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Published January 28 2011

Morast: Exorcism back on screen

"The Rite” opens today, making it the latest film in a long tradition that exploits the inherent freakiness of the religious exorcism.

As the centerpiece of a horror flick, exorcism is a can’t-lose premise capitalizing on the idea that demons from another realm can take over your body and give you the voice of a heavy-metal singer and a body that can contort like a circus sideshow.

“The Rite,” like many of its predecessors, amplifies the fright index by describing the movie with that attention-grabbing phrase “inspired by true events.”

It begs the question: Are exorcisms real?

Well, according to YouTube videos and the people who call in to the “Coast to Coast AM” radio show, sure.

But those places also pimp Sasquatch like he’s a cast member of a reality TV show.

So, we’re back to the question; are films like “The Rite” really based on reality, or are they just exaggerating some scary campfire stories to abuse the credibility of using a “based on true events” tag?

According to your friendly neighborhood Catholic Diocese, exorcisms are legit. And religious leaders are trained to expel the devil from possessed humans.

For real.

Whether it scares you or fascinates you, the Diocese of Fargo is quite open about the ideas of exorcisms – apparently, it’s not the back-alley, hush-hush topic my Catholic friends made it out to be.

A representative for the diocese confirmed that exorcisms are part of the practice – though, not a common one – of Catholicism. And they even tried to hook me up with a member of the faith who could talk about the subject. But he’s on sabbatical this week – hmmm, “sabbatical,” code word for “exorcism”?

Probably not. While the names of those afflicted and some of the exorcism agents are kept secret, the battle against demonic possessions is surprisingly open.

For instance, last November there was a Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism held in Baltimore. Some of our local officials were in attendance.

And in 2007, several media outlets reported that Pope Benedict XVI ordered the assemblage of “exorcist squads” to battle Satan’s vacation inside unfortunate souls.

And if you’re one of those people who believes the media is “out to get” religion, the Fargo Diocese forwarded this excerpt from the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”:

“The solemn exorcism, called ‘a major exorcism,’ can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.”

I don’t think they’re referencing Voldemort.

And unlike the baddie in “Harry Potter,” the villain in “The Rite” and all those exorcisms sounds like he’s real. That’s scarier than anything Hollywood could send our way.


Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518