10 surprising facts about exorcisms

A scene from the 1973 movie, The Exorcist (via The London Telegraph)A scene from the 1973 movie, The Exorcist (via The London Telegraph)This past weekend, over 100 Catholic bishops and priests convened in Baltimore to talk about one thing: the devil. The two-day conference on exorcism was an educational and training session to prepare clergy for the practice which has seen an increase in demand.

"The real hope here and the purpose is to provide some training so that really every diocese could have its own resources to handle such inquires," Bishop Thomas Paprocki, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, told abcnews.com.While the conference was relegated to members of the clergy, several facts about the practice have been made public.

  1. Only 5 or 6 Catholic priests in the U.S. perform exorcisms today, which is part of the reason the conference was held. Providing hands-on training that's approved by the Catholic church is an important issue for the religious community.
  2. Pope John Paul II once performed an exorcism on a woman brought to the Vatican "writhing and screaming."
  3. Requests for the ritual is on the rise in Switzerland. 550 people in the region reported possession by the devil last year, a third more than in 2006.
  4. The number of Polish exorcists has grown in recent years. One theory is that it's a result of growing skepticism of psychology in the country.
  5. Some signs you may need an exorcism: you have difficulty breathing or show tantrum-like symptoms when you enter a church, hear prayers or see a crucifix. You spit out holy water. You speak in a language you've never learned or exhibit extreme physical strength.
  6. The practice of exorcism is protected by the First Amendment. The Texas supreme court made the decision after a lawsuit by a woman who claimed emotional trauma after being restrained, at age 17, by parishioners performing the ritual in 1996.
  7. In order for an exorcism to take place, first a priest must get approval from a bishop and then consult with medical experts who can rule out psychological and physical afflictions.
  8. Out of about 400 inquiries,only 2 or 3 end up being approved for exorcisms by the church, according to recent research.
  9. A 63 year-old man was just served a life sentence for murdering his wife during what he described as an exorcism. The man, who is not affiliated with the Catholic church, claims he lost control while performing the ritual.
  10. The ritual performed by sanctioned priests varies; however, most involve sprinkling holy water, reciting Psalms and reading aloud gospels and the Lord's prayer. The laying of hands or blowing on a face and making the sign of the cross may also be employed. In the Philippines, one bishop recommends mixing holy water with rock salt.