Who can perform an exorcism?
In the Catholic Church, an exorcist is a bishop or a priest appointed by him, who has a special permission to perform exorcisms. The dignity of the sacramental and the nature of an exorcism require a special and explicit permission of a local ordinary (usually a bishop of the diocese).
Exorcists in the Church
The dignity of the sacramental and the character of an exorcism demand that the exorcist’s ministry be performed in the way that Jesus taught His disciples, in the spirit of obedience and in keeping with the Church’s practice. An exorcist in the Catholic Church is a diocese bishop or a priest appointed by him, possessing a special permit for performing exorcisms. The permission is permanently or temporarily granted by the bishop to priests , permanently or temporarily to priests endowed with piety, knowledge, prudence and integrity of life, and specially prepared for this task. (See Code of Canon Law).
An exorcist priest in his mission of freeing from evil spirits is guided by the recommendations of the Roman ritual, obtained knowledge and his own experience. The exorcist must exert great caution in the recognition, he must assess how the influence of the evil spirit on a given person might have started and recognise whether they are not dealing with a mental illness. He is obliged to take greatest care in the recognition, to estimate how the influence of the evil spirit’s on the person might have started and decide whether the person is not suffering from mental disorders. He is aware of the fact that Satan does not wish for man’s freedom, therefore he avoids exorcism and sometimes hides his presence. Further recognition of possible causes of the evil spirit’s action and its symptoms, followed by an exorcism, allows the exorcist priest to ascertain, whether the person in question is in fact under the devil’s influence and what is the level and the reasons for this influence.
It must be strongly emphasised that only exorcisms performed by priests authorised by the bishop’s power have healing power. All other practices resembling exorcisms, conducted by laymen as well as unauthorised clergymen do not bring a real freeing – they are its caricature.
Other priests and laymen
The priests who do not have a special permission from the bishop can conduct a prayer of deliverance – it is not a solemn exorcism and it does not contain formulas that address the evil spirit directly, as in the case of possession. All priests can perform exorcisms of water, oil, salt and incense.
The faithful have the powerful tool of a simple exorcism at their disposal. They can use it in proper situations, e.g. in temptation or torments, etc. They can also pray for deliverance with an exorcist priest and participate in religious communities where members practise simple exorcisms. They should embrace their relatives and acquaintances who may be under devil’s possession with prayer. All that should, of course, be done in contact with an exorcist priest.
In the case of ascertainment of real possession, priests must never and under any circumstances perform solemn exorcisms without the permission of a bishop. They can only assist in exorcism through prayer and helping the exorcist.
In recent years, services of so called lay exorcists, promising to drive out demons, are getting more and more popular. They are, for example, fortune-tellers, bioenergotherapists, clairvoyants, folk healers and others. Sometimes they claim to act within the Church, or that they possess authorizations or qualifications. First of all, it must be said that lay exorcists act in opposition to the Church. This is manifested in the fact that their actions are camouflaged and connected with occultism and spiritism. Such people reject the knowledge connected with recognition. They do not offer permanent help to possessed people and they take money for the service. Their actions have commercial character and they make naive people believe that they are possessed. The danger of such practices is that in the case of real possessions the state of the suffering person deteriorates and healthy people can become possessed due in their course. Occultism and spiritism boil down to contact with the evil spirit and contracts with him, which is never advantageous for human soul.
The power of exerting influence through such practices is perceptible nonetheless, however, we have to remember that such skills originate solely from the evil. Even if the state of a person does not indicates changes (influences of evil) we have to concentrate on effects. Practice confirms that, if it is not merely the effect of an improved mood (placebo), such improvement in health wears off and later other health complications appear, even among family members. A very common effect is the weakening of faith and piety and sometimes demonic torments that discourage from faith in God, leading to possession. To sum up, even contact with such people itself is very dangerous, to say nothing of entrusting them matters connected with possession.