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Human Nature: Science & Catholic Doctrine

Exorcism

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The Catechism explains that exorcism is a particular form of sacramental:

When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.
#1637

Exorcism has recently drawn attention due to a recent book and movie about Fr. Gary Thomas, exorcist of the Diocese of San Jose, California.[1] A Baltimore conference on exorcism Nov. 12-13 has also stirred interest.[2]

Illness or Demonic?Edit

The relevant distinction, whether psychological treatment or exorcism is called for, seems to be between physical evil (e.g. psychological illness) and moral evil (i.e. the Evil One). The Catechism explains elsewhere the important distinction between these:

...with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world "in a state of journeying" towards its ultimate perfection. In God's plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.
Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world...
#310-311

Legal IssuesEdit

Commonweal's Cathleen Kaveny, transparently incredulous about the whole notion of exorcism, raises an interesting legal issue:

Can you be exorcised against your will? ...
...The Texas Supreme Court decided that the First Amendment confers some protection upon the practice of exorcism. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear the case. Texas’s interpretation of the First Amendment is not binding upon other states, however, and the U.S.C.T.’s denial of certioriai does not mean that it agreed with the result. What do you think of this decision?
Remember, the legal framework around exorcism will not be tailored to Catholics–other faiths perform them as well.

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