THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS gives us a rare look at Church investigations of the supernatural — By FR JOHN BOLLAN
Excerpted from The Scottish Catholic Observer
Last week I received a phone call asking, ‘Are you still the exorcist?’ I was a little thrown off by the question, but not perhaps as much as you might imagine. What threw me off was the out-of-the-blue nature of the query: fans of Star Wars will recognise my reaction if I say I had a ‘Ben Kenobi moment,’ as the character originally played by Alec Guinness gets called by a name he hasn’t heard for ages.
For indeed I was the exorcist, but a long time ago, almost in a galaxy far, far away—though I always baulked at the title of exorcist.
It was the late and much-missed Bishop Mone who perused my CV and, seeing degrees in spirituality and psychology there, decided that I was the man for the job.
Bishops occasionally get wind of untoward goings-on in the lives or the homes of the faithful in their dioceses, but are usually hard-pressed to know what to do about it. I accepted the ‘job,’ but made it clear that I preferred to see my remit as being an assessor of potentially supernatural occurrences.
Beyond making a diagnosis and a recommendation for future action, I feared that I lacked the gravitas (not to mention the holiness) to take on the full range of tasks entrusted to the Church’s exorcists. I was happy to deal with the ‘early intervention’ stuff, the blessing of houses and persons, even celebrating Mass in troubled homes, but the Max Von Sydow routine would require broader shoulders than mine.
The phone call, about a matter I can’t discuss for obvious reasons, made me wonder if I was still in fact ‘the exorcist.’ I had continued in the role under then-Bishop Philip Tartaglia and I don’t have any notification telling me to stand down, so perhaps I was—or still am—the Assessor of Anomalous Phenomena (believe me, it sounded better in my head). If I have been replaced, it might have been an idea to have a debrief with my successor.
It may strike people as odd to think that, in 2017, people still report feeling menaced by hostile forces, even in those places where they should feel safest. But official statistics from Rome inform us that the services of exorcists are being sought out in ever greater numbers, year on year. And it does seem as though there is something afoot in our supposedly technically advanced, highly sophisticated western world.
For what it’s worth, my experience could be described like this. About a quarter of the cases I was asked to look into were quickly found to be the product of deception. Someone was looking for attention, either from a family member, the Church or, not infrequently, the local council or housing association in the hope of a change of house.
The middle 50 per cent go on a scale from being probably the result of a highly suggestible nature, heavily influenced by an interest in the occult, through to being more plausible, but with enough elements of doubt—perhaps due to mental health issues or drug misuse—to warrant a cautious response.
The remaining quarter have left me in no doubt that there was indeed something very amiss at work in the lives of these people. I have seen and heard things which could not be accounted for other than by the artifice of the most accomplished of conjurors and performers. And, having witnessed the very genuine distress caused by these phenomena, I find it hard to believe that anyone would want to pull off such things as a mere stunt. For more of this informative article see The Scottish Catholic Observer