Exorcists usually work in secret, and are often frowned upon. They may be called in to deal with paranormal happenings – holy water boiling up unaccountably, prayer cards suddenly going up in flames and crucifixes flying around living rooms.
And now, after falling out of favour in recent years, exorcists appear to be making a comeback in Ireland in response to growing demand.
At least three Catholic priests in the Republic have recently been taught how to perform the ancient ritual on people who believe they have been possessed by demonic spirits, according to a Church spokesman.
Father Fiontán Ó Monacháin, secretary to the Archbishop of Tuam, said: “When someone approaches us with a request for an exorcism, they usually approach their parish priest first.
“If it’s a spiritual problem, the priest would usually say prayers or celebrate Mass in the house, or give a special blessing using holy water. If that doesn’t work and if they are still suffering, a formal exorcism may be necessary. And if that’s the case, there are priests in the country who are trained in that field.”
Exorcism was increasingly frowned on as being out-dated in the modern church but was given new recognition during the papacy of Benedict XVI.
Father Pat Collins, a Vincentian priest based in Dublin, is the most prominent cleric in the field in Ireland and has reportedly dealt with many cases of demonic disturbance. According to church authorities, a Jesuit priest based in Galway and a Capuchin friar in Carlow also now carry out exorcisms.
In their 2009 book The Dark Sacrament, David Kiely and Christina McKenna documented a series of cases of Irish exorcism, including one in County Derry, where Father Collins and a Church of Ireland exorcist, Canon William Lendrum, were called in to cast out a “malevolent spirit”.
According to the authors, a young couple were frightened and moved out of their house after rosary beads and a crucifix were said to have flown around a room. Holy water was reported to heat to boiling point, then froze, and a prayer card to St Michael the Archangel is said to have burst into flames.
At the scene, Fr Collins and Canon Lendrum said a cleansing prayer, and this supposedly helped to rid the home of the undesirable presence.
Ms McKenna said exorcism in Ireland was very different to the image popularised in Hollywood. She said: “Usually the priest would deal with the problem by saying prayers. They would bless the house, and bless the victim with holy water.”
According to Irish experts, cases of “complete possession by the devil” are rare. In the vast majority of cases, according to one Dublin priest, only a part of the personality is subject to demonic influence. A simple exorcism is all that is required.