VENICE (ChurchMilitant.com) - A new documentary is providing laymen unprecedented insight into the rite of exorcism.
The latest project of Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin, "The Devil and Father Amorth," opened last week at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.
The picture provides an up-close look at the case of "Cristina," an architect in her late 30s, undergoing her ninth session in a months-long battle against a demon within her.
Father Amorth established strict controls over the shoot. Friedkin was only permitted to film alone and could not use lights. Using a high-definition Sony still camera, he positioned himself roughly two feet from the priest and the woman.
Cristina spends much of the exorcism "thrashing and growling in her chair." Her voice "drops an octave," and she emits growls of "I am Satan!" and "We are legion!" and "No, no, no!"
After gathering footage of the exorcism, Friedkin consulted with top U.S. neurologists, brain surgeons and psychiatrists about the case. "The brain surgeons had no idea what her affliction was and none of them would recommend an operation," he noted.
"They believe that everything originates in the brain but — and they say this in the film — they have never seen anything quite like these symptoms."
The psychiatrists' reaction was more surprising:
[A]ll described how psychiatry now recognizes demonic possession. It's called dissociative identity disorder/demonic possession. And if a patient comes in and says they are possessed by a demon or a devil, they don't tell them that they are not. … They do whatever psychiatric treatment they think is necessary, including medication. And they bring an exorcist in.
Surveying the collapse of morality across the West, in 2004 Pope St. John Paul II warned the decline of faith was opening doors to a new surge of demonic activity. To combat this, he recommended every diocese appoint its own resident exorcist.
The Holy Father's call spurred U.S. bishops to foster exorcism education and training for their priests. From this in 2012 came the Pope Leo XIII Institute, a center dedicated to promoting "the spiritual formation of priests to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil."
In 2004, roughly a dozen exorcists were active in the United States. In 2015, the Institute graduated its first class of 55 exorcists and 52 more will graduate this fall.
Still, U.S. Church officials warn this is not enough to keep up with demand. A sharp rise in demonic activity is being reported throughout the United States, owing to increases in drug and pornography addiction, the explosion in occult activity and other mortal sins.
According to Fr. Vincent Lampert, an exorcist in the archdiocese of Indianapolis, society's present condition is a natural result of its drift away from God. "The decline in faith," he observes, referencing Scripture, "goes hand in hand with the rise in evil."
Before his death in 2016, Fr. Amorth said much the same. Satan's influence, he noted, is more evident at certain points in time, including our own:
[T]here is no doubt that Satan's power is felt more keenly in periods of history when the sinfulness of the community is more evident. For example, when I view the decadence of the Roman Empire, I can see the moral disintegration of that period in history. Now, we are at the same level of decadence, partly as a result of the misuse of the mass media (which are not evil in themselves) and partly because of Western consumerism and materialism, which have poisoned our society.