The Catholic Church’s most isolated group of clerics is enjoying a resurgence this week as the Vatican welcomes a week-long conference on exorcism.
No Irish Catholic priests are attending and, according to one local expert in the field, it is a healing ministry that is still being neglected by the hierarchy here.
The conference — at the Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum in Rome — is being attended by around 160 Catholic priests from around the world.
“Exorcism is taken seriously on the continent but, sad to say, in Ireland very little interest has been shown, particularly by the bishops,” said the expert, who asked not to be named.
“Just as we train people in the field of medicine, we should also train people in this form of spiritual healing,” he added.
Exorcism was increasingly frowned upon as being out-dated in the modern church, but was given new recognition during the papacy of Benedict XVI and even more so under the current pontiff.
Pope Francis’ repeated references to the devil have led to a boom in the demand for exorcisms worldwide and last August the Vatican formally recognised an international body of exorcists.
The Congregation for Clergy approved the statutes of the International Association of Exorcists and recognised the group under canon law.
The association began in September 1991 with the founding of the Association of Italian Exorcists by Fr Gabriele Amorth.
In 1994, members agreed to hold international meetings every two years, and the global group was born. The association now has around 300 members in 30 countries.
In 1999, the Vatican revised its rules for exorcisms, which were first issued in 1614.
An attempt to form an Irish association was made at a number of meetings in Cork last year but has, so far, come to nothing.
Ireland currently has at least three practising Catholic exorcists but, despite growing demand for their services, it still only forms a minute part of pastoral work.
“It is a tiny issue in the overall scheme of things in relation to the pastoral work done in the diocese,” said Fr Fintan Monahan, secretary to the Archbishop of Tuam, who emphasised he has no particular expertise in the area.
“In my 10 years working in the diocesan office, we have had about four or five people requesting assistance in that area and they were referred on to people with some experience and training in that area outside the diocese,” he said.
“That is in a diocese of about 140,000 Catholics, so that will give you an idea of how small an issue it is. Despite that, people tend to have a huge interest in it.”
In a recent TG4 documentary, Fr Monahan explained that when someone requests an exorcism, they usually approach their parish priest first.
“If it’s a spiritual problem, the priest would usually say prayers or celebrate Mass in the house, or give a special blessing using holy water,” he said.
“If that doesn’t work and if they are still suffering, a formal exorcism may be necessary.”