By Genevieve Pollock
SARATOGA, California, JAN. 21, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Father Gary Thomas has spoken about his ministry to Hollywood and numerous bishops. He warns that people are often unaware when they open doorways to the diabolical.
ZENIT spoke with Father Thomas, official exorcist of San Jose, California, about his experiences and why he thinks every priest should have training in this ministry.
On Jan. 28, a new movie based on the story of the priest will be released to the public. “The Rite,” starring Anthony Hopkins and distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures, focuses on themes of faith, as evidenced by the promotional tagline: “You can only defeat it when you believe.”
It is based on the real experiences of Father Thomas, as recorded in the book, “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist,” by Matt Baglio.
Hollywood producers are not the only ones with a renewed interest in this topic; last November the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops sponsored a two-day conference on exorcism, which took place in Baltimore just prior to the fall assembly. Some 56 prelates and 66 priests signed up for the course.
In this interview, Father Thomas spoke about the relevance of the exorcism ministry for the Church today.
Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.
ZENIT: Could you say something more about these unorthodox practices that could be doorways for demons? What are the practices people should be aware of and should be careful of getting into?
Father Thomas: I think people should know if there are any effects from being involved in these things, and they should know why. They are tapping into these kinds of activities and if they do not know, they are really running a risk of opening themselves up.
For example, people who get involved with psychics, or tarot cards, Ouija boards, crystals, Wicca, or even yoga. My mother does yoga, but she does it for exercise. There is a difference between that kind of use of yoga, and the practice of it where it is giving you a certain kind of power to influence other people. Supposedly you can use yoga for a variety of different reasons.
People that get themselves involved in very unorthodox kinds of self-focused practices need to be aware of the potential that they might be opening themselves up to.
Or, séances, again, are a doorway. People should ask who is running the séance, and why they are going to a séance. They want answers to the future, and if they are going to commune with a human spirit from the world beyond ours, it is very dangerous because they do not know what they are doing.
ZENIT: What signs would indicate possible demonic activity in a friend or a family member?
Father Thomas: If, for example, if somebody was able to speak in a language that he had no prior competency in, or if someone would foam at the mouth or have a lot of rolling of the eyes.
If the person were not able to walk into a church or be close to any Catholic sacramental: holy water, a crucifix, the sacrament of the Eucharist, the sacramental anointing of the sick, or someone wearing some kind of a Christian symbol. If these caused a reaction, it certainly would be a sign.
Another sign of a diabolical attachment is when people have unnatural amounts of strength that they normally do not possess. Sometimes people will take on a serpentine appearance, again in reaction to sacraments and sacramentals.
But there would be things leading up to that; for example, these people could have an obsessive amount of thoughts or ideas of the Satanic, or feel a tremendous amount of depression in their lives, usually due to tapping into the spirit world. Those would be signs.
ZENIT: Is this ministry of exorcism something that any priest might feel called to engage in?
Father Thomas: First of all, you have to believe.
It is what Anthony Hopkins says to my character at one point in the movie, “You cannot defeat it till you believe in it.” You have to believe that Satan is a reality.
Personally, on an ideal basis, I think that every priest should be trained to be an exorcist.
It is part of our healing ministry, and it is very much at the heart of the Paschal mystery. So on the one hand I do think every priest ought to be trained to know how to do this.
Do I think every priest has the ability? Probably to some degree; it depends. But I think every priest should know what to do in these situations, and quite honestly they don’t, at least at this time. The seminaries do not teach this.
When the book came out, I requested that the publishing company send this book to every bishop in the United States and every rector in every major seminary. They did, with a cover letter from me.
This came up in the meeting in Baltimore to some degree, without a huge amount of response, but I firmly believe this needs to be in the program of priestly formation in our seminaries. This needs some serious attention.
It does not mean there has to be a whole semester course on it, but there needs to be a development of some pastoral skills in this area, and some theological training.
Satan has to be part of the equation of salvation in the formation of priests, and the topic is not there right now.
Now I know the major seminary in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is teaching a course on demonology. And I know in the seminary that I went to they are teaching a course this semester on good and evil, though I don’t know what that is going to entail. It is a start. If that is happening at other seminaries, I am not aware.
All I can say with some certitude is that there is nothing in the formation program as such that deals in a kind of overt way with exorcism.
ZENIT: Could you tell us a bit about your own story, and how you knew that you were called to be an exorcist?
Father Thomas: I didn’t know; that’s the amazing thing in all of this.
Two months before Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he sent a mandate through Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s office requesting every bishop in the United States to select and train an exorcist.
This was because of the growing occult that has become an epidemic in Europe. I know in my time in Rome on sabbatical, which coincided with all of this, it was reported that 25% of the people in Italy practice the occult. We saw a lot of damage to people, when I was working with Father Carmen.
How I got involved with it was obviously providence, but it was not like I had an epiphany. What happened was that our bishop took the letter seriously, and approached a priest of our diocese.
It came to my attention that the priest who received the initial invitation declined, so I decided to volunteer for this ministry. I thought to myself: “I can be the exorcist. I believe in the personification of evil. I can fulfill that role.”
The bishop came to me the month before my 12-year term as pastor of my previous parish was coming to an end and I was going on sabbatical to Rome. He said, I’m appointing you exorcist; thank you very much for saying yes, and there is a course you can take in Rome while you’re there.
I took this course in Rome, which was taught at the Regina Apostolorum seminary of the Legionaries of Christ, while I was on sabbatical studying at the North American College.
Halfway through the course it was apparent to me that I needed someone to work under, because the course was good but it was very theoretical and theological.
There were about 60 people in the class, mostly Italians and Africans, and another priest was working with this 85-year-old exorcist. He would come to class on Thursday morning and tell us what he had been doing, what he had seen, and what he had been experiencing. And I said, I have to find someone to work under.
Now there are nine exorcists in Rome but none of them speak English. Finally I was able to locate Father Carmen, and I worked with him for three and a half months, observing exorcisms three days a week for three and a half hours at a time.
I would go home and journal about what I had seen today: what did he do, and what did I see from the people who would come to him. And then every few weeks I would sit down with him with an English translator and ask, what did this mean, why did this happen, why did you do this? That’s how I learned.
There is no course in the United States per say to train exorcists although I just came back from a meeting in Baltimore with the bishops and the exorcists and we did talk about this some.
ZENIT: Why do you think the bishops called that meeting in Baltimore? Was it in response to the letter from the Pope a few years ago?
Father Thomas: No. I think what made them hold this conference was the fact that Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, who is the chairman of the canonical governance committee for the bishops, called for the meeting. He had come to one of our annual conferences in Chicago, and I think he felt that this was the right time to bring this to the bishops.
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