For decades, the Catholic hierarchy in this country scoffed at the practice. Now it's becoming mainstream - even the Catholic diocese of Arlington, Virginia has a Vatican-trained exorcist on staff.
Just this summer, home video surfaced of Pope Francis performing what theological experts are calling an exorcism. It clearly shows a wheelchair-bound man convulsing after being touched by the pontiff. But with this main stream acceptance, comes abuse...sometimes, within the church itself.
Father Thomas Euteneuer is the former president of Human Life International, an anti-abortion ministry, based in Front Royal, Virginia. According to a lawsuit filed against HLI and the Arlington Catholic diocese, by a woman known only as "Jane Doe," Father Euteneuer presided over a two-year-long exorcism to resolve what he called "her severe case of unclean spirits."
The complaint describes multiple incidents of inappropriate touching. It reads: "he kissed the corners of her mouth; stroked her legs, breasts and thighs; caressed her face; laid his body on top of hers; and frequently explained full, passionate kisses as 'blowing the holy spirit into her.'"
Dr. Andrew Chesnut is the Bishop Walter Sullivan Chair in Catholic studies and professor of religious studies at VCU. He concedes the Euteneuer exorcism is rare, but adds don't be fooled, exorcisms happen on a weekly basis in Virginia - most are non-sanctioned, and the vast majority are within the state's Latin community.
In June of this year, Eder Guzman-Rodriguez, of Floyd, Virginia was sentenced to 20 years, convicted of punching and strangling his 2-year-old daughter to death - claiming she was possessed by a demon. He confessed her death happened during an exorcism. His neighbor and good friend says it all seems like a bad dream.
These were just lay people, informally doing it on their own, with a 2-year-old. And of course, a 2-year-old is going to be extremely physically vulnerable," said Dr. Chesnut.
Dr. Chesnut says these type of exorcisms are commonplace in the Latin world, and with the explosion of Hispanic immigration, the religious practices naturally follow.
"These type of unsanctioned exorcisms, without the presence of a priest or preacher, happen all the time, and they're the ones more likely to end up in either physical abuse or unfortunately death!" said Dr. Chesnut.
The changing demographics of Virginia are changing the way we worship. When it comes to exorcism, the shift has already started - meaning the practice will only grow.
"Wherever you have a diocese that has a critical mass of Latinos, it's quite possible that you will see an official exorcist appointed in that particular diocese, I definitely could see that."
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