Who Has the Authority to Perform Exorcisms?

Authored By: CRNET



Are all exorcisms forbidden? The old moral theologians distinguished exorcism of a possessed person, which they called "solemn"; this is certainly restricted to an episcopally authorized exorcist. Then there are "simple" exorcisms, not indeed of a possessed person, but of, for example, catechumens. Those who have permission to use the traditional Roman Rite of Baptism certainly command the devil to "beat it". Or again, if one were experiencing an extraordinary temptation by the devil, he is not allowed to say, "go to hell" to the devil? I don't think Cardinal Ratzinger explicitly forbade all exorcisms, but only those of possessed persons. Comments?

I recently saw an interview with the President of Franciscan University at Stubenville, Fr. Scanlon, who seemed to think that simple exorcisms in cases of oppression and obsession were permitted.

In fact he made an interesting point that I had never heard before about confessors traditionally being encouraged to perform exorcisms as part of the rite of penance in cases of obsession.


Now exorcism, by definition, puts the devil under the pain of a law he must carry through (for instance, to depart). Every direct command and only a direct command to the devil is properly called an exorcism.

There is imprecatory exorcism, which is a direct command to the devil, something which might be called a solemn exorcism no matter how short or improvised or discreet. Formal examples include the ritual of exorcism of 1614 still in force to this day, as well as that of Leo XIII, as well as the one in the pre-Vatican II ritual of baptism, etc. Anyone authorized to perform this latter ritual of baptism is authorized to perform the exorcism present in that ritual. Solemn, major, public, official exorcism of the Church is a sacramental which necessitates a duly authorized priest. This involves imprecation, that is, a direct command to the devil given in the name of Jesus and the Church to depart from a person, place, or object. Such a command, that is, any such command, be it improvised or from a ritual, no matter how short or long, is by its very nature exorcism. Remember that Jesus Himself was extremely restrictive in his choice of exorcists.

There is also deprecatory exorcism, which is an intercessory prayer directed to God, the Virgin Mary, St. Michael, et alii, that they themselves command the devil instead of us, something which might be called a simple exorcism no matter how long or traditional or public. Deprecatory exorcism, is, strictly speaking, not an exorcism at all since there is no direct command to the devil involved. Formal examples include "exorcisms" of the new ritual of baptism, of the RCIA, the last petition of the Lord's Prayer, etc.

All are encouraged to participate in deprecatory "exorcism", ordained or not, authorized or not, when necessary, but always, always in the name of Jesus and the Church. (Cf. the Lord's Prayer.) No commands are to be given. But without authorization, all, including priests, are forbidden to perform imprecatory exorcisms. Minor, private, simple "exorcism" is necessarily restricted to deprecation, that is, intercessory prayer. This is true no matter the antiquity, length, or author.

I suggest that this is the type of "exorcism" to which the St. Alphonsus Liguori was referring concerning the usage of exorcism within the confessional. But even if this were not the case, remember that although the changing prudential judgment of the Church on the correct implementation of the sacramental of exorcism changes through the years according to the signs of the times, this does not make either St. Alphonsus a heretic or the present Magisterium heretical. Analogously, the implementation of the Novus Ordo does not make Pio V a heretic nor the present Magisterium of the Church heretical.

I'm not sure what you mean by the "traditional freedom of thefaithful."I hope it does not mean the liberal flaunting of Church authority to do what one thinks best. The law of the Church (CIC 1172) is written in a manner which is "invalidating" and "incapacitating." Restrictions are to be interpreted strictly, which in this case means that imprecation is left to authorized priests. See the Church's own official interpretation in Inde ab aliquot annis (Die 29 m. Septembris a. 1985).

This is the present law of the Church and the present officialinterpretation. The mind of the legislator is clear according to legislated norms of interpretation. Some feel the prudential judgment of the Church to be inadaquate, both those who are more traditional and those who are more charismatic. The present law is indeed extremely restrictive. So was Jesus in this matter. There are reasons for this. Anyone performing any imprecatory exorcism without authorization is in extreme danger. I can’t emphasize this more. If one plays with fire, one WILL GET BURNT!

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