Their consciousness seems completely colored by’ I he violent sepia of revulsion. Reflexes sometimes become sporadic or abnormal, sometimes disappear for a time. Breathing can cease for extended periods. Heartbeats are hard to detect. The face is strangely distorted, sometimes also abnormally tight and smooth without the slightest line or furrow.
When such a case is brought to their attention, the first and central problem that must always be addressed by the Church authorities is: Is the person really possessed?
Henri Gesland, a French priest and exorcist who works today in Paris, stated in 1974 that, out of 3,000 consultations since 1968, “there have been only four cases of what I believe to be demonic possession.” T. K. Osterreich, on the other hand, states that “possession has been an extremely common phenomenon, cases of which abound in the history of religion.” The truth is that official or scholarly census of possession cases has never been made.
Certainly, many who claim to be possessed or whom others so describe are merely the victims of some mental or physical disease. In reading records from times when medical and psychological science did not exist or were quite undeveloped, it is clear that grave mistakes were made. A victim of disseminated sclerosis, for example, was taken to be possessed because of his spastic jerkings and slidings and the shocking agony in spinal column and joints. Until quite recently, the victim of Tourette’s syndrome was the perfect target for the accusation of “Possessed!”: torrents of profanities and obscenities, grunts, barks, curses, yelps, snorts, sniffs, tics, foot stomping, facial contortions all appear suddenly and just as suddenly cease in the subject.
Nowadays, Tourette’s syndrome responds to drug treatment, and it seems to be a neurological disease involving a chemical abnormality in the brain. Many people suffering from illnesses and diseases well known to us today such as paranoia, Huntington’s chorea, dyslexia, Parkinson’s disease, or even mere skin diseases (psoriasis, herpes I, for instance), were treated as people “possessed” or at least as “touched” by the Devil.
Nowadays, competent Church authorities always insist on thorough examinations of the person brought to them for Exorcism, an examination conducted by qualified medical doctors and psychiatrists.
When a case of possession is reported by a priest to the diocesan authorities, the exorcist of the diocese is brought in. If there is no diocesan exorcist, a man is appointed or brought from outside the diocese.
Sometimes the priest reporting the exorcism will have had some preliminary medical and psychiatric tests run beforehand in order to allay the cautious skepticism he is likely to meet at the chancery when he introduces his problem. When the official exorcist enters the case, he will usually have his own very thorough examinations run by experts he knows and whose judgment he is sure he can trust.
In earlier times, one priest was usually assigned the function of exorcist in each diocese of the Church. In modern times, this practice has fallen into abeyance in some dioceses, mainly because the incidence of reported possession has decreased over the last hundred years. But in most major dioceses, there is still one priest entrusted with this function-even though he may rarely or never use it. In some dioceses, there is a private arrangement between the bishop and one of his priests whom he knows and trusts.
There is no official public appointment of exorcists. In some dioceses, “the bishop knows little about it and wants to know less”-as in one of the cases recorded in this book. But however he comes to his position, the exorcist must have official Church sanction, for he is acting in an official capacity, and any power he has over Evil Spirit can only come from those officials who belong to the substance of Jesus’ Church, whether they be in the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox, or the Protestant Communions. Sometimes a diocesan priest will take on an exorcism himself without asking his bishop, but all such cases known to me have failed.