For as long as the Roman Catholic Church has waged its fight for righteousness in the world, it has also battled evil spirits, or demons. Generally, special orders, or authorized groups of Catholics -- usually from the clergy -- dedicate themselves to eradicating demonic spirits. But there are records of lay Catholics also participating.
While it's true that the Catholic Church has organized specific orders to combat evil spirits, the "Catholic Encyclopedia" notes that lay members are believed to have expelled demons through earnest prayer. Catholic leadership considers such exorcisms as evidence of God's power over the demons. Typically, the lay Catholic fighting an evil spirit addresses the demon in the name of God or in the name of Jesus Christ.
Historically, the Catholic Church allowed "minor orders" of qualified Catholics to exorcise evil spirits. These orders were split into at least four groups -- acolytes, door-keepers, exorcists and lectors -- that were apparently active in at least the third century. Nowadays, though, the church has abolished these minor orders and, instead, has given that authority only to priests with a reputation of being strong, faithful and spiritually pure. The catechism states that these priests must have piety, knowledge, prudence and integrity.
These days, no official Catholic exorcism takes place without the approval and oversight of a priest or bishop. Furthermore, lay Catholics are warned that even though lay persons were allowed to combat evil spirits in the past, they don't have the authority to interact with demons directly. Instead, any Catholic looking for help in exorcising spirits is encouraged to do so with the help of a priest.
Some of the Catholic Church's prominent exorcists have included Pope John Paul II, Angelo Mascheroni, Gabriele Amorth and Gary Thomas. Only a relatively small group of Catholic exorcists exist throughout the world; partly because, according to church leadership, true demonic possession is rare and extraordinary, so there's no need for an exorcist in every parish. Still, many Catholics believe there's a genuine need for exorcists, pointing to the fact that Jesus Christ himself cast out demons, as did some of his disciples.
- New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia - Exorcist
- New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia - Exorcism
- The Vatican: Letter To Ordinaries Regarding Norms on Exorcism
- New York Times: For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism Is Revived
- YouVersion Bible: Acts 16:16-18
- The Independent: Catholic Church Sets Up an Exorcist Hotline to Deal With Demand
- U.S. Catholic: They're Baaack! What's Behind the Return of the Exorcist
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