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By Joshua Gill

Demand for exorcisms is on the rise in both the U.K. and the U.S. according to data from a new report and warnings from church leaders.

A report on mental health issues facing the church published by Theos, a U.K.-based Christian think tank, revealed that exorcism is now a “booming industry in the U.K.” and warned of the inherent harm in confusing mental health issues with demonic activity.

The rise in demand, according to the report, is directly related to an influx of immigrants with pentecostal and charismatic backgrounds — Christian denominations which deal very openly with exorcism and deliverance. Interviewees in the mental health field said in the report that “the vast majority of cases” of people requesting exorcism were actually suffering from mental health issues that required psychiatric care. Neither the church nor the report, however, denied the reality of demonic possession and the need for exorcism in certain cases.

“Jesus’ command was to heal the sick and to cast out demons,” the report reads. “The two are not synonymous. Just as for physical ailments we recommend seeking medical assistance, so it must be for mental illness. This is not to discount the possibility of demonic attacks, but it is to apply caution, in order to ensure that we are best looking after the needs of sufferers.”

Leaders in the Catholic Church noted that the increased demand for exorcisms was not localized to the U.K. but is also seen in the U.S. Catholic leaders’ assessment of the issue. The cause for the increased demand, however, is not simply an issue of immigrant culture, but was also attributed to an increase in demonic activity, according to Father Vincent Lampert, lead exorcist of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

“The problem isn’t that the devil has upped his game, but more people are willing to play it,”  Lampert said in an interview with National Catholic Register (NCR). Among the entry points for demonic activity into someone’s life, Lampert pointed to drug use, the occult, pornography, and in more extreme cases, satanic rituals, all of which Lampert said has been increasing in use in the U.S.

The Catholic church responded to the perceived increase in demonic activity by training more exorcists and developing ministries focused on deliverance and combatting satanic influences, according to NCR. Catholic leaders founded the Pope Leo XII Institute in 2012, which provides spiritual training in exorcism and deliverance to priests, to meet the need for deliverance ministry in the U.S. The institute’s first class of 55 newly trained exorcists graduated in 2015.

The Catholic church in the U.S. became aware of the rise in demonic activity because of an increase in requests for permission to perform exorcisms from priests across the country to their respective bishops, according to Monsignor John Esseff, president of the board of directors for the institute. According to church policy, a priest must obtain permission from their bishop before performing an exorcism in order to have the authority of the church behind them when confronting the demonic. Permission is also obtained so that the church can confirm that the person in question has undergone psychiatric evaluation to rule out the possibility of mental health issues.

“As the acceptance of sin has increased, so, too, has demonic activity,” Esseff told NCR. “The bishops saw the need for more trained exorcists because so many cases were being referred from all over the country to the dioceses that had exorcists.”

Esseff stressed the need for unilateral acceptance of the reality of Satan by priests and bishops, and the importance of their role in combatting demonic evil.

“The only one that can overcome Satan is Jesus,” Esseff said. “He overcomes the kingdom of evil with light. And every priest represents Jesus. The devil does not see the priest — he sees Jesus.”

Still, while the Church of England, which is Anglican, “takes deliverance ministry very seriously,” a spokesperson for the church stressed to Christian Today “our guidelines state that particular caution needs to be exercised, especially when ministering to someone who is in a distressed or disturbed state.”

The report from Theos echoed the Church of England’s caution toward the matter of mental health and exorcism, saying that Christians confusing mental health issues for demonic attack ran “the risk of doing very serious harm.”

“Rather than focusing on limited accounts of explicit mental illness, or demonic possession, more attention ought to be paid to the ability to begin building an authentic Christian language of mental health from the perspective of sufferers,” the report concluded.

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