Why did exorcisms boom during pandemic?
The Italian Catholic priest Father Gian Matteo Roggio has claimed some people believe that a “malignant force” is behind the global health crisis and that the feeling is particularly strong among those who have been badly affected by COVID-19.
Roggio told a conference of exorcist priests in Rome: “We have seen an increase in the request for exorcisms because the pandemic has made people more vulnerable to the idea that Satan or some evil entity has taken over their lives.
“People have fallen into poverty, they found themselves suffering from anxiety and depression. They feel that their lives are no longer in their own hands but in the hands of a malign force. It’s a big crisis.”
Roggio also described some of the dramatic changes that take place in people who have been possessed by demons.
He said: “People speak languages they have never spoken before, even ancient tongues like Aramaic, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. They’re able to levitate off the ground or they vomit objects like nails and pieces of glass.”
A Catholic priest who gets thousands of calls for exorcisms a year around central Indiana says the isolation that the coronavirus pandemic has brought has only made it worse.
But, it’s the extra time the pandemic has provided that has given him the time to write a book about his experiences.
The Rev. Vince Lampert grew up on the west side of Indianapolis in the Haughville neighborhood. He was the the seventh of nine children.
When he was initially appointed to the exorcism ministry, he was one of 12 in the United States. Now, there’s more than 125.
After 15 years, he’s seen it all.
“I’ve seen levitation, eyes rolled to the back of the head, foaming at the mouth, people falling on the floor and slither like a snake across the ground,” Lampert said. “Speaking languages otherwise unknown to an individual, exhibiting superhuman strength.”
While they are actions that seem straight from a Hollywood script, Lampert said it’s a battle that priests have been fighting for millennia. No matter how terrifying it might seem to some, he said, there’s nothing that scares him. “No, not when it comes to demonic. I don’t lose sleep over this.”
Lampert is the appointed exorcist for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He’s also the pastor of two parishes in Franklin County, which includes St. Peter Church and St. Michael Church in Brookville.
He’s been an ordained priest for 30 years including for the last 15 years when he has also served as the archbishop’s appointed exorcist, ever since the previous person died.
The priest has a sense of humor about it.
“I always say I was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Lampert said. “I looked around to make sure there wasn’t someone else behind me that he was actually talking to.”
He went to Rome where he apprenticed under a Franciscan priest for three months, witnessing 40 exorcisms.
He said it was an eye-opening experience that taught him not to focus on the forces he was battling against, but the power he has at his disposal.
“It’s not me. I don’t have any special powers or abilities. If we’re relying on me, we’re all in trouble. But if we’re relying on the power and authority of Jesus Christ that he’s given to his church, that’s the right sentiment to have.”
The Catholic church recognizes four types of extraordinary demonic activity: mental attacks called obsessions; physical attacks called vexations; demonic possessions like in the movie “The Exorcist”; and infestations of locations or objects like hauntings.
“I do thousands of these a year,” Lampert said. “But true cases of demonic possessions, maybe one a year.”
He said infestations are not a result of a spirit living in that location because he believes demons don’t occupy time and space in the same way humans do. But, it’s a result of them choosing to act there.
While there are plenty of programs on cable television involving the subject and people hunting ghosts, Lampert’s got no interest.
“I don’t watch any of those programs on TV anymore. I think I get to see it real. So, there’s no purpose to watching it. A lot of those programs are true.”
Lampert used to get five or six calls a day from all over the world. Now, it’s from 10-12 a day. He estimates it takes up about half of his time as priest.
“That tells me when people are isolated and dealing with mental health issues that the number of calls has really escalated.”
Lampert said while the number of appointed exorcists in America has risen in recent years, other cultures and backgrounds which are more willing to accept demonic activity has a reality have much larger numbers.
He’s trained to be ever the skeptic.
His first step when someone reaches out for help is to get them in touch with their local priest or pastor who can provide more ongoing, long-term care, even if it’s a different faith tradition. The process often requires a psychiatric evaluation as well as an evaluation from a medical doctor as a way of eliminating all other possible causes like mental or physical illness before landing on the supernatural.
“I should be the last one to believe someone is dealing with the demonic,” Lampert said.
He’ll even use some secret tests to make sure someone isn’t faking or perhaps misled; for example, pulling out a vial of tap water rather than holy water and see how the individual reacts. He’ll also bring sacred objects and read Scripture to see how someone might react and if they have elevated perception to what is happening.
He said sometimes it’s easier for someone to believe something else is doing this to them than it is to accept they have schizophrenia or another mental illness.
Part of his job is also to determine why there is demonic activity at this location or inside an person. He said often the root is the occult, but in some cases it’s giving into an unhealthy brokenness such as anger, “giving the devil a foothold.”
As for the average person, the priest said, they do not need to worry about demonic possession.
“Evil is nothing to fear. If a person truly has faith, there’s nothing to fear,” Lampert said. “If you’re a person of faith and you’re living out your relationship with God, if you’re praying, the devil is already on the run. We don’t have to do anything extraordinary to fight the devil.”
Many exorcists choose to keep their identity secret. Lampert does not.
In fact, the pandemic gave him the time he needed to write a book about his experiences titled “Exorcism: The Battle Against Satan and His Demons,” which is currently for sale online from a couple vendors including Amazon. He wants to share his ministry to educate people.
“For skeptics, I can just propose that I look at myself as an ambassador for the church so I present what the church believes and teaches and then it’s ultimately up to people to decide what they’re going to do with that,” Lampert said.
The priest said there are two different types of proscribed prayer for exorcisms: a supplication to God asking for help, and a command for a demon to leave. He said they always have an immediate effect. But in exorcisms where the healing isn’t complete, he always finds the person is always holding onto something or holding back the full truth. They also have to want to be healed.
Lampert is also a part of International Association of Exorcists, a Roman Catholic group that was founded about 30 years ago. He said there’s about 700 members around the globe. For people living outside central Indiana, it’s often comes in handy to network with people and ask for help with an exorcist who is closer geographically to them. However, he’s traveled all around the globe on various cases.
For him to travel to help a Catholic outside the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, it requires the permission of the bishop of that diocese who, by his title, is the appointed Catholic exorcist, unless they appoint someone such as Lampert to perform that role for them.