Citing a shortage of priests who can perform the rite, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops are holding a conference on how to conduct exorcisms.
The two-day training, which ends today in Baltimore, is to outline the scriptural basis of evil, instruct clergy on evaluating whether a person is truly possessed, and review the prayers and rituals that compose an exorcism. Among the speakers will be Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and a priest-assistant to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
"Learning the liturgical rite is not difficult," DiNardo said in a phone interview before the conference, which is only for clergy. "The problem is the discernment that the exorcist needs before he would ever attempt the rite."
More than 50 bishops and 60 priests signed up to attend, the Catholic News Service reported. The conference was scheduled ahead of a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Monday in Baltimore.
Despite strong interest in the training, skepticism about the rite persists within the American church. In 1999, the church updated the Rite of Exorcism, cautioning that "all must be done to avoid the perception that exorcism is magic or superstition."
The practice is much more accepted by Catholics in parts of Europe and elsewhere overseas. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the longtime private secretary of Pope John Paul II, revealed a few years after the pontiff's death that John Paul had performed an exorcism on a woman who was brought into the Vatican writhing and screaming in what Dziwisz said was a case of possession by the devil.
It is rare for the rite to be performed. Neal Lozano, a Catholic writer and author of the book Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance about combatting evil spirits, said he knows an exorcist in the church who receives about 400 inquiries a year, but determines that out of that number, two or three of the cases require an exorcism.