The Return of Exorcism

While exorcism had virtually disappeared as a practice in Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism through most of the 20th century, it has made a significant come back in the last 30 years. It received great popular attention with the publication of the book and the film The Exorcist in the 1970s. In the same period, the exorcism of a German girl attracted worldwide attention. When she died, the priests/exorcists and the girl's parents were convicted of unintended manslaughter. While the exorcisms had continued over an extended period of time, she was also diagnosed and treated for epilepsy by a physician (Goodman, 1981). The Archbishop of New York permitted an exorcism of a teenage girl to be broadcast on the ABC program 20/20. In this case the girl had been diagnosed and was under treatment for schizophrenia.

What is interpreted as possession requiring exorcism in a given situation varies widely but seems to involve some common features. One of these is uncharacteristic behavior. Hensely (1993) tells the story of a man, in the Ohio-Kentucky border area, who is believed by an exorcizing minister to be possessed. Carl, a humble and meek man, has outbursts of violence. This is said to be due to people who died violent deaths in a club location Carl frequented, and whose spirits have not moved on.

As of 2001, there are frequent reports of exorcisms in national newspapers and magazines; a Seattle radio station reportedly conducts exorcisms over the air. (See also Cuneo's, 2001, review of the current state of exorcism in America.)

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