Vatican City -- Orthodontists have national conventions, as do lawyers and computer salespeople. So why not exorcists?
At the end of his weekly general audience on Wednesday Pope Benedict greeted Italian exorcists who, he disclosed, are currently holding their national convention.
The pope encouraged them to “carry on their important work in the service of the Church.”
Problem was that until the pope spoke few people outside the inner circle knew that a convention of Beelzebub-busters was going on, presumably in Rome.
And where were they holding it? In a church, a hotel, a graveyard?
“They try to keep these things quiet,” said a Catholic professor who has dealings with exorcists.
The Roman Catholic Church has shown growing interest in exorcism in Italy.
In 1999, the Vatican issued its first updated ritual for exorcism since 1614 and warned that the devil is still at work.
The official Roman Catholic exorcism starts with prayers, a blessing and sprinkling of holy water, the laying on of hands on the possessed, and the making of the sign of the cross.
It ends with an “imperative formula” in which the devil is ordered to leave the possessed.
The formula begins: “I order you, Satan...” It goes on to denounce Satan as “prince of the world” and “enemy of human salvation.” It ends: “Go back, Satan.”
A Vatican university announced last Thursday that for the second year running it will hold a course on exorcism and Satanism for Roman Catholic priests.
The course starts next month at the Regina Apostolorum, one of Rome’s most prestigious pontifical universities, and this year participants can take it not only in person at the Rome campus but via videoconference from other Italian cities.
This, a university statement said, was because of great interest after last year’s course, which was attended by nearly 130 people.
The four-month course, which begins in October, is what the university calls inter-disciplinary. It includes medical, psychological and religious aspects of Satanism and exorcism.
According to some estimates, as many as 5,000 people are thought to be members of Satanic cults in Italy with 17-to 25-year-olds making up three quarters of them.
Interest in the devil and the occult has been boosted by films such as “The Exorcist” in 1973 and last year’s “Exorcist: The Beginning."
Last year, Italy was gripped by the story of two teenage members of a heavy metal rock band called the “Beasts of Satan” who were killed by other band members in a human sacrifice.
The deaths horrified Catholic Italy, with pages of newspapers given over to descriptions of the black candles and goats’ skulls decorating one victim’s bedroom and witness statements of sexual violence.