May 7, 2012

SASKATOON – Media outlets recently speculated about possessions and exorcism after reports of an incident in which a priest blessed a distraught man with holy water and prayed with the family.

The priest then advised the family to call the police.

The incident in March was a pastoral response to a tense and difficult situation, and the priest did not formally perform the rite of exorcism, said Bishop Donald Bolen.

Suggestions that the incident involved demonic possession are speculation, Bolen added.

The first pastoral action in such situations is to listen respectfully and with compassion, he said. Then professional assistance should be sought to address the problem, he said.

"Prayer and spiritual support are often part of that healing, even when psychology is helpful in explaining what occurred."

As for exorcisms, the Catholic Church affirms that evil exists, and needs to be responded to, he said. Jesus cast out many demons in his ministry, and encouraged the disciples to do likewise in his name.


"In the Christian Scriptures, in Jesus' ministry there were exorcisms, and so it is not something that we can lightly dismiss - but the headline that the bishop of Saskatoon is looking for an exorcist was a vast oversimplification," said Bolen.

Requests for an exorcism require a great deal of investigation, including referrals to appropriate medical and psychiatric specialists. All natural possibilities are considered before a claim of demonic possession is made.

With the promulgation of the new rite of exorcism in 1999, dioceses have been asked to consider how best to respond to questions related to possession, said Bolen.

The Saskatoon Diocese is now studying the practice of other dioceses, and considering whether to set up a "spirit discerning committee" to handle requests for help that might come forth. However, this was not prompted by the incident in March, stressed the bishop.