When I saw the headline, I knew to whom it referred. The death of a priest is rarely reported in the secular media. When it had the rider ‘world famous exorcist’, it could only refer to Father Gabriele Amorth.
In 1999, Ignatius Press published an English Version of the Italian Un escorista raconta. Translated under the title An Exorcist Tells His Story, it became an instant bestseller. It has remained so. The reason for the book’s publication, as stated by the author, was a simple one: there were so few books available on the subject of exorcism and this was to fill the gap. Since it appeared, the book has taught many about exorcism, not least priests; it has also helped refocus attention on this aspect of priestly ministry, which for some, like Amorth, is a calling within a calling.
When that earlier book appeared, Western society had all but forgotten that Satan existed. From the 1960s onwards, belief in the devil was a ‘superstition’ explained away by psychiatry and folklore; the devil was a projection, it was argued, of all our own fears onto an imaginary being. There were even those within the church who subscribed to this view. Some argued, further, that there was no hell and so, logically, there could be no devil or demons. Surprisingly, it was left to Hollywood to remind people in the next decade of this spiritual creature and the rite that expelled him and his acolytes from those unfortunate enough to have fallen into his power. For those with eyes to see, however, the devil had never been more active, his greatest trick being his ability to appear to disappear.
Fr. Amorth’s 1999 book shone a light directly in the face of the evil one and his activities. It did what evil dislikes most – revealed it as such to the world. As the elder demon, Screwtape, advises the inexperienced Wormwood, in C.S. Lewis’s classic, The Screwtape Letters, the modus operandi of the tempter must always be to carry out his activities with stealth and, above all, to present temptations that appear reasonable, through paths that appear sensible as quietly the soul is lead ever downward.
Amorth, in response, showed these evil beings for what they are, and reminded readers, at the dawn of a new Millennium, what had been known for centuries: the devil and his legions exist, and are our enemies. From Eden to the coming Parousia, they have but one desire: our destruction. They will stop at nothing to draw us into hell so we can endure for all eternity the torments they suffer.
The news of Amorth’s death a few weeks ago was not surprising given he was 91 years. Until his death, this priest had continued taking the fight to the enemy by exposing the counterfeits of the Father of Lies. It was a welcome surprise to learn, however, that Amorth had written another text on the subject, and it is timely indeed that Sophia Institute Press has just published this final work, An Exorcist Explains the Demonic: The Antics of Satan and His Army of Fallen Angels.
This new volume is a companion piece to Amorth’s 1999 bestseller. Like the earlier The Exorcist Tells His Story, it draws heavily on his ministry with case examples of those possessed, as well as explanations of various infestations, obsessions and other varieties of diabolic activity. There is something else in this book though. Here are the words of a man at the end of his life, reflecting on his long years of experience. There are, in effect, another 20 years of his spiritual battle being explored here.
To that end, within these pages, there is a more systematic approach to the subject of demonology than in his previous work. Whereas before, it was as if Amorth was trying to wake people up to the reality of evil, here he is reflecting on the various shapes and dimensions of what he has experienced over the years. An Exorcist Explains the Demonic reads more like a textbook, a clinical handbook for those involved in the field of deliverance ministry. It is an ordered read, one that commences with the fundamental truth, namely that the victory has been won. Sin and death and the fallen angels, for all their presence and activity among us, are raging against the coming triumph of the Lamb. The sands of time run all too quickly for the demons before their eternity of emptiness.
An Exorcist Explains the Demonic presents a detailed exposition of what an exorcism consists and who is able to perform it: only a priest with the authority granted by a bishop. That said, Amorth discusses the role of the laity in deliverance ministry and, interestingly, he speaks of his team of helpers, all of whom are lay people, who assist spiritually and practically at exorcisms. Furthermore, he is of the opinion that a much-needed corrective is needed to the lax attitude of some clergy to the spiritual ills caused by the activity of the demonic. His solution is to have all seminarians attend at least one exorcism. I suspect that this would effect a major change in the view of some clergy not just on the reality of evil but also on a misguided theology that sometimes links evil to ‘structures’ alone.
An Exorcist Explains the Demonic is also a plea for more research in this field. When he started in this special ministry, Amorth had few resources. Most of the books on the subject were out of print or written for a different time. The principles of spiritual warfare may be perennial but the practical realities of the late 20th Century were particular. Since the publication of his first work in the 1990s, Amorth has witnessed a number of initiatives that suggest that, at last, the subject of the demonic is once more being taken seriously, reflecting a pressing need for holy and well-informed ministers not just for Catholics but also for the wider society.
It would be fair to say that Pope Francis does not shy away from talking on this subject. Amorth, in his turn, therefore, does not shy away from giving the Holy Father some advice. He says that every diocese should be obliged to have an exorcist; that seminary courses must include again the subjects of angelology and demonology; and that the ministry of exorcism should be extended to all priests. Interestingly, on this last point, he cites the example of the Romanian Orthodox Church where every monastery has a monk dedicated to this work and that anyone can call upon his services simply by visiting the monastery.
Talking of popes, what Fr, Amorth has to say of the late St. John Paul II is intriguing. Fr. Amorth was the exorcist for Rome during that saint’s pontificate so he speaks with some authority when he says he knows of at least three exorcisms that the late pontiff carried out in his private chapel. More intriguing still is what Amorth says about what is spoken of St. John Paul II by the demons. They seem to have a special rage when his memory is invoked. A demon even referred directly to the late Polish pope as the one who ‘ruined our plans’. Amorth speculates that the reason for this is linked to Fatima, and to the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart made by Pope John Paul on March 25, 1984.
Amorth, wisely, accepts that some of the areas he discusses are open to differing opinions. He is a man of strong views on most things, but he is also aware that others have differing ones. Some things – certain types of music or fashion, for example –may indicate the occult, but, then again, they may not. Caution is required: people may be more disturbed than possessed. Needless to say, I suspect that no one reading this book carefully will put it down and rashly jump to conclusions about people or situations. What the book does do, however, is to make the reader think. This is salutary. What we experience daily, perhaps more than we realise, may well be touched by the spirits discussed in this work, and it falls to us to have eyes to see this.
Fr. Gabriele Amorth was a brave man. This year, on September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, in the presence of Italy’s Minister of Defence, he was awarded the Medal of Liberation by the Prefect of Rome, for, the ‘important role’ he played in the struggle against the Nazis occupation of Rome in 1943 – as a teenager he fought alongside the Partisan resistance. In his long life, Amorth confronted evil whether this was visible on Italian streets, or invisibly present in the thousands whom he exorcised during the 29 years of his ministry. An Exorcist Explains the Demonic is, therefore, a fitting final testament both of the man and to that struggle.
Editor’s note: Fr Amorth’s final book, An Exorcist Explains the Demonic: The Antics of Satan and His Army of Fallen Angels, is available in paperback or ebook from Sophia Institute Press.