Taking the Devil seriously
Nicholas Turner explains why discretion is important when called upon to combat the forces of demonic evil
The Devil is at work inside the Vatican.’ What a delicious headlinefor a non-story that was. Even more exciting was the assurance (from many newspapers) that Fr Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican chief exorcist, had performed 70,000 exorcisms. At 85, he has had a long career, but that would have been a phenomenal work rate.
It must have pleased one of our correspondents of last autumn, who had taken the CofE to task for ‘its coyness about exorcism.’ Actually, that is how we do things. Which makes it interesting to speculate how far an Anglican ethos in exorcism will transfer to the Ordinariate. Discretion, and a resolute avoidance of publicity, are both essential ingredients in this area of priestly work. I am a Bishop’s Advisor for the Ministry of Deliverance, one of (generally) two in each diocese: you will not find this information in the diocesan directory, but if you ring the Bishop’s Office, theywill pass you on to me or my colleague, and we will help.
You are wanting an immediate exorcism? I am being flippant, but the simple answer is ‘No you don’t,’ and ‘No I won’t.’ It is precisely because it is so serious that we do not rush around like a couple of ghost-busters, with holy water or zip-up Bible, sorting out demons. The problem will have taken time to develop, and it is not to be dismissed that easily. Whatever demons are, they
are not cartoon characters.
One of the major areas of our work is sorting out failed exorcisms, usually from do-it-yourself free church ministers, but also from over-zealous CofE vicars. This may explain why there is no rite of exorcism in Common Worship. The only such text I know of is in the supplement to the South African book of 1989:
The full rite of exorcism is in the custody of the Bishop and may be used only with his permission. In unavoidable emergency, the following form may be used by the Priest.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, I command you, evil spirit, to come out of this person (or N), and to harm no one but to depart to the place appointed you and remain there for ever.
Prayer should immediately follow that the Holy Spirit may fill the gap left by the departure of the evil spirit.
It is essential that pastoral ministry accompany such exorcism, especially in the period that follows it. Wherever possible, the Bishop should be notified of the exorcism without delay.
In so short a space, it is eminently wise instruction and advice. Note that it does not offer a rite and there is no laying on of hands, and it emphasizes both the authority of the bishop and the need for a sound pastoral context.
Pastoral ministry’ makes it clear that the parish priest has the central role. It would be good if clergy were better informed, and more confident in this shared work. Perhaps the discretion has become too close to secrecy. The CofE is currently reviewing its procedures and organization for this ministry; I hope it does not make things more bureaucratic (though that is almost inevitable under vulnerable adult protection legislation). The most important aspect is still a sound theology – something we always need in our church.It is Christ’s victory over evil that we share with those in need. Don’t worry about exorcisms; worry about the Devil.
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