An exclusive interview with the Church's leading exorcist and honorary president-for-life of the International Association of Exorcists
by Renzo Allegri
FATHER GABRIELE Amorth is the leader of Rome's six exorcists. He is also the most famous Catholic exorcist in the world. People come to see him from all round the world to ask for help in defeating satanic oppression, in other words, to combat the Devil in all his various activities against mankind.
He is 78 years old and belongs to the Society of St. Paul, the Congregation founded by James Alberione in 1914, known for his intense activity in mass communication. Fr. Gabriele too, for many years, was involved in mass media, and edited the magazine, Mother of God. As well as a theology degree, Fr. Gabriele has also graduated in law. Having written many books and essays about the Virgin Mary, he has acquired the title of expert in Mariology has been nominated member of the Pontifical International Marian Academy. But since having been entrusted with the role of exorcist in the diocese of Rome, his time has been completely consumed by his new ministry. These days he is considered the world's leading expert on problems concerning Satan and his evil activity against mankind. He is the 'doctor' par excellence for illnesses caused by evil, the 'surgeon' who knows how to root them out, fight and prevent them.
'I would never have thought I'd be asked by the Church to carry out such a difficult mission,' he recently declared when I met him for this interview. 'Cardinal Ugo Poletti sent me the mandate when he was vicar of the diocese of Rome and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI). Luckily, at the beginning, I was the helper of one of the greatest exorcists that ever existed, Fr. Candido Amantini, a holy man whose cause for beatification is about to be opened. He was an exorcist in Rome for 36 years and was an incredible teacher.'
It is difficult to arrange a meeting with Fr. Amorth especially as he never has a moment free. For this interview he managed to spare a few hours one Thursday morning, but even during our conversation, he received telephone calls from people all over the world who were in need of him. 'It is incredible,' he says, 'to see how many people look for an exorcist, and unfortunately there are few priests who are able to help them. For several centuries, the Church has overlooked the ministry of exorcism.'
He speaks with determination. His faith is unwavering, based on the Scripture and on the teachings of the Church. He reveals a deep knowledge of the subjects he discusses, extensive experience sustained by numerous case histories. 'I think I must have carried out over 70,000 exorcisms in my lifetime. The problems I am called to deal with every day concern people who are suffering physically, psychologically and spiritually. These problems are caused by the Devil. At times they are so serious they lead a person to suicide or death. Faced with many priests who reveal themselves to be sceptical, indifferent or who consider these problems to be the fruit of imagination or obsession, I get very angry.'
But are there really priests who are sceptical about this topic?
'Many if not lots! Contemporary religious culture, while not negating the existence of Satan and the other rebellious angels, is inclined to diminish their influence over people. Discrediting this influence is almost compulsory and is considered a sign of wisdom. This mentality, which is completely wrong, is commonplace not only among lay people, but also among priests, theologians and even bishops, the practical consequences of which are far-reaching.'
On what basis do you judge this mentality to be 'completely wrong'?
'On the basis of the Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Fathers, the Councils, and the tradition of the Church. Since the very beginning, the Church has taught that evil, pain, sin, death and hell are not works of God. They are works of Satan. God created everything to be 'good'. Satan was the most perfect of all angels, but he rebelled against God and became his enemy. Satan corrupted Adam, introducing him to sin and the world of evil, death, pain and illness. God, to repair the break caused by Adam's sin, sent His only Son Jesus to earth to redeem mankind through His passion, death and resurrection. But the battle continues. Mortal beings, during their experience on the earth, are blessed with freedom. They can choose between good and evil, between God and Satan. Jesus, while He was on the earth, indicated the path towards salvation, and He set up the basis of an organisation, His Church, which is the sure guide towards the eternal Kingdom, and defence against Satan's attacks. The experience of every person, in his/her spatial-temporal dimension, is a test, a battle, a challenge in order to reach eternal life. Jesus works through His Church, Satan through his empire of evil. Ignoring these simple truths means not having a true awareness. Unfortunately, Christians no longer believe in these things these days. There is a harmful tendency to remove Satan and the other spirits of evil. But in this way, their power is only increased. This is perhaps why, in this day and age, Satan is so powerful and his influence over mankind is so great.'
Some theologians, when they quote the Gospel and Scripture concerning Satan, declare that these are themes which need to be interpreted.
