A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Hollywood, US Bishops Spotlight The Rite

Interview With San Jose Diocesan Exorcist, Part 1

By Genevieve Pollock

SARATOGA, California, 20 JAN. 2011 (ZENIT)
Jan. 28 is the release date for a new movie about exorcism and faith, which is based on the story of Father Gary Thomas, official exorcist of San Jose, California.

ZENIT spoke with Father Thomas about his call to the ministry of exorcism, his experiences over the past years in working with people seeking his help, and the prevalence of demonic influences in our society today.

The movie, "The Rite," starring Anthony Hopkins and distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures, focuses on themes of faith, as evidenced by the promotional tagline: "You can only defeat it when you believe."

It is based on the real experiences of Father Thomas, as recorded in the book, "The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist," by Matt Baglio. Both the author and the priest, who serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Saratoga, were invited onto the set to consult in the making of the movie.

Hollywood producers are not the only ones with a renewed interest in this topic; last November the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops sponsored a two-day conference on exorcism, which took place in Baltimore just prior to the fall assembly. Some 56 prelates and 66 priests signed up for the course.

In this interview, Father Thomas described his experiences on the set of the movie, and explained the relevance of this ministry today.

Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday.

ZENIT: Could you tell us about the scene on the set of the movie?

Father Thomas: I was on the set for a week with the actors, and I gave them input in terms of what the reaction to an exorcism and what the manifestations look like. The author of the book was on the set for most of the shoot.

For example, I taught Anthony Hopkins how he has to bless left to right and not right to left, and all those little things. The producer Beau Flynn and the director Mikael Håfström really wanted this to be supremely accurate, and I do too.

It's really a movie about faith. It's not a gory movie or a horror movie; there is no green pea soup or heads spinning off of bodies.

I've not seen a lot of exorcism movies; there was one that was just out about three months ago called "The Last Exorcism," which actually was very good. And "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" came out in 2005, which was done by New Line Cinema as well and actually done by the same producer. But I think this one has a whole different take to it, because it's really a movie about faith.

ZENIT: Most people get their ideas of exorcism from what they've seen in movies and on television. What would you say is different about the way Hollywood portrays exorcism and the way you've experienced it?

Father Thomas: I think in many cases Hollywood is basing everything on sensationalism, which I'm hoping this movie is not about.

Exorcism, rather, is a ritual set of prayers that command the demon to cease its attempt to inflict harm, suffering, pain and total possession of a human being, and to depart.

There are some dramatic manifestations that I've encountered, but often times what Hollywood tries to do is exacerbate the dramatic and add to it in the name of entertainment, when quite honestly this is not a topic to entertain people with.

Is there a dramatic side to personified evil? Yes, there is.

Satan or his minions attempt to intimidate human beings and to cause them to lose heart altogether, but with the help of Christ we have nothing to worry about. We have nothing to fear.

Hollywood wants to play out the dramatic, and because they've never really seen exorcisms they're just envisioning. I've had a number of media outlets contact me with the request to film one, and I've said no, because I have no guarantee and no reassurance that they are going to get it right.

I also say, you're not going to objectify someone's suffering in this way. Because then it becomes more of a fodder for entertainment rather than a way of becoming educated and informed about the real dark underbelly of the world.

ZENIT: How necessary is a ministry of exorcism in our country these days? Are these cases of demonic possession very frequent?

Father Thomas: The ministry is essential.

It is not because we are having so many cases of demonic possession. What we are seeing — speaking from my experience — is that we are all, not just the exorcists, but priests in general, having a lot more people coming to us about matters that are of this realm. Many of the issues people are coming with are actually not demonic; they are more related to mental health.

Sometimes people ask, "Why now?" And I say, because now there are more Catholics who are involved in paganism and idolatry, so there are a lot of people who are opening a lot of doors to the diabolical.

The occult is all about power. Now the occult is not synonymous with the Satanic, but it is a doorway.

There are also more and more Catholics, and people in general, now in this country who are involved in New Age things. With the opening of doorways to the New Age and the occult, you do not know what is behind that door; you do not know what you are tapping into most of the time.

So, are there more cases of possession? In five years, I've exorcised five people, whom I do believe had a demonic attachment. And I've prayed over others who also I think have a demonic attachment, but I've not done exorcisms with them.

But what is becoming very rampant is that more and more people are involved in pagan idolatry. Some of it is structured and formal, and some of it is not.

