Vatican’s Exorcists Face Burnout with Huge Numbers of Claimed Possessions

  • You wouldn’t think exorcists would get overworked, but here we are.

It’s not easy being an exorcist. You have to meet the strangest people, battle the forces of evil, and all you get as a reward is a little girl spitting split pea soup in your face.

And then you do that up to 50 times a day.

Anybody would get tired from that kind of a job schedule. It’s no wonder, then, that Vatican’s official exorcists are fast heading toward burnout.

A new survey found that the devil-battling priests are seriously overworked. Not only that, they’re struggling to get support from higher-ups in the church for their soul-saving efforts.

Carried out by the Vatican-approved university Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, the survey covered 120 Italian exorcists. With a grand total of 290 exorcists in the country, we’d say they got a pretty good sample size.

According to the survey, some priests attend as many as 30-50 exorcisms every day. But even that may not be enough — the numbers of claimed possessions are constantly rising.

Nobody ever said driving out the demons would be easy. But there’s a limit to everything.

“Father, I beseech thee — grant me a day off.”

‘It Was Frightening’

To give you an example of what exorcists face on a daily basis, we can look at Father Giuseppe Bernardi. He detailed a recent case he attended in an interview with The Times of London.

Father Bernardi was called on to help a reportedly “hysterical” young woman. Among her symptoms were jumping over pews at church during confession, physically assaulting monks, and spewing insults in foreign languages, including Latin.

“It was frightening, horrible, also because she alternated between three different voices,” an eyewitness told the Journal of Vicenza.

The woman’s father believed she suffered from mental issues, while her mother believed she was clearly possessed. To get to the bottom of the matter, Father Bernardi said he had to contact psychologists on his own after receiving no assistance from bishops or the church.

After his interviews, Father Bernardi sided with the mother on the matter of possession. He performed a nine-hour exorcism, which was “successful,” according to media reports.

Lack of Official Support

Like Father Bernardi, many exorcist priests are frustrated by the lack of recognition and assistance from the church. This is despite Pope Francis himself publicly endorsing exorcism.

In 2014, he officially recognized the International Association of Exorcists. He has also spoken in public about the necessity to exorcise unclean spirits.

“Christ’s entire ministry is a struggle against the evil one in its many manifestations—healing from illnesses, exorcisms of the possessed, forgiveness of sins,” Pope Francis said during a 2021 devotion.

But despite Pope Francis’ dedication to the practice, the priests carrying out exorcisms in the field are left mostly to their own devices. Most desperately, they need aid in contacting reliable psychologists.

It’s part of the official exorcism procedure to seek the help of certified experts in psychology. Their aid is necessary for establishing whether the “possessed” is truly taken over by the Prince of Darkness, or merely suffering from mental illness or another physical ailment.

Black-Market Exorcisms

We’re not sure if Satan has improved the productivity of his wicked ways or what’s going on, but the numbers of the possessed are growing steadily. It’s hard to get up-to-date estimates, but some priests have talked to the media about the number of cases.

In 2018, Sicilian priest Benigno Palilla stated that at the time, the Vatican was seeing 500,000 cases of possession per year. According to him, that marked a threefold increase over just a few years.

Faced with these unprecedented numbers of possessions, the wait times to see an exorcist are getting longer and longer. Meanwhile, the demons are free to have a field day with the afflicted person.

The lack of access to exorcists has created a bizarre black market for exorcisms. If the official, church-sanctioned priests can’t get to you, you can now order an exorcism online.

Of course, the people carrying out these DIY exorcisms are rarely qualified to do so. Some of them may not even actually be priests.

The Vatican has strict guidelines for how an exorcism should happen. In addition to consulting medical experts, official exorcists are supposed to perform the ritual discreetly behind closed to avoid it “becoming a spectacle.”

But if you’re a less-than-scrupulous self-taught exorcist, doing the deed publicly is basically free advertising. So why wouldn’t you?

“A self-taught exorcist certainly meets errors. I will say more — it also requires a period of apprenticeship, as happens for many professionals,” said Palilla.

But the people whose souls the devil has sunk his claws into are desperate. Unless the Vatican hires more exorcists, they may be out of options.