Despite the spotty reporting, the story had a few interesting nuggets of information:
- In Italy, 350 trained exorcists are now working. There were only 20 ten years ago.
- In Poland, demand for exorcism has risen so high, 70 priests now perform the rite there, double the number of five years ago.
- The Catholic Church is planning a dedicated exorcism center.
- According to one of the priests interviewed for the story, Satanic worship is on the rise in Europe.
- One-in-ten Catholics, according to a recent survey, now says they've either submitted to or witnessed an exorcism.
The article does not specify where these figures came from, although The Washington Post ran this article on the exorcism center.
A few months ago the Vatican denied reports that it had ordered an expansion of exorcism, but if the Post story is to be believed, then the Church either deliberately tried to cover up this story or it changed its mind very recently. In either case, it is a sign of the Church turning back the clock.
Yesterday I blogged an article about the waning interest in religion in the US. The Catholic Church was hit especially hard by its followers abandoning the faith. There is a link between disappearing interest by the public in Christianity and increased propagation of the exorcism myth. As the Enlightenment began to take hold in Europe in the late Medieval period and the existence of god and the authority of the Church was threatened, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger unleashed The Malleus Maleficarum, a book for witch hunting that became a key guide for the Inquisition, which set about murdering and torturing thousands of women and keeping fear of the devil, and in turn the vitality of Christianity, alive and well. The Inquisition was then used as a political tool, as the Spanish empire used accusations to quell dissent and overtake other countries and territories. In the 1970s, America's interest in religion waned in the after effect of the counter culture of the previous decade until the film The Exorcist scared audiences like nothing before it and set off a wave of claims of demonic possession. Along with the Manson Family murders and related films like The Omen and Rosemary's Baby, the stage was set for the rise of Evangelical Christianity and the Moral Majority (which was neither moral nor a majority) as a force in American politics and the Satanic Ritual Abuse scandal, which sent innocent people to prison and tore children from their parents based on false accusations of child abuse.
I don't think one shoddy story by CBS will plunge us into a new dark age, but Christianity's insistence--and its dependence--upon the illusion of demonic forces is a troubling truth about the nature of this religion and its use of fear to quell criticism. Given the larger historical context and the link between religious hysterics and political opportunists, stories like the one in the Post should at least give us pause.