ON the bumpy flight to Rome I read The Bible all the way. The
passenger on my left - a wiry businesswoman from Wisconsin - found
Nomine Patre: Father Gabriele Amorth; exorcist by profession,
accommodating by nature
As the turbulence worsened and I moved from Jude to Revelation,
she hissed at me, "Do you have to?" I murmured:
"It's only background reading." She grimaced.
"What for?" I turned to her and whispered: "I'm
going to meet the exorcist." She gasped: "Oh Christ",
as the plane lurched and hot coffee spilled over us.
Father Gabriele Amorth is indeed the exorcist, the
most senior and respected member of his calling. A priest for 50
years, he is the undisputed leader of the city's six exorcists
(appointed by the cardinal to whom the Pope delegates the office of
Vicar of Rome) and honorary president-for-life of the International
Association of Exorcists. He is 75, small, spry, humorous, and
"I speak with the Devil every day," he says, grinning
like a benevolent gargoyle. "I talk to him in Latin. He answers
in Italian. I have been wrestling with him, day in day out, for 14
years." On cue (God is not worried by cliches) a shaft of
October sunlight falls across Father Amorth's pale, round face.
We are sitting at a table by the window in a small high-ceilinged
meeting room at his Rome headquarters, the offices of the Society of
Father Amorth has come to exorcism late in life, but with
impressive credentials. Born in 1925 in Modena, northern Italy, the
son and grandson of lawyers (his brother is a judge), Gabriele
Amorth, in his late teens, joined the Italian resistance.
Immediately after the war, he became a member of the fledgling
Christian Democratic Party. Giulo Andreotti was president of the
Young Christian Democrats, Amorth was his deputy.
Andreotti went into politics and was seven times prime minister.
Amorth, having studied law at university, went into the Church. He
says: "From the age of 15 I knew it was my true vocation. My
speciality was the Madonna. For many years I edited the magazine
Madre di Deo (Mother of God). When I hear people say, 'You
Catholics honour Mary too much,' I reply, 'We are never
able to honour her enough.'
"I knew nothing of exorcism - I had given it no thought -
until June 6, 1986 when Cardinal Poletti, the then Vicar of Rome,
asked to see me. There was a famous exorcist in Rome then, the only
one, Father Candido, but he was not well, and Cardinal Poletti told
me I was to be his assistant. I learnt everything from Father
Candido. He was my great master. Quickly I realised how much work
there was to be done and how few exorcists there were to do it. From
that day, I dropped everything and dedicated myself entirely to exorcism."
Father Amorth smiles continually as he tells his story. His
enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and engaging. "Jesus
performed exorcisms. He cast out demons. He freed souls from demonic
possession and from Him the Church has received the power and office
of exorcism. A simple exorcism is performed at every baptism, but
major exorcism can be performed only by a priest licensed by the
bishop. I have performed over 50,000 exorcisms. Sometimes it takes a
few minutes, sometimes many hours. It is hard work - multo duro."
How does he recognise someone possessed by evil spirits? "It
is not easy. There are many grades of possession. The Devil does not
like to be seen, so there are people who are possessed who manage to
conceal it. There are other cases where the person possessed is in
acute physical pain, such agony that they cannot move.
"It is essential not to confuse demonic possession with
ordinary illness. The symptoms of possession often include violent
headaches and stomach cramps, but you must always go to the doctor
before you go to the exorcist. I have people come to me who are not
possessed at all. They are suffering from epilepsy or schizophrenia
or other mental problems. Of the thousands of patients I have seen,
only a hundred or so have been truly possessed."
"How can you tell?"
"By their aversion to the sacrament and all things sacred. If
blessed they become furious. If confronted with the crucifix, they
"But couldn't an hysteric imitate the symptoms?"
"We can sort out the phoney ones. We look into their eyes. As
part of the exorcism, at specific times during the prayers, holding
two fingers on the patient's eyes we raise the eyelids. Almost
always, in cases of evil presence, the eyes look completely white.
Even with the help of both hands, we can barely discern whether the
pupils are towards the top or the bottom of the eye. If the pupils
are looking up, the demons in possession are scorpions. If looking
down, they are serpents."