of the Catholic ministry, even if it has fallen by the wayside.
Under Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor John Paul II, talk of Satan and his minions has made a comeback.
In the past two decades, Italy alone has increased the ranks of its exorcists from 20 to 350.
Just before Christmas, Rome’s chief exorcist, Gabriel Amorth, indicated the pope wanted an exorcist in every diocese in the world.
The Vatican press office later toned down Amorth’s statement, saying the pope had no intention of “ordering local bishops to bring in garrisons of exorcists.”
But Benedict XVI clearly supports their work, and an Ash Wednesday homily from Vatican City reminded the faithful Satan still stalks our world, whatever modern rationalism may say. Exorcists describe the ideal candidate as a priest’s priest, who prays and celebrates mass daily.
He believes in demons but almost never believes they have someone in their clutches, at least not at first.
He is not someone who sees himself as a hero, battling Satan single-handedly.
“There are those in our society, even within the church, who have a kind of lust for this topic,” an American specialist told a 2007 seminar on exorcism.
“And I would advise you, if that is part of your motivation, either get rid of it or get out. It has nothing to do with helping the people who need it and it’s a vulnerability in front of any demon.”
Most important, an exorcist is a good listener who can lend a sympathetic ear, administer the sacraments, and, if necessary, nudge someone toward psychiatric help as well.
Jeffrey Grob, exorcist at the archdiocese of Chicago, and a former doctoral student at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University, says an exorcist in a large, ethnically diverse diocese might get 100 calls a month, mostly from women.
The callers complain of bad luck, or they hear or see things they believe are evil.
But those who think they are possessed usually aren’t, says Grob.
He adds that people can sin with gusto but it doesn’t mean demons are at fault.
In fact, ordinary sinning doesn’t seem to interest demons much; they go for people reading horoscopes, playing around with New Age spiritualities, lonely, alienated kids getting into a Goth lifestyle, and especially anyone having a fun night with a Ouija board.
Exorcists talk about “opening a door” to the demonic, meaning that not everyone who reads their horoscope will tumble to the depths of hell, but that anything that loosens a Christian worldview loosens the soul.
Almost all demonic activity is in the milder forms of simple temptation, moving through oppression, obsession and finally, full-blown possession, a very rare phenomenon marked by superhuman strength, a strong aversion to church and the sacraments, and knowledge of foreign languages or esoteric information that the victim could not have otherwise known.
Any priest can administer simple prayers of deliverance for the lesser problems.
For a full exorcism, the parish must eliminate any medical explanation and get permission from the bishop.
The priest conducts the liturgy, with lay assistants answering and holding the afflicted if need be.
The ceremony itself is about an hour or so, but it may have to be repeated several times.