The trailer of the upcoming Russell Crowe movie The Pope’s Exorcist indicates
that the film might not do justice to the Italian exorcist Father
Gabriel Amorth or the rite of exorcism as practiced in the Catholic
Church, according to an exorcist organization Amorth himself helped to
International Association of Exorcists on March 7 voiced concern that
the film seems to fall under the category of “splatter cinema,” which it
calls a “sub-genre of horror.”
The Vatican, the statement said, is filmed with a high-contrast “chiaroscuro” effect seen in film noir.
This gives the film a Da Vinci Code
effect to instill in the public the usual doubt: who is the real enemy?
The devil or ecclesiastical ‘power’?” the exorcists' association said.
effects are “inevitable” in every film about demonic possession,
“everything is exaggerated, with striking physical and verbal
manifestations, typical of horror films,” the group said.
way of narrating Don Amorth’s experience as an exorcist, in addition to
being contrary to historical reality, distorts and falsifies what is
truly lived and experienced during the exorcism of truly possessed
people,” said the association, which claims more than 800 exorcist
members and more than 120 auxiliary members worldwide.
addition, it is offensive with regard to the state of suffering in
which those who are victims of an extraordinary action of the devil find
themselves,” the group’s statement added. The statement responded to
the release of the movie trailer and promised a more in-depth response
to the film’s April 14 theatrical release.
Amorth, who died at age 91 in 2016, said he performed an estimated
100,000 exorcisms during his life. He was perhaps the world’s best-known
exorcist and the author of many books, including An Exorcist Tells His Story, reportedly an inspiration for the upcoming movie.
Several of Father Amorth’s books are carried by the U.S. publisher Sophia Institute Press. The publisher’s newly released book The Pope's Exorcist: 101 Questions About Fr. Gabriele Amorth is an interview in which the priest addresses many topics ranging from prayer to pop music.
Michael Lichens, editor and spokesperson at Sophia Institute Press, voiced some agreement with the exorcist group.
International Association of Exorcists is right to be concerned and I’m
thankful for their words,” Lichens told CNA. “My hope is that audiences
will remember that Father Amorth is a real person with a great legacy
and perhaps a few moviegoers will look up an interview or pick up his
was a man who included Saint Padre Pio and Blessed Giacomo Alberione as
mentors, as well as Servant of God Candido Amantini who was his teacher
for the ministry of exorcism,” he said. “Father Amorth fought as a
partisan as a young man and grew to fight greater evil as an exorcist.
His life is an inspiration and I know that his work and words will still
was born in Modena, Italy on May 1, 1925. In wartime Italy, he was a
soldier with the underground anti-fascist partisans. He was ordained a
priest in 1951. He did not become an exorcist until 1986, when Cardinal
Ugo Poletti, the vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, named him the
The priest was frequently in the news for his comments on the subject of demonic forces. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph
in 2000, he said, “I speak with the devil every day. I talk to him in
Latin. He answers in Italian. I have been wrestling with him, day in,
day out, for 14 years."
The movie The Pope’s Exorcist
claims to be “inspired by the actual files of the Vatican’s chief
exorcist.” The Sony Pictures movie stars the New Zealand-born actor
Russell Crowe as Father Amorth. Crowe’s character wears a gray beard and
speaks English with a noticeable accent.
majority of cases do not require an exorcism,” the Father Amorth
character says in the movie’s first trailer. A cardinal explains that
Crowe’s character recommends 98% of people who seek an exorcism to
doctors and psychiatrists instead.
“The other 2%... I call it… evil,” Crowe adds.
The plot appears to
concern Father Amorth’s encounter with a particular demon. Crowe’s
character suggests the Church “has fought this demon before” but covered
“We need to find out why,” he says.
trailer shows short dramatic scenes of exorcism, including a
confrontation between Father Amorth and a girl apparently suffering
International Association of Exorcists said such a representation makes
exorcism become “a spectacle aimed at inspiring strong and unhealthy
emotions, thanks to a gloomy scenography, with sound effects such as to
inspire only anxiety, restlessness and fear in the viewer.”
“The end result is
to instill the conviction that exorcism is an abnormal, monstrous and
frightening phenomenon, whose only protagonist is the devil, whose
violent reactions can be faced with great difficulty,” said the exorcist
group. “This is the exact opposite of what occurs in the context of
exorcism celebrated in the Catholic Church in obedience to the
directives imparted by it.”
CNA sought comment from Sony Pictures and The Pope’s Exorcist executive producer Jesuit Father Edward Siebert, but did not receive a response by publication.
Amorth co-founded the International Association of Exorcists with
Father René Laurentin in 1994. In 2014 the Catholic Church recognized
the group as a Private Association of the Faithful.
association trains exorcists and promotes their incorporation into
local communities and normal pastoral care. It also aims to promote
“correct knowledge” about exorcism ministry and collaboration with
medical and psychiatric experts who have competence in spirituality.
Exorcism is considered a sacramental, not a sacrament, of the Church. It is a liturgical rite that only a priest can perform.
Hollywood made the topic a focus most famously in the 1973 movie The Exorcist, based on the novel by William Peter Blatty.
movies about Catholicism and spiritual warfare sensationalize,” Lichens
of Sophia Institute Press told CNA. “Sensationalism and terror sell
tickets. As a fan of horror movies, I can understand and even appreciate
that. As a Catholic who has studied Father Amorth, though, I think such
sensationalism distorts the important work of exorcism.”
“On the other hand, The Exorcist
made the wider public more curious about this overlooked ministry. That
is a good thing that came out, despite other reservations and
concerns,” he continued. “Still, I would love it if a screenwriter and
director spoke to exorcists and tried to show the often-quotidian parts
of the ministry.”
An unhealthy curiosity can be a problem, said Lichens.
I work as a spokesperson for Father Amorth’s books, I am always
concerned about inspiring curiosity about the demonic,” he told CNA. “As
Christians, we know we have nothing to fear from the demonic but
curiosity might lead some to want to seek out the supernatural or the
demonic. Father Amorth has dozens of stories of people who found
themselves afflicted after party game seances.”
encouraged those who are curious to read more of Father Amorth’s
writings, some of which are excerpted on the Catholic Exchange website.
Sophia Institute Press has published Diary of an American Exorcist by Monsignor Stephen Rosetti and The Exorcism Files by the American lay Catholic Adam Blai.
and foremost, Father Amorth was involved in a healing ministry,” said
Lichens. “Like other exorcists, his work often involved doctors in
physical and mental health because the goal is to bring healing and hope
to the potentially afflicted.”
“Those of us who
read [Father] Amorth might have been excited to read first-hand accounts
of spiritual warfare, but readers quickly see a man whose heart was
always full of love for those who sought his help,” he added.
The International Association of Exorcists, for its part, praised the 2016 documentary Deliver Us,
saying this shows “what exorcism really is in the Catholic Church and
“the authentic traits of a Catholic exorcist.” It shows exorcism as “a
most joyful event,” in their view, because through experiencing “the
presence and action of Christ the Lord and of the Communion of the
Saints,” those who are “tormented by the extraordinary action of the
devil gradually find liberation and peace.”