This is coupled with issues that have to do with sexual abuse; 80% of the people who come to me have been sexually abused. That is a soul wound, and a doorway for a demon.

If the soul wounds are coupled with either heavy drug use, heavy sexual perversions, sexual abuse or physical abuse, usually by a parent, a sibling or an extended family member, it becomes a recipe for an invitation for a demon.

It is not like demons just show up. You have to invite them in, or someone else invites them in for you.

If a person has been sexual abused it does not mean that they are going to have a demonic attachment. What I am saying is that when people have been sexually abused they become incredibly vulnerable to that possibility.

Then if they get involved in matters that have to do with paganism and idolatry, like the occult or things of the Satanic, the bar goes way up, the chances go up. Because demons are always looking for human beings who either have no relationships or a variety of broken relationships.

ZENIT: If Catholic laity find themselves in this situation, how would they guard against the possibility of demonic activity in their lives or how would they protect a loved one who they are worried about?

Father Thomas: There are a variety of ordinary means.

People say to me all the time, "I don't want this to happen to me." I tell them that as long as you have a faith life, a prayer life and a sacramental life, the chances of this occurring are very nil.
If you have a life that involves God — and for a Catholic if you have a sacramental life that involves the Eucharist and reconciliation with regularity — and your life is lived in the spirit of the will of God and the providence of God, you do not have any serious consideration to be concerned about.

It is when people are involved in the spirit world, which is rarely deliberate. It is usually out of curiosity, of when they think they can get a leg up on things.

For example, it can be people who get involved in very unorthodox types of meditation. I'm not talking about Ignatian spirituality or having a spiritual director who helps you learn how to meditate.

I'm talking about people who go off to Buddhist camps, or people who are involved in spiritism, where you do not know what they are involved in, and you do not know what kind of techniques people are using to somehow deal with the realm beyond this one. It is much more about stuff that is really not known or tested, or sometimes it is known and tested by people who really have the wrong focus. It is not about a relationship with God; it is about a relationship with self.

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Interview With San Jose Diocesan Exorcist, Part 2

By Genevieve Pollock

SARATOGA, California, JAN. 21, 2011 (ZENIT)
Father Gary Thomas has spoken about his ministry to Hollywood and numerous bishops. He warns that people are often unaware when they open doorways to the diabolical.

ZENIT spoke with Father Thomas, official exorcist of San Jose, California, about his experiences and why he thinks every priest should have training in this ministry.

On Jan. 28, a new movie based on the story of the priest will be released to the public. "The Rite," starring Anthony Hopkins and distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures, focuses on themes of faith, as evidenced by the promotional tagline: "You can only defeat it when you believe."

It is based on the real experiences of Father Thomas, as recorded in the book, "The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist," by Matt Baglio.

Hollywood producers are not the only ones with a renewed interest in this topic; last November the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops sponsored a two-day conference on exorcism, which took place in Baltimore just prior to the fall assembly. Some 56 prelates and 66 priests signed up for the course.

In this interview, Father Thomas spoke about the relevance of the exorcism ministry for the Church today.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.

ZENIT: Could you say something more about these unorthodox practices that could be doorways for demons? What are the practices people should be aware of and should be careful of getting into?

Father Thomas: I think people should know if there are any effects from being involved in these things, and they should know why. They are tapping into these kinds of activities and if they do not know, they are really running a risk of opening themselves up.

For example, people who get involved with psychics, or tarot cards, Ouija boards, crystals, Wicca, or even yoga. My mother does yoga, but she does it for exercise. There is a difference between that kind of use of yoga, and the practice of it where it is giving you a certain kind of power to influence other people. Supposedly you can use yoga for a variety of different reasons.

People that get themselves involved in very unorthodox kinds of self-focused practices need to be aware of the potential that they might be opening themselves up to.

Or, séances, again, are a doorway. People should ask who is running the séance, and why they are going to a séance. They want answers to the future, and if they are going to commune with a human spirit from the world beyond ours, it is very dangerous because they do not know what they are doing.

ZENIT: What signs would indicate possible demonic activity in a friend or a family member?

Father Thomas: If, for example, if somebody was able to speak in a language that he had no prior competency in, or if someone would foam at the mouth or have a lot of rolling of the eyes.
If the person were not able to walk into a church or be close to any Catholic sacramental: holy water, a crucifix, the sacrament of the Eucharist, the sacramental anointing of the sick, or someone wearing some kind of a Christian symbol. If these caused a reaction, it certainly would be a sign.

