How Exorcism Works

A Real-life Exorcism

In researching "American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty," Michael Cuneo, a sociology professor at Fordham University, attends all sorts of exorcisms. One official, Church-sanctioned exorcism that Cuneo sat in on involved a man he calls Warren (the possessed) and a priest-exorcist he calls Father Peter. Warren's life is painful to him -- he is a heavy drinker, regularly has sex with people he has just met and is generally depressed. He has recently begun to hear voices, see things and feel an "unbearable pressure" on his body at night. In short, Warren is tormented. His local pastor contacted Father Peter's supervisor, and with the agreement of a psychiatrist, they arranged an exorcism. The following details of a real-life, official exorcism are taken from "American Exorcism" (243-245). While Cuneo does not provide a date, this exorcism most likely took place before the 1999 revisions to the rite.

In the basement of an unremarkable building in the Midwest, Father Peter, in his surplice and purple stole, stands directly in front of Warren, who sits in a chair with his head bowed and his fists clenched. Cuneo sits off to the side. Father Peter begins the ritual:

"All-powerful God, pardon all the sins of your unworthy servant. Give me constant faith and power so that, armed with the power of Your holy strength, I can attack this cruel evil spirit in confidence and security..."

While speaking these initial words, the priest sprinkles Warren, Michael Cuneo and himself with holy water.

Father Peter moves closer to Warren, makes the sign of the cross and lays his palm on Warren's forehead. Warren sits perfectly still while Father Peter recites the prayers of the exorcism ritual. Father Peter appeals to Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints to aid him in his endeavor to save Warren's soul. Warren remains silent.

"I exorcise you, Most Unclean Spirit! All Spirits! Every one of you! In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Be uprooted and expelled from this Creature of God..."

Father Peter makes the sign of the cross on Warren's forehead, presses a relic against his chest and ultimately finishes the exorcism with:

"Go away, Seducer! The desert is your home. The serpent is your dwelling. Be humiliated and cast down. For even though you have deceived men, you cannot make a mockery of God ... He has prepared Hell for you and your angels."

Father Peter then leads Warren in a few closing prayers and additional readings. He asks Warren how he feels. Cuneo relays Warren's answer: "Peaceful, Warren said, but also a bit confused. He thought he'd felt something leaving him during the exorcism, but he wasn't sure."

It's not exactly "The Exorcist," but then, that's a pretty tough act to follow. Was Warren possessed? Did Father Peter get the devil to leave Warren's body? There are those who believe, and there are those who don't. But no one got hurt, and it may just be that Warren is better off having undergone the exorcism. So some might wonder, what's the problem?