MANILA (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Church in the Philippines needs more exorcists — this according to the archdiocese of Manila, which is reporting a "three-fold" rise in claims of demonic possessions.
"These days we have around 80 to 100 cases at any given time," says Father Jose Francisco Syquia, the chief exorcist at the archdiocese's Office of Exorcism.
The sudden increase in cases of possession has stretched the country's few exorcists thin and, according to Fr. Syquia, most Philippine dioceses do not have in-house exorcists. As a result many of the faithful are turning to "healers and occult practitioners" in the hopes of curing the afflicted.
This route, however, only attracts the demonic and exacerbates the problem, says Fr. Syquia. By the time the exorcists from the archdiocese of Manila are able to see people, the victims are in bad shape.
Earlier this year the archdiocesan exorcism office entreated the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines to assign at least one priest trained in the rite of exorcism in each of the country's 86 dioceses. The conference eagerly supported the proposition, but concerns were raised as to how such a mass influx of new exorcists would be trained.
Father Winston Cabading, the secretary-general of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, stressed the need for a unified approach toward training in order to insure that the rituals were performed correctly. "If you have more exorcists, then each exorcist would have his own way of doing things," he noted.
After attempting one-on-one training, it was decided that a single week-long training course with all of the potential exorcists would be more advantageous; this resulted in the creation of the Philippine Association of Catholic Exorcists, which will work to ensure that both trainers and trainees are on the same page in terms of ritual practices.
A further concern, according to Fr. Cabading, has been the vetting process for lay volunteers who would be needed to aid a lone priest during the ritual. Participants would have to be physically, mentally and spiritually capable of participating, and embody a particularly strong and consistent prayer life.
This mirrors a call from the Vatican earlier this year for more of the laity to be trained in recognizing the signs of demonic possession and taking the proper steps to address it. In April around 170 students gathered in Rome to receive such training, with around 25 percent of participants being lay people.
The necessity of professional training to perform the exorcism rite was reinforced this week in remarks made by Bp. Robert Hermann of the archdiocese of St. Louis, who emphasized that "[e]xorcism is not entertainment" but is "serious business."
His statement came in response to news that cable TV channel Destination America will air a live exorcism Friday night on a house in Bel-Nor, Missouri. The house is famous for being the location of a 1949 exorcism that became the basis for the wildly popular novel and film The Exorcist.
Bishop Hermann stressed that any attempts to willingly communicate with the demonic are gravely serious and incredibly dangerous. "Exorcism is to be done privately," continued the bishop, emphasizing that the live broadcasting of such an event could put any who view the ritual in significant danger.
"Any attempt to use the solemn Rite of Exorcism as entertainment exposes all participators to the danger of future hidden satanic attack," said Bp. Hermann. "We cannot play games with Satan and expect to win."