On its own admission the Catholic church has experienced a couple of wobbles in recent years whereby it has found itself in the position of embracing green-politics and even having to deny the existence of the Devil in an attempt to bring the religion up to date. With the head of the Jesuits stating that Satan is a ‘symbolic figure’ who doesn’t really exist. In an interview with the Spanish paper El Mundo, Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, the Jesuit’s Superior General, said: “We have created symbolic figures, such as the devil, in order to express [the reality of] evil,” when asked if he believed evil is a process of human psychology or if it comes from a higher being.
And yet in an article in the Independent 8th October 2018, Pope Francis says that the devil is alive and well and working overtime to undermine the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, according to journalist Philip Pullella, the Pope is so convinced that Satan is to blame for the sexual abuse crisis and deep divisions racking the Church that he asked Catholics around the world to recite a special prayer every day during that month to try to beat him back. “We should not think of the devil – the great accuser [sic … No Your Holiness, that’s a satan!] – as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable,” he wrote in a papal document.
Historically, the Superior General of the Jesuits has been dubbed the ‘Black Pope’ because of his influence in the Church and Fr Abascal referring to the devil as a symbol follows a trend within current Catholic leadership of downplaying and even denying the existence of hell altogether. The problem of evil in the Christian view, however, refers to the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with an omnipotent, omnipresent and omnibenevolent God; an argument for evil claims that because evil exists, either God does not exist, or does not have all three of those properties to combat it. Which reminders me of a trick question that was going round the pagan camps many years ago: ‘Can God create a stone that he can’t lift?’
This on-going debate concerning the problem of evil generally applies to the monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism who believe in a God who is all powerful; but the question of ‘why does evil exist?’ has also been studied in religions that are non-theistic or polytheistic, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. It also refers to the challenge of reconciling belief in an omnipotent God, with the existence of evil and all the suffering in the world – especially as the three warring Abrahamic religions, i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have the same root faith. The Devil and/or Satan has no relevance outside the ‘Big Three’ since those of a pagan persuasion have no reason to include the Bad Guy of monotheisim in their pantheon.
And yet … there is (once again) an ominous undercurrent bubbling away in the religious press. The most frightening aspect of current Church opinion was the announcement in the Irish Times in January 2018 that a ‘renowned Irish exorcist and priest has called on the Catholic Church to appoint more exorcists and that the church needed at least one trained exorcist for each diocese because ‘Irish people are being ravaged by demonic possession’. The priest said the Catholic Church was ‘out of touch with reality’ as they were sending sufferers of possession to psychologists instead of performing the ritual of exorcism! The Catholic Communications Office even confirmed the church did require that each Irish diocese have a trained exorcist; i.e. someone who knows how to distinguish the signs of demonic possession from those of mental or physical illness.
Deborah Hyde writing in The Guardian, however, opened her report by saying that ‘exorcism is intrinsic to Christianity’ and revealed that the Vatican had set up a new exorcism training course, following an alleged increase in demonic possession: there are half a million cases reported in Italy yearly, and demand for assistance has tripled. ‘To claim that such a large number of Italians have been inadvertently contaminated by Satan, like some paranormal STD, is a significant aspersion on a nation of 60 million people.’ Hyde continued:
‘A quick breeze around the Catholic Herald website certainly confirms that exorcism is a live topic. And in 2014, the Vatican officially recognised the International Association of Exorcists. But another thing bothers me: the class of specialists produced by exorcism courses and professional bodies. These specialists derive status from the practice of their ‘skills’, in the manner of Maslow’s hammer: when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. An investment in the intellectual models of demonic possession and exorcism can bring catastrophic momentum. A quick look at history demonstrates how just one educated yet gullible fool can wreak havoc: in the witch-hunts of Labourd, in France, in 1609, Pierre de Lancre brought at least 70 people to the stake. There are many more career witch-hunters of whom similar stories can be told.’
