Here's an interesting article that demonstrates the Catholic church's tacit admission that belief in demons is insanity yet they still insist on spreading the madness.

Is this not the very soul of hypocrisy? They know and essentially admit that demons are delusions; essentially acknowledge that church exorcisms are pointless in that demon-believers are treated as insane; yet they still teach that demons exist. Is this not the very definition of lunacy?


Paris Journal: Exorcist of Notre Dame Doesn't Lack for Clients

PARIS -- At first sight, the exorcist of Notre Dame does not seem capable of frightening anyone, let alone the devil. The Rev. Claude Nicolas is portly and quick-witted and has a merry laugh, a sort of Gallic Friar Tuck. But casting off demons is precisely his task as the resident exorcist of Paris' great medieval cathedral.

He practices this ancient tradition on most weekdays near the great Rose- Window of Notre Dame's South Porch, unnoticed by the stampede of passing tourists. There, behind a glass wall and a sign saying "reception, dialogue," the exorcist can be found, not exhorting in Latin, hoisting a cross or splashing holy water, but saying a quiet prayer, holding someone's hands or applying a drop of holy oil.

"There are a lot of things brewing that disturb people," said the priest, pausing between visits from the faithful and dressed for the occasion in white cassock and purple stole. "There are all sorts of sects and black cults. Some people believe there is a spell on them. Some openly talk about the devil.

"Of course," he added, "the evil spirit often disguises a serious mental problem."

Nicolas is one of the 95 exorcists appointed by the Roman Catholic Church in France. Notre Dame has always had an official exorcist, but, nationwide, the number has not been this high for about a century.

With the approach of the millennium, the demand for exorcism has steadily grown in France and across Europe, a consequence, priests say, of social and cultural dislocation, the erosion of traditional religion and the rise of sects and cults dealing in spiritism. As a result, in recent years, the Vatican has quietly encouraged bishops to name more exorcists.

The practice, of course, is as old as Christianity itself -- and even predates it -- but in Paris, at the offices of the French Bishops' Conference, it is treated confidentially. A spokesman said the church provides no list of exorcists or the yearly number of rites. But he said the church in France now has five times more exorcists than 20 years ago. There is one now in each diocese.

It is Notre Dame, though, with its mighty Gothic vaults, magnetic stained- glass windows and rows of gargoyles, including some in the form of the devil himself, which has special drawing powers. On an average day, Nicolas sees up to a dozen people who in one way or another believe they are pursued by evil. Many are from the Paris region, yet others come from as far away as Nice or Bordeaux, in the south.

"We tell people they can make contacts locally," said Nicolas. "But evidently they think Notre Dame is better." Then he adds with one of his hearty laughs, "Of course, it has a certain brand name."

The Catholic Church, like many Christian churches, teaches that the devil is real and evil spirits exist. But modern theologians have been playing down Satan's influence as they have accepted psychological and psychiatric explanations of abnormal behavior.

Nicolas, 64, an ecclesiastical judge who has also studied psychiatry and sexology, is among this modern group. In conversation and in his recent book "The Demon of Anguish," he does not use words like "demonic possession" but instead speaks of the "confusion" and "suffering" of people who have come to ask for help.

Among them are men and women, many in their 20s to 30s, from Paris' multicultural mix -- some French and others immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean where spiritual possession is part of the culture.

''People come with all sorts of fears, of themselves and of others," he said. ''Often they've been to a witch doctor or a clairvoyant who has tricked them out of a lot of money." In Paris or its outskirts, where many freelance lay exorcists operate, casting off demons can cost from $200 to $2,000.

"True possession, where the person has lost his own will, is very, very rare," he said, harking back to his eight years as an exorcist. "It may happen sometimes with very mystical people."

Nicolas, who combines compassion and skepticism, joking one moment and then again turning dead serious, says he has seen his share of people with unusual powers or strength, people who hear voices or who suddenly bleed inexplicably. He described a woman of about 40 who was screaming and had scratches appear on her arms. Such cases, he said, usually represent a disorder that requires psychiatric help and that an exorcist might make worse.

"An exorcist needs to be as undramatic as possible, not to be part of the theater," he said, waving his arms in a mock ceremony. "The point is not to aggravate people's anxiety."

Nicolas has seen the film "The Exorcist" but he laughed off the Hollywood image.

"Yes, I believe the devil exists, but not in the way he is popularly presented," he said. "The evil spirit exists in people's hearts, it slips in through the mind's fault lines. It destroys trust, causes despair, prevents people from loving, from living a full life. It's not a matter of rolling on the ground and crying."

In cases of severe mental disorders, he may send people to a support team to which he belongs, which includes church workers, a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Some Catholics who find the notion of exorcism rather medieval and a bit embarrassing argue that people seeking exorcism usually need more help than a priest and should be attended to by psychiatric professionals.

So how then does Nicolas, who believes in psychiatric help, see his role? On this point he is adamant.

''A psychiatrist is not there to further one's spiritual life," he said. "That's not his job. He does not give blessings. He does not say, 'Relax, trust in God.' But I, as a priest, believe in the power of prayer."

The power of Satan over the human imagination has waxed and waned through the ages, and for a time in France and elsewhere in the West it looked as though the devil had fallen on hard times. Exorcism was dropped from studies for the priesthood. When the church, as part of Vatican II reforms, modernized most rites in the 1960s, it did not bother to update the 400-year-old Latin ritual.

But since the '70s, charismatic Christians have been sweeping through the ranks of mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches, telling their followers they were possessed by the demons of nicotine, alcohol, abortion, homosexuality and more.

This charismatic movement has led to a dramatic rise in exorcisms of a kind unauthorized by the hierarchy and in 1986 prompted the Vatican to issue new guidelines for exorcism to regain control. Rome also encouraged bishops to name more authorized exorcists.

But Satan apparently managed to sow his discord in the Vatican, which has yet to reach agreement over a new text that defines "demonic possession" and includes a new, more modern exorcism ritual.

Meanwhile, the archfiend may be making strides in France. A 1986 poll found that 25 percent of the French believed in the existence of the devil, but in 1995 the figure had jumped to 34 percent.

This week, Nicolas was doing what he usually does, listening to people in his small glass side-chapel, placing his hands on theirs, saying a short prayer. He uses his own text, he says, including words like "freeing from evil influence."

Outside his chapel, two young men from Martinique and two older Frenchwomen waited. They said Nicolas had helped them before. Earlier that day, the priest said he had seen a young man who was very disturbed because he and his girlfriend had joined a satanic sect and joined their blood as they devoted themselves to an evil spirit.

"Not everything, though, is about anguish," the exorcist went on, recalling a recent visit by a woman who told him she was hearing voices. She said a male voice was speaking to her that very moment. So Nicolas asked what he was saying.

She replied: "He says you are a jerk."

"Well," the priest said, with one of his broad smiles, "I told her, 'That voice may well be right."'

Monday, June 15, 1998
Copyright 1998 The New York Times


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