The Pope's Exorcist
Russell Crowe's movie "The Pope's Exorcist" might not do justice to the Italian exorcist Fr Gabriel Amorth or the rite of exorcism as practiced in the Catholic Church, according to an exorcist organization Amorth himself helped to found. The International Association of Exorcists voiced concern that the film seems to fall under the category of "splatter cinema," which it calls a "sub-genre of horror."
While special effects are "inevitable" in every film about demonic possession, "everything is exaggerated, with striking physical and verbal manifestations, typical of horror films," the group said."This way of narrating Don Amorth's experience as an exorcist, in addition to being contrary to historical reality, distorts and falsifies what is truly lived and experienced during the exorcism of truly possessed people," said the association, which claims more than 800 exorcist members and more than 120 auxiliary members worldwide.
"In addition, it is offensive with regard to the state of suffering in which those who are victims of an extraordinary action of the devil find themselves," the group's statement added.
Amorth, who died at age 91 in 2016, said he performed an estimated 60,000 exorcisms during his life. He was perhaps the world's best-known exorcist and the author of many books, including "An Exorcist Tells His Story," reportedly an inspiration for this movie.
Michael Lichens, editor and spokesperson at Sophia Institute Press, voiced some agreement with the exorcist group."The International Association of Exorcists is right to be concerned and I'm thankful for their words," Lichens told CNA. "My hope is that audiences will remember that Fr Amorth is a real person with a great legacy and perhaps a few moviegoers will look up an interview or pick up his books."
"This was a man who included St. Padre Pio and Blessed Giacomo Alberione as mentors, as well as Servant of God Candido Amantini, who was his teacher for the ministry of exorcism," he said. "Fr Amorth fought as a partisan as a young man and grew to fight greater evil as an exorcist. His life is an inspiration and I know that his work and words will still reach many."
Amorth was born in Modena, Italy, on May 1, 1925. In wartime Italy, he was a soldier with the underground anti-fascist partisans. He was ordained a priest in 1951. He did not become an exorcist until 1986, when Cardinal Ugo Poletti, the vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, named him the diocesan exorcist.
The priest was frequently in the news for his comments on the subject of demonic forces. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph in 2000, he said: "I speak with the devil every day. I talk to him in Latin. He answers in Italian. I have been wrestling with him, day in, day out, for 14 years."
The movie "The Pope's Exorcist" claims to be "inspired by the actual files of the Vatican's chief exorcist." The Sony Pictures movie stars the New Zealand-born actor Russell Crowe as Amorth. Crowe's character wears a grey beard and speaks English with a noticeable accent.
The International Association of Exorcists said that cinematic representations of exorcism often make it "a spectacle aimed at inspiring strong and unhealthy emotions, thanks to a gloomy scenography, with sound effects such as to inspire only anxiety, restlessness, and fear in the viewer." "The end result is to instill the conviction that exorcism is an abnormal, monstrous, and frightening phenomenon, whose only protagonist is the devil, whose violent reactions can be faced with great difficulty," said the exorcist group. "This is the exact opposite of what occurs in the context of exorcism celebrated in the Catholic Church in obedience to the directives imparted by it."
Amorth co-founded the International Association of Exorcists with Fr René Laurentin in 1994. In 2014 the Catholic Church recognized the group as a Private Association of the Faithful. The association trains exorcists and promotes their incorporation into local communities and normal pastoral care. It also aims to promote "correct knowledge" about exorcism ministry and collaboration with medical and psychiatric experts who have competence in spirituality.
"Most movies about Catholicism and spiritual warfare sensationalize," Lichens of Sophia Institute Press told CNA. "Sensationalism and terror sell tickets. As a fan of horror movies, I can understand and even appreciate that. As a Catholic who has studied Fr Amorth, though, I think such sensationalism distorts the important work of exorcism."
"When I work as a spokesperson for Amorth's books, I am always concerned about inspiring curiosity about the demonic," he told CNA. "As Christians, we know we have nothing to fear from the demonic but curiosity might lead some to want to seek out the supernatural or the demonic. Fr Amorth has dozens of stories of people who found themselves afflicted after party game seances."
"First and foremost, Fr Amorth was involved in a healing ministry," Lichens said. "Like other exorcists, his work often involved doctors in physical and mental health because the goal is to bring healing and hope to the potentially afflicted." "Those of us who read Amorth might have been excited to read firsthand accounts of spiritual warfare, but readers quickly see a man whose heart was always full of love for those who sought his help," he added.
Kevin Jones, CNA