By Casey Harper
Richard Gallagher, a certified psychiatrist and clinical psychiatry professor at New York Medical College, works with Catholic priests to help them answer one question: Is the tormented patient a victim of mental illness, or could it be demonic possession? Gallagher went into the practice skeptical but has since become convinced that the problem is serious and getting worse. He wrote a piece in The Washington Post explaining his work.
Gallagher said he became convinced when he met a Satanic high priestess in the late 1980s who had abilities he couldn’t explain. She spoke Latin while in a trance and knew that his mother died from ovarian cancer, even though they had never met. Since then, Gallagher said exorcisms are on the rise.
The Vatican does not track global or countrywide exorcism, but in my experience and according to the priests I meet, demand is rising. The United States is home to about 50 “stable” exorcists — those who have been designated by bishops to combat demonic activity on a semi-regular basis — up from just 12 a decade ago, according to the Rev. Vincent Lampert, an Indianapolis-based priest-exorcist who is active in the International Association of Exorcists. (He receives about 20 inquiries per week, double the number from when his bishop appointed him in 2005.) The Catholic Church has responded by offering greater resources for clergy members who wish to address the problem.
Exorcisms are still practiced by the Catholic Church today, though church officials point out these instances are rare.
Exorcism is risky business for priests, and not just the whole battling demons thing either. Two priests in Germany who attempted to exorcise six demons from Anneliese Michel in 1976 ended up under the thumb of the state with negligent manslaughter convictions. Michel refused to eat until she actually starved to death. Her parents were also convicted, and all four were sentenced to three years probation and a suspended six months in prison. The story inspired the 2005 movie, “The Exorcism Of Emily Rose.”
Gallagher says he considers himself “a man of reason” and “a man of science,” and he is very aware of the unbelief of his peers in his profession. He also says that of the mentally ill who believe they are being attacked by an evil spirit, almost all are mistaken. Regardless, as a practicing Catholic, he tries to help where many in his line of work won’t tread.
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