Last week I had breakfast with an Exorcist. Yes, really. Well, OK, it wasn’t just me, but maybe me and sixty other people who attended a breakfast meeting at a Catholic business group I belong to. It was really very interesting in more ways than one.
Father Vince Lampert has been the official Exorcist of the Archidiocese of Indianapolis for ten years. We Catholics are nothing if not organized, so I had figured that every Catholic Diocese would actually have one, but I was wrong. Father Vince is one of only fifty designated and trained Exorcists in the United States.
Actually, every Catholic Bishop has the authority to do Exorcisms. My non-Catholic friends might not know that every Catholic Bishop can trace his ordination back in a direct line to one of Christ’s original apostles, and they are the ones with full Apostolic authority over everything in their geographic jurisdiction (which we refer to by the Roman jurisdictional concept of the Diocese). However, my rule of “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should” apparently applies to Catholic Bishops too, so some of them have designated one of their Priests to the role of Exorcist. Father Vince was not looking for the job, but found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time (his words). He walked into a meeting with the Bishop as an ordinary parish priest and walked out of the room as the Exorcist.
If someone wanted to make (another) Exorcism movie, Father Vince would never make it past the casting office. He is a very average, soft-spoken, middle-aged guy with a pretty good sense of humor. I will reluctantly admit that when he officiated at the Mass that begins the group’s monthly meetings (and having been introduced as the pastor of a large parish in the area), I wondered if he would stay around when the Exorcist got up to speak later. You know, the guy with the commanding presence and troubled visage of Max von Sydow. If you are wondering, I did not admit this to anyone at my table when Father Vince was the one who actually got up to speak.
After the breakfast, I googled his name and was amazed to find that he is quite well known nationally, and has been interviewed many times by many different media sources. I read some of them, and they all were in line with what he talked about with us – that there is a fair amount of bureaucracy to go with the demonic. The Church’s Rite of Exorcism dates back to about 1614, and was revised in 1999. Most of the process leading up to an exorcism is actually about disproving that an exorcism is necessary. Father Vince is a skeptic, and it is his experience (also made explicit in the modern Rite of Exorcism) that most people who believe that they are possessed are actually suffering from physical, mental or emotional issues that are better treated in other ways. But he is absolutely clear that the demonic exists and that he has seen it. He admitted that he has not seen a Linda Blair-style spinning head, but he has seen a woman levitate up from a chair. And shouldn’t that be enough? Although his explicit authority is limited to his own Archdiocese, he has been invited by other Bishops to oversee or perform exorcisms elsewhere.
His most forceful advice was to stay away from the occult. He cites Old Testament scripture (the 18th Chapter of Deuteronomy, among others) that warns us to avoid trying to contact the dead. When we seek things out of that realm, we can end up with more than we bargained for. In other words, there really are things that we should not try at home.
I know several people who are athiests or agnostics, who will argue against the existence of God. I have never really done a deep dive into this issue The sandbox I have spent most of my time playing in has involved wrestling with the theological differences among different groups of Christians. I find it interesting that when the chips are down and there is some nasty-scary demonic stuff going on, it seems that most people will bypass the local bible fellowship and hightail it to a Catholic priest. This is one area where popular opinion would appear to hold that a Catholic priest carries a higher octane rating in the demon-fighting business. And when that Catholic priest has been specifically trained in the Rite of Exorcism and been part of dozens of them as Father Vince has, then we are talking Professional Strength stuff here.
As for my non-believing friends, I have never thought to ask them their opinions on whether they accept that evil or the demonic is real. It seems that while God is becoming a tougher and tougher sell in today’s increasingly secular society, the presence of darkness and evil seems to be much more commonly and widely believed. Personally, I have a hard time seeing how you can admit to the existence (or at least possibility of existence) of demons (by whatever name they might be called) without admitting that there just might be a God too.
Anyhow, I was sorry that his talk lasted only twenty minutes – we Catholics often gripe about Father going on too long, but in this case, I would have made an exception. I have never experienced paranormal or otherworldly stuff in my life, thank you very much. Deviled eggs are about as far as I’m willing to go. But should my life take a sudden turn into the world of the unexplainable, I’m not calling Ghostbusters or the Long Island Medium. I’m heading straight for Father Vince. With some things, you just have to call a professional.