While the Catholic News Agency in Rome reported demonic possessions were on the increase in Italy, the Vatican was hosting a week-long training programme to better prepare exorcists for ministry. ‘Today we are at a stage crucial in history: Many Christians no longer believe in [the devil’s] existence, few exorcists are appointed and there are no more young priests willing to learn,’ said one of the event’s speakers, according to Vatican News … Nevertheless, to the Church, demonic possession will always refer to demons of The Exorcist variety and dealt with accordingly – although the rest of us could be forgiven for thinking that after two thousand years of murder, inquisition and intolerance it’s a wonder that any churchman still feels he can hold the moral high ground as far as the Devil is concerned.’
Marc Cramer, who holds a MA in psychology and a leading authority on parapsychological issues, as well as a member of the Society for Psychical Research, authored The Devil Within -the result of extensive study and research into the subject, as well as first-hand witnessing of possession. Cramer reached three fundamental conclusions: Firstly that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of all reported cases of possession had been induced by hysteria, or are outright frauds; and that true demonical possession is exceedingly rare. While he believed that the existence of manifestations of possession are something distinct from ‘mythomania’ or madness, it did not follow through that the possession is actually caused by evil spirits or demons. He also explained that while there is every reason to believe that so-called demon infestation is a psychological (but not supernatural) event, the syndrome is not directly related to other mental disorders, and belongs to a different category.
Once again, with history repeating itself, the Church is again finding itself in a position of weakness and hitting back with all its medieval weaponry intact. Despite the head of the Jesuit Order, an important influence in Catholic thought and education, are denying the existence of hell – their ‘Boss’ is stating quite categorically that the Devil is alive and well and living wherever he chooses.
Now, a year later, the Catholic Voice publishes two double-page features entitled ‘7 Steps to Reclaim the Catholic Faith in a Neo-Pagan Modern Culture’ and ‘Defence Against the Devil: Priest Offers Key to Spiritual Protection’. The first is a book promo that is reminiscent of that classic Billy Connelly sketch ‘We are the Christian, we hate the Romans’ … because the theme of the piece is about how Christianity saved the world from those nasty pagan Romans and how ‘our own world looks more and more like the world of the ancient pagans’ as an excuse for the writer to use the ‘neo-pagan’ buzzword when in fact the author obviously knows half of f… all about ‘today’ neo-pagan society’.
The other piece jumps on the Papal bandwagon in another book promo, this written by a church exorcist, which supports the other frightening aspect of current Church opinion and gives the devil his due by advising the newspapers’ readers against directly talking to the devil! A second double page feature in the same publication reverts to a diatribe of superstitious that basically comes up with the same old argument: ‘We know hell is real in the same way that we know the devil is real – from the Bible.’ But no mention that the Bible is the product of Christian mistransliteration.
The free Catholic monthly newspaper, Alive, also adopted the ‘neo-pagan’ buzzword for: ‘Púca Festival: Ireland’s Dangerous Neo-pagan Revival’, which included the statement that ‘The Púca festival appears to be an initiation ceremony into the occult. The Catholic understands that there is a real danger of being opened to demonic spirits by taking part in pagan rituals …’
A study has showed more than eight in ten Catholics believed the devil is just a symbol but if the devil isn’t real then Catholic theology falls apart. The ‘devil and all his legions’ are a necessary superstition if the exorcists can be justified in being brought back in force to shore up a crumbling edifice. And with the Catholic Church in Ireland having its sordid under-belly exposed with depressing regularity in recent years, one would have thought the Vatican would have wanted to avoid scoring any more home-goals on the subject of evil!
Nevertheless, as at Belshazzar’s feast, the writing’s on the wall and we need to be aware that this is exactly how the 1980s anti-occult crusade started off. So, forget ‘Perfect love and perfect trust’ and remember the words of the Interfaith anti-pagan lobby who commented at that time: ‘We don’t need to go undercover. All we need to do is be nice to them and they tell us everything we want to know …’
The Arte of Darkness by Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Press UK. Available from https://www.feedaread.com/books/The-Arte-of-Darkness-9781788769198.aspx at a discounted price.