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The Vatican hopes to step up its game against demon possessions with a week-long international conference in April to address a threefold increase in demand in Italy alone for the services of exorcists.
The church is particularly alarmed over the uneven skills of some of its current exorcists and worried about priests who are no longer willing to learn the techniques.
The assessment is a major finding of a four-day meeting in Sicily that included testimony on sects and Satanism, according to Vatican Radio.
One of the organizers of the Sicily gathering, Friar Beningo Palilla, told Vatican Radio there are some 500,000 cases requiring exorcism in Italy each year.
He blames the increase in recent years on a growing number of people seeking the services of fortune tellers and Tarot readers. Such practices “open the door to the devil and to possession,” he said.
While many of the cases are not actually related to demonic possession, but to spiritual or psychological problems, he conceded, they nonetheless must be investigated.
In any event, Palilla, a priest in Palermo, is calling for an across-the-board improvement in training.
“We priests, very often, do not know how to deal with the concrete cases presented to us: in the preparation for the priesthood, we do not talk about these things,” he said.
Palilla is particularly concerned about some do-it-yourselfers within the priesthood.
“A self-taught exorcist certainly meets errors,” he said. “I will say more: it would also take a period of apprenticeship, as happens for many professionals.”
Palilla also said it is not enough for the bishop to appoint a priest to become an exorcist, but that neo-exorcists “should work alongside an expert to learn in the field.”
Exorcism is recognized under the Catholic Church’s canon law but can only performed with high-level permission from within the church.
Four years ago, the Vatican backed the International Association of Exorcists, which was founded in 1990 and has licensed some 200 members on six continents.
The weeklong international course will be held in April at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, an educational institute of the Catholic Church in Rome.
Palilla said the gathering is billed as the first in the world on exorcism with a goal “to offer a rich reflection and articulation on a topic that is sometimes unspoken and controversial.”