The exorcising Pope

The big question in certain Italian media circles yesterday, a question that also made some headlines as far as the Netherlands, was: did Pope Francis perform an exorcism on Sunday?

r-POPE-FRANCIS-EXORCISM-large570Footage shows the Holy Father conversing with a young man in a wheelchair and the priest accompanying him, before placing his hands on the boy’s head and praying for a short while. While the footage is blurred to protect the boy’s identity, we can see him reacting, his mouth open, as the pope prays. It’s a short encounter, but one in which certain people have read much. They point out that the Pope, upon hearing the aforementioned priest seemingly describing what ails the boy, looks suddenly very concerned and immediately places his hands on the boy’s head. The look, the intensity of the prayer and the boy’s reaction, they say, indicate that an exorcism was performed.

But there are some serious questions to be asked about this reading of events. In the first place, Vatican sources have denied that what occurred was anything but prayer and blessing – in itself powerful and moving enough. Furthermore, as Father Anton ten Klooster has pointed out, an exorcism will most likely never take place on such short notice, in such a public location and by a priest (in this case, the Pope), who is unprepared to do it.

An example of wishful thinking fueled by enthusiasm, it would seem. But it does point towards something interesting: exorcisms are a reality. They do take place, although probably not in the same way certain movies would have us believe. Pope Francis has referred several times to the devil, in very clear terms. It is an uncomfortable thing to believe, but as Catholics we are asked to do so. The devil is a reality, and so are possessions.

So, can the Pope exorcise demons? With the right preparation, certainly. Did he so in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday? Definitely not.

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