By Tom Foreman, CNN
The sun was shining on the Santa Cruz Mountains. The freeway from the San Francisco airport to San Jose was still buzzing in my ears when I stepped into the parking lot of an unassuming church and the most famous exorcist in America walked up.
“Hello, I’m Father Gary Thomas.” At 57 years old, he has an easy smile, an abiding love for the Giants and strong convictions about the nature of evil.
"You believe there is a devil?" I ask him as we settle in at a small, beautiful chapel near the church.
“You believe that this devil acts upon people?”
He says it with the certainty that I reserve for answers to questions like, “Did you bring your lunch?” but that’s no surprise. He has faced skeptics many times and never more than now, because his life and training as an exorcist in Rome are the inspiration behind the Hollywood film "The Rite."
Indeed, at the premiere, as the cameras swirled around the star, Anthony Hopkins, Thomas walked the red carpet alongside him. This movie, like salvation, is something the priest believes in.
“First of all,” he says, “it was very emotional for me. I found some of those scenes very riveting. I found some of them very profound. They’re very accurate. That’s what I’ve seen in real life.”
That’s saying something. "The Rite" is chock-full of heaving, cursing, ranting characters, who, according to the screenplay, are possessed by Satan, people who one moment seem fine and the next are raging against all that is holy.
And yet, Thomas says people who fear that very fate come to him constantly. “Well, often times they’ll begin the conversation with ‘Father, I need an exorcism.’ And my answer back to them is, ‘I don’t do them on demand.’”
But he does think a lot more of them need to be done. It is all part of a push by the Vatican to make more exorcists available to the faithful. Some in the Catholic Church believe the world is facing a rising tide of demonic activity, particularly in America, where millions are moving away from traditional faiths and looking for alternatives.
"A lot of folks dabble in the occult, or they will be involved in practices that … classical Christianity at least would consider to be idolatrous. People can get themselves involved in Wicca, or people will go see some sort of fortune-teller, or people will go to a séance, or they can go and they can learn how to channel spirits.
A vision of politician Christine O’Donnell fills my head and I interrupt. “But a lot of people would tell you up front, ‘I’m just playing around.’”
“Right. Absolutely. And it’s not,” he says, noting that those who feel adrift from the church and from others of faith are more likely to be drawn in. “Demons are always looking for human beings who have broken relationships.”
Simply put, Thomas believes just as surely as a person can summon God through prayer, through other rituals, the devil can be called, too.
Thomas says an exorcism usually takes from 45 minutes to two hours and involves reciting prayers, reading scriptures and using sacramental objects such as crucifixes and holy water. Of course, that’s like saying surgery involves a knife and some sponges.
It is vastly more complicated. Before the rite is even considered, there must be psychological testing by professionals, extended consultations and questions about drug and alcohol addiction.
Thomas says fully 80% of the people he meets claiming demonic possession have actually suffered some kind of abuse. An exorcism, he says, is the last step in a long process.
“I have a particular situation now,” he says, “where I think this particular person is suffering from a very unique psychological disorder, but she’s also been exposed to satanic cults, and I want to make sure that what we’re dealing with … is satanic or if it is psychological.”
Even when an exorcism is prescribed, it often must be repeated. Judging from Thomas' comments, it takes something of a trained eye to decide whether it is even working.___
You can read the entire post, "Meet America's top exorcist, the inspiration for 'The Rite'" here.
When I was in seminary I had a couple of informal conversations with pastors who said that they had been asked to perform exorcisms more than once. They tended to defer such cases to Roman Catholic of Pentecostal pastors.
I wonder if any serious discussions have taken place within the United Methodist Church about guidelines for these situations. Considering the size and spread of our communion, I have no doubt that exorcisms are in fact happening (beyond what is in the baptismal liturgy), though there is much reluctance to talk about it.
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