Fr Gabriele Amorth, Rome's most celebrated exorcist, proved that's only true if you allow it to be, writes John Allen in Crux.
Back in the late 1990s and 2000s, I always said that when Pope John Paul II finally died, those most stunned would be in the Vatican press corps, since we’d lived through so many health scares - we’d watched him fall and get back up so many times, with his iron determination to persevere - that it was psychologically difficult for many of us to accept that such a giant actually had an expiration date.
Another such figure on the Roman scene for the last several decades was Fr Gabriele Amorth, the famed exorcist of Rome, who finally succumbed to complications related to a lung infection on Friday at the age of 91.
For those of us who knew and followed Don Gabriele, it’s hard to imagine Rome without him.
In media accounts Fr Amorth was often referred to as “the Pope’s exorcist,” but that was never really true.
In 1985, Cardinal Ugo Poletti, at the time John Paul’s vicar for the Diocese of Rome, appointed him exorcist of the Diocese, but that doesn’t mean he acted with a Papal mandate.
His was a following linked almost entirely to personality and reputation, not the office.
Over the course of his long career, Fr Amorth estimated he performed more than 70,000 exorcisms, with individual cases sometime stretching for hours or even days, and he often performed repeated exorcisms on the same person if his judgment was that the devil stubbornly refused to let go.
I remember the first time in 2000 I trekked out to his small office in the headquarters of his Pauline order, located near the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. I arrived punctually for a 9am appointment, and waited in an antechamber for an hour and a half while listening to shrieks, cries, and crashes coming from inside what one might call his “treatment room.”
Finally he emerged, looked at me, and said, “è un caso durissimo . . . ma va be, andiamo avanti!” (“It’s a very tough case, but alright, we’ll keep going!”). It turned out he wasn’t finished, merely taking a break to squeeze me in.
He then proceeded to give me a rivetting interview, among other things telling me that if the vast majority of Catholic bishops in the world came to him for confession he’d refuse them absolution, because he believed they had not been faithful to Jesus’ mandate to cast out demons. We talked for about a half-hour, and then he excused himself to get back to business.
Fr Amorth’s 1994 memoir, published in English under the title An Exorcist Tells His Story, became an instant classic, full of demonic possession stories that easily exceed anything from the movie The Exorcist.
He sniffed at the movie when I asked him about it, telling me he thought it significantly downplayed the actual experience.