'See! Even you have discovered how many theologians claim to 'interpret' Sacred Scripture about this stinging issue. The reality is too serious, harsh and terrible to be accepted to the letter and so for this reason they turn to 'interpretations'. Interpretations which are wrong and which go against the Gospel. The existence of the Devil and his wicked influence on people is an indisputable fact of the Church. St. John clearly wrote in his Gospel that Christ descended from Heaven and became man to destroy the work of the Devil. Jesus' entire life was devoted to this aim. There are numerous concrete examples. The Fathers of the Church have always taught this truth without hesitation. Only in the last few centuries has this doctrine lost its strength: not because of the ChurchÕs teaching, but because of some theologians. Officially, the Church has always affirmed the existence of Satan and his negative influence, but in practice, the clergy have been influenced by theories which question the existence of Satan. Some time ago, a researcher carried out an enquiry among Catholic priests, and the results showed that two thirds accepted, in theory, traditional doctrine about the Devil, but that they rejected the practical consequences. And yet on 29 June 1972, Pope Paul VI explicitly addressed the topic of Satan during Mass at St. Peter's. He called him 'the enemy of mankind' 'preternatural being' and accused him of wanting to destroy the fruits of the Council. The reactions of the lay world and of Modernist theologians were violent, but they didn't intimidate the Pope who on 15 November of the same year returned to the topic clarifying that 'Satan is enemy number one, he is the tempter par excellence. We know that this dark and disturbing being exists for real and acts... he is the sophistic tempter of mankind's moral equilibrium...' At the end of his long speech, the Pope categorically stated: 'Whoever refuses to recognise the reality of the Devil rejects biblical and ecclesiastical teaching.' There are no doubts of any kind: denying the existence of the Devil destroys Christ's Redemption. Whoever does not believe in the existence of the Devil, does not believe in the Gospel or in the Church.'
You are the Church's leading exorcist. How did you begin this activity?
'By chance. For many years, I carried out my normal role as priest, hearing confessions, preaching, saying Mass, administering the Sacraments and above all, writing books and articles in the spirit of us followers of St. Paul. The Devil and exorcisms only interested me from a theoretical point of view.
'I was good friends with Cardinal Ugo Poletti former vicar general of Rome. One day, in June 1986, I went to see him and while we were chatting it came out that I knew Fr. Candido Amantini. 'You know Fr. Candido?' asked the cardinal. 'That priest is in need of help because he is very ill, you should help him.' He began writing on headed paper. I realised that he was assigning me to the role of assistant exorcist and I began to protest. 'No, I can't, you know that I'm a rascal, I'm only good at telling jokes and playing pranks' but to no avail. I left the Cardinal with the role of assistant exorcist to Fr. Candido, and that is how it all began.'
Were you scared of the Devil?
'Of course, but I also knew that Jesus had beaten Satan and the Virgin had crushed him. So I put myself under the protection of both Jesus and Mary. 'Wrap me in your cloak,' I said to the Virgin, 'and I will always feel safe.' And in fact, over the years I have performed over 70,000 exorcisms and nothing has ever happened to me.'
What were your first experiences like?
'There was no time to savour experiences. There was a lot of work to do since Fr. Candido was in poor health. Actually, the most interesting experience was working with him. Each day was a surprise and a new lesson. By his side, I realised that books were pretty useless. Experience is what counts, especially concerning such delicate topics. It is as if a young doctor who had just graduated were given a book on surgery which would explain to him how to carry out open heart surgery. Fr. Candido, with his 36 years of experience, was an incomparable teacher.
'I realised straight away how important exorcisms were for people suffering from cruel afflictions. And at the same time I realised that these people were overlooked, abandoned and often left to deal with their problems by themselves because of a lack of exorcists. I realised that many bishops and priests didn't believe that the Devil could cause disease and other physical disturbances in people and, when asked for help, they recommend doctors or psychoanalysts. So I told myself that I needed to inform people and thus I began writing, giving interviews, and participating in TV and radio debates, rousing immense interest. I wrote three books: the first is called An exorcist tells his story (Ignatius Press), and it has been translated in thirteen different languages. The English version is already in its ninth edition. I then wrote New tales by an exorcist (Ignatius Press) and recently Exorcists and Psychiatry (Edizioni Dehonomiane) which still needs to be translated into English.
'This popularising activity of mine has helped stir up debate and the indifference and scepticism of certain bishops too. There used to be dioceses without even an exorcist. The situation has now improved considerably. '
What physical troubles can the Devil cause?
'Various types, ranging from actual bodily possession, to torments, illnesses and possession of your home. Demon-possessed people, that is, those whose body has 'physically' been invaded by satanic spirits, are very rare. But there are many people who are disturbed or oppressed by Satan.'
And exorcisms can overcome these troubles?
