The Vatican has had to set up exorcism training courses to cope with demand after the number of requests for their services tripled in Italy over the space of a few years.
Priest Benigno Palilla told Vatican Radio that the number of exorcism cases has risen to almost 500,000 each year. Palilla put the increase down to the upturn in people seeking out tarot readers and psychics. “Doing so opens the door to the demon and to possession,” he said. However, he conceded that not all of the cases were related to demonic possession and some were in fact a result of psychological or spiritual problems.
The occult market in Italy is booming, according to a 2017 consumer report which claims 13 million people turn to psychics and pseudo healers annually. Unemployment, economic problems and uncertainty about the future are among the top reasons for seeking these services, the report noted.
According to Palilla, self-taught exorcists can encounter challenges and an apprenticeship program similar to that of other professions would be beneficial to new priests, allowing them to work alongside an expert in the field.
Interest in performing exorcisms is dwindling among younger priests, however. Many of them are scared and have no interest in spending time in windowless rooms reading exorcism rites, seasoned exorcist Fr Vincenzo Taraborelli said in 2016. Earlier this year a renowned Irish exorcist and priest called on the Catholic Church to appoint more exorcists.
Training is taking place this month in Sicily and will address sects linked to Satanism. Meanwhile, an international conference on exorcism will take place in Rome in April to discuss how to move forward in a current climate where many Christians don’t believe in the existence of the devil or possession.
Possession by demons is an accepted belief in the Catholic Church. In 2014 Pope Francis gave his blessing to the International Association of Exorcists, officially recognizing exorcism under canon law.