Another sign of a diabolical attachment is when people have unnatural amounts of strength that they normally do not possess. Sometimes people will take on a serpentine appearance, again in reaction to sacraments and sacramentals.

But there would be things leading up to that; for example, these people could have an obsessive amount of thoughts or ideas of the Satanic, or feel a tremendous amount of depression in their lives, usually due to tapping into the spirit world. Those would be signs.

ZENIT: Is this ministry of exorcism something that any priest might feel called to engage in?

Father Thomas: First of all, you have to believe.

It is what Anthony Hopkins says to my character at one point in the movie, "You cannot defeat it till you believe in it." You have to believe that Satan is a reality.

Personally, on an ideal basis, I think that every priest should be trained to be an exorcist.

It is part of our healing ministry, and it is very much at the heart of the Paschal mystery. So on the one hand I do think every priest ought to be trained to know how to do this.

Do I think every priest has the ability? Probably to some degree; it depends. But I think every priest should know what to do in these situations, and quite honestly they don't, at least at this time. The seminaries do not teach this.

When the book came out, I requested that the publishing company send this book to every bishop in the United States and every rector in every major seminary. They did, with a cover letter from me.

This came up in the meeting in Baltimore to some degree, without a huge amount of response, but I firmly believe this needs to be in the program of priestly formation in our seminaries. This needs some serious attention.

It does not mean there has to be a whole semester course on it, but there needs to be a development of some pastoral skills in this area, and some theological training.

Satan has to be part of the equation of salvation in the formation of priests, and the topic is not there right now.

Now I know the major seminary in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is teaching a course on demonology. And I know in the seminary that I went to they are teaching a course this semester on good and evil, though I don't know what that is going to entail. It is a start. If that is happening at other seminaries, I am not aware.

All I can say with some certitude is that there is nothing in the formation program as such that deals in a kind of overt way with exorcism.

ZENIT: Could you tell us a bit about your own story, and how you knew that you were called to be an exorcist?

Father Thomas: I didn't know; that's the amazing thing in all of this.

Two months before Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he sent a mandate through Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's office requesting every bishop in the United States to select and train an exorcist.

This was because of the growing occult that has become an epidemic in Europe. I know in my time in Rome on sabbatical, which coincided with all of this, it was reported that 25% of the people in Italy practice the occult. We saw a lot of damage to people, when I was working with Father Carmen.

How I got involved with it was obviously providence, but it was not like I had an epiphany. What happened was that our bishop took the letter seriously, and approached a priest of our diocese.
It came to my attention that the priest who received the initial invitation declined, so I decided to volunteer for this ministry. I thought to myself: "I can be the exorcist. I believe in the personification of evil. I can fulfill that role."

The bishop came to me the month before my 12-year term as pastor of my previous parish was coming to an end and I was going on sabbatical to Rome. He said, I'm appointing you exorcist; thank you very much for saying yes, and there is a course you can take in Rome while you're there.
I took this course in Rome, which was taught at the Regina Apostolorum seminary of the Legionaries of Christ, while I was on sabbatical studying at the North American College.

Halfway through the course it was apparent to me that I needed someone to work under, because the course was good but it was very theoretical and theological.

There were about 60 people in the class, mostly Italians and Africans, and another priest was working with this 85-year-old exorcist. He would come to class on Thursday morning and tell us what he had been doing, what he had seen, and what he had been experiencing. And I said, I have to find someone to work under.

Now there are nine exorcists in Rome but none of them speak English. Finally I was able to locate Father Carmen, and I worked with him for three and a half months, observing exorcisms three days a week for three and a half hours at a time.

I would go home and journal about what I had seen today: what did he do, and what did I see from the people who would come to him. And then every few weeks I would sit down with him with an English translator and ask, what did this mean, why did this happen, why did you do this? That's how I learned.

There is no course in the United States per se to train exorcists although I just came back from a meeting in Baltimore with the bishops and the exorcists and we did talk about this some.

ZENIT: Why do you think the bishops called that meeting in Baltimore? Was it in response to the letter from the Pope a few years ago?

Father Thomas: No. I think what made them hold this conference was the fact that Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, who is the chairman of the canonical governance committee for the bishops, called for the meeting. He had come to one of our annual conferences in Chicago, and I think he felt that this was the right time to bring this to the bishops.

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On the Net:
"The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist" Book: http://www.amazon.com/Rite-Making-Modern-Exorcist/dp/0385522703

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