'Exorcism is a medicine, a special help. Jesus said to all believers 'In My name they will cast out demons...' (Mark 16:17). This power which Jesus gave to all His believers is completely valid. It is a power based on faith and prayer, which everyone can use in their daily lives. But this is only concerning normal cases, daily temptations and minor satanic problems. When Satan, for particular reasons, decides to target a person and take over his/her body, tormenting the possessed one trying to destroy him/her, then a powerful intervention is needed. The Church has established a rite especially for this very aim: exorcism. This involves a special prayer which is carried out in the name of the Church itself, by people entrusted with this role. This is why exorcisms must be carried out exclusively by bishops or priests who have been especially appointed by their diocesan bishop. Lay people can never carry out exorcisms. The results are nearly always positive, and at times, sensational. However, it is essential to have faith, pray a lot and, in certain cases, years may pass before a person is completely freed from demonic possession.'
You mentioned that the Devil can also cause illness?
'Exactly. The Devil has the power to cause physical and mental illnesses. There have been numerous cases in which I have met people who had spent a fortune going from one specialist to another in an attempt to relieve their suffering. Yet, their doctors, having carried out all sorts of tests, including the most sophisticated, were unable to find anything wrong. And yet these people continued to suffer and feel themselves slowly dying. Such disorders are thus mysterious, but real, causing these people to lose weight, reducing them to skin and bones and making them often bed-ridden. In such cases, it is possible that the Devil has a hand in it, and thus only prayer and exorcism can produce useful results. I have seen people at death's door suffering from illnesses unknown to modern medicine who have recovered thanks to the help of exorcisms.'
Who can catch Satan's eye?
'Anyone. I have had cases involving people from all walks of life: simple people, housewives, but also professors, doctors and politicians, lay people as well as priests and nuns. It is important to specify that demonic possession and obsession involves the body. Satan can affect someone's body, but never their soul. He can only become the master of someone's soul if that person hands it over to him by his/her own free will. Thus anyone can end up in Satan's grip. There have even been saints who have been seriously disturbed by Satan's force.'
How can we defend ourselves against the Devil?
'Above all, by leading a healthy life, devoted to God. Satan is God's enemy. God is our Father, a loving Father. Those who stick to God through prayer and a life based on justice and truth, through the guidance of the Virgin Mary, the saints and their guardian angels, put themselves in a protected position. Even if, as I have already said, there are incidences of good and holy people who, for God's mysterious reasons, are put to the test. However whoever lives in indifference, in absent-mindedness, far from God, is open to an easy satanic conquest. Worse still are those who look for experiences beyond the limit and seek out the satanic world. In these cases, it is practically impossible to avoid ending up in the Devil's clutches.'
What do you mean by 'experiences beyond the limit'?
'I refer to those who deliberately seek out the Devil by joining Satanic sects. They are secret groups which are difficult to pinpoint but which exist and operate. They are well-organised, they have meeting places, priests and rites which finish in so-called 'Black Masses'. Every now and then, you read in the papers that tabernacles have been vandalised and consecrated hosts stolen: acts carried out by worshippers of Satan for their 'Black Masses'.
Have you ever met anyone who has taken part in these satanic sects?
'Some. Not many however, because whoever enters these sects finds it hard to get out.'
Why would someone choose to be a follower of Satan?
'Usually for very base reasons. In order to have immediate benefits, for example: money, pleasure, success and power. They tie themselves to Satan with real blood pacts. I have seen many of these pacts, because when someone tries to escape this situation, he or she brings me the written 'document' and we burn it together. These pacts usually read: 'Satan, you are my god, I give myself to you, I want to be yours for all eternity, I adore you.''
Do these people who tie themselves to Satan obtain the favours they ask?
'Satan is a liar and a cheat. At the beginning he ensures his followers obtain all they wish for, but then he destroys all of his followers because as the Bible says, he 'is homicide from the beginning.''
You describe a dramatic image...
'I'd be a liar if I said the situation was any different. We must have a clear vision of the reality of our lives. Our experience on earth is a test, a battle to reach eternal life. The Church was instituted by Jesus to help people in their struggle against evil. But if the people of the Church, deputies there to help mankind, do not unite themselves with determination against Satan and fight tooth and nail to save their brothers and sisters, then Satan is free to create havoc and destruction with impunity. Satan's biggest triumph is mankind's conviction that he doesn't exist.'
Thirty years ago, the notorious film The Exorcist was released. What do you think of this film?
It's one of my favourite films! Of course, the special effects are exaggerated, but it is a good film, and substantially exact, based on a respectable novel which is mirrored on a true story. I recommend it. People need to know what we do.'