THIRTY years ago, the then Cork Examiner carried the story of an apparent exorcism at a grotto in Inchigeela, Co Cork on its front page.
“Priests exorcise shrine of ‘Devil’s shadow’” ran the headline. The story stated that two priests carried out an ‘unapproved exorcism’ at a Marian shrine in the tiny West Cork village, where a young girl had reportedly seen a ‘sign of the devil’ while praying.
Mary O’Sullivan, the elder sister of one of the chief recipients of a series of reported apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, said villagers were angered by the ‘sensationalism’ of the story. The year was 1986, a period of reported heightened extraordinary activity around Irish grottos, with eye-witness accounts of statues crying, moving and associated visions of Our Lady — the ‘Moving Statues’ era.
“We are annoyed at the sensationalism with which this whole matter has been treated,” Mary O’Sullivan is quoted as saying following the publication of the article, in the book Marian Apparition in Ireland and related Ireland, by Brian Nugent. The book, published in 2015, is an examination of the events from a local history perspective, with a collection of eye-witness accounts of Marian apparitions around the country.
Former Bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr Michael Murphy, who died 10 years later in 1996, investigated the matter at Inchigeela and found that two priests had been praying with pilgrims at the grotto, when a young, local girl became upset, claiming she had seen Satan.
“In the circumstances, the priests did what any priest would do, they said some prayers and blessed the grotto,” Bishop Murphy said, according to Nugent’s book.
Derision from secular quarters denounces such experiences as fairytale, but the author found multiple corroborating eye-witness accounts at sites of reported supernatural occurrences.
In a separate investigation of the incidents at Inchigeela, retired Australian professor of anthropology Michael Allen wrote a paper examining how young girls in Southern Ireland were making a ‘significant contribution to the transformation of religious belief’.
Mr Allen summarised the messages received from the Virgin Mary at Inchigeela in his own words as follows: “The world is full of sin and unless you all pray, fast and perform penances, a great catastrophe will shortly occur. Beware of the devil — who is trying to take over the world — he will constantly fight for you with temptations, but I shall be with you always.”
A spokesman for the Cork and Ross diocese has confirmed that no exorcism had ever occurred at Inchigeela. “There was no official Church involvement,” the spokesman said, adding that exorcisms are quite rare and only take place after all other explanations have been examined thoroughly.
The Rite of Exorcism can be confused with deliverance prayers, the spokesman said, which are more common and do not require official Church approval.
At a recent Catholic Young Adults Conference in Dublin, delegates heard that requests from members of the public for exorcism and deliverance prayers has risen exponentially in the last five years.
The same phenomenon appears to be evident in mainland Europe, where the Archbishop of Madrid has selected eight priests to train specifically in the Rite of Exorcism ‘following an unprecedented rise in demonic possession’.
The number of priests assigned to train as exorcists has doubled in Rome and Milan, but there has been no official response from Irish bishops, delegates were told.
Less than 25% of Irish people believe in the devil, the conference heard, and feeling abandoned in times of turmoil people are increasingly turning to non-Catholic or ‘new age’ practises that can compound their problems.
The reported rise in requests for exorcism and deliverance prayers lends a prophetic element to the warnings that accompanied the ‘Moving Statue’ era with personal testimonies telling of the Virgin Mary’s repeated call to faithful to ‘pray for peace’.