CANNES (ChurchMilitant.com) - The director of horror classic "The Exorcist" is claiming the Vatican permitted him to film an actual exorcism.
Speaking at the Cannes Film Festival in France Thursday, director William Friedkin alleges he was invited earlier this month "by the Vatican to shoot and video an actual exorcism." The 80-year-old filmmaker, best known for 1973's "The Exorcist" and 1971's "The French Connection," noted the ritual of exorcism is one "few people have ever seen and which nobody has ever photographed."
"I don't think I will ever be the same having seen this astonishing thing," he remarked to the festival audience. "I am not talking about some cult, I am talking about an exorcism by the Catholic Church in Rome."
Following reports of the director's claim, a spokesman for the Vatican denied "making any such invitation," as the Vatican itself "does not have an exorcist." The spokesman noted, however, that people often "confuse any Catholic initiative/organization/person with the Vatican."
The winner of two Academy Awards, Friedkin's film was based on 1971's "The Exorcist" by Catholic author William Peter Blatty, which in turn was loosely based on the 1949 case of a Maryland teenager who became the alleged victim of demonic possession. Referred to as "Roland Doe," the boy had begun exhibiting odd behavior after an aunt, who was a self-described spiritualist, introduced him to the Ouija board.
The case, carefully recorded by an attending priest, claimed that soon afterward household objects and furniture began moving by themselves and flying or levitating when the boy was present; the patient then began demonstrating a superhuman strength and exhibited a repulsion to anything religious or sacred. Reportedly as many as 48 people witnessed the multiple exorcisms performed on Doe.
"When I started I thought I was making a horror film and then the priest, who was the president of Georgetown University, let me read these diaries and I knew that it was not a horror film," Friedkin recalled. "This was a case of exorcism. ... I'm convinced that there was no other explanation."
"Everything having to do with medical science and psychiatry was attempted," he continued. "This young man suffered from afflictions very similar to what's in the film, as hard as that is to believe." Friedkin admitted he wholly "believed" the story of Roland Doe, and as a result directed the film as "a believer" in demonic possession and the rite of exorcism.
"I'm not Catholic," he revealed. "I don't go to church, I don't belong to a church or a synagogue." But the filmmaker did acknowledge his subscription to the "teachings of Jesus" despite being the son of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. "I believe they are incredibly profound and beautiful and we know that [Jesus] existed. ... [T]he fact that [Jesus] over 2,000 years ago preached in the desert, on street corners and in synagogues and there is no recording of his voice. .. yet billions of people have believed in the idea of Jesus Christ. ... There must be something in there."
Friedkin has not revealed if or when the alleged footage shot this year is to be released.
The Catholic Church's official manual for the rite, titled "Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications," and which dates back to 1614, lists signs of demonic possession as including "loss or lack of appetite; cutting, scratching, and biting of skin; change in the person's voice; an intense hatred and violent reaction toward all religious objects or items," among several other signs. The Rite received its first update in 1999, with the revisions stressing the need to affirm the possession is not simply mental illness, in addition to discouraging media coverage of the ritual.
In 2004 Pope St. John Paul II urged every bishop to have an exorcist within his diocese.