Tag Archives: Exorcist

The priest who had the number of the beast:

Father Gabriel Amorth (pictured), who was the Vatican's chief exorcist, was convinced he faced evil incarnate one morning in 1997 when a young Italian man was brought to his small consulting room in Rome

Father Gabriel Amorth (pictured), who was the Vatican’s chief exorcist, was convinced he faced evil incarnate one morning in 1997 when a young Italian man was brought to his small consulting room in Rome

The priest who had the number of the beast: As the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 30 years, Father Gabriel Amorth claimed to have dealt with the devil 60,000 times. Now a new book tells his head-spinning story

  • Father Gabriel Amorth often asked to help people whose troubles were mundane
  • But he is convinced he faced evil incarnate one morning in 1997 in Rome, Italy
  • Young Italian man was brought accompanied by a by his priest and a translator

By TOM LEONARD FOR THE DAILY MAIL

As the Vatican’s chief exorcist, Father Gabriel Amorth was often asked to help people whose troubles turned out to be far more mundane than demonic possession.

However, he was convinced he faced evil incarnate one morning in 1997 when a young Italian man was brought to his small consulting room in Rome.

The peasant was accompanied by his priest and another man. The latter was a translator.

For while the afflicted man spoke only Italian, the evil spirit inside him spoke perfect English, he was told.

Fr Amorth started the exorcism in Latin and the moment he mentioned Jesus’s name, the young man fixed his gaze on him and began to yell curses and threats in English, then spitting and making out as if about to attack him.

When the exorcist arrived at the prayer Praecipio tibi (‘I command you’), the demon briefly went quiet.

‘But then, screaming and howling, the demon burst forth and looked straight at him, drooling saliva from the young man’s mouth,’ writes Marcello ­Stanzione, a fellow Catholic priest who worked with Fr Amorth.

Fr Amorth continued the ‘rite of liberation’, demanding the demonic presence reveal its name. He was shocked when he was told it was Lucifer himself. Momentarily shaken to be confronting the Devil, he nevertheless ploughed on.

The possessed man resumed his shrieking, twisting his head back and rolling his eyes, his back arched for quarter of an hour. The room became extremely cold and ice crystals formed on the windows and walls.

Moments after the exorcist ordered Lucifer to abandon the peasant, the young man’s body stiffened and began to levitate, hovering three feet in the air for several minutes before collapsing into a chair.

Finally, Satan admitted defeat, announcing the exact day and hour when he would leave the man’s body. It sounds like the stuff of horror fiction.

But Fr Stanzione insists it all happened. He has just written a book, The Devil Is Afraid Of Me, containing astonishing new details — including the horrific demonic encounter in 1997 — about the extraordinary life of Fr Amorth.

A man who was dubbed the Dean of Exorcists but who in the flesh looked more like a friendly tortoise than a grim vanquisher of evil, Fr Amorth said he conducted a staggering 60,000 exorcisms over a 30-year period. 

The Pope’s chief exorcist died aged 91 in 2016, prompting national mourning in Italy, where an estimated 500,000 people visit an exorcist each year.

Although as official exorcist for the diocese of Rome he was the Catholic Church’s most famous and controversial exorcist, he was far from its only one.

There are at least 400 in the world. Even in the traditionally sceptical UK, the church says it is carrying out an increasing number of exorcisms.

Most of his colleagues prefer to practise their peculiar craft in the shadows — and the church, wary of ridicule, encourages that — but Fr Amorth was more than happy to discuss how he fought the powers of darkness.

The Bible records that Jesus himself drove out demons but provides few details, leaving ­Hollywood to fill in the blanks.

The terrifying 1973 film The ­Exorcist remains the go-to reference work, its story of a little girl transformed into a projectile-vomiting, blaspheming horror was loosely based on a reallife exorcism in the U.S. Fr Amorth said it was his favourite film, arguing that although the special effects were over-the-top, it was ‘substantially’ accurate and helped people understand his work.

The possessed ‘isn’t a bad person, only a suffering one,’ he claimed.

The youngest of five sons of a lawyer in the town of Modena, Fr Amorth fought as a teenager in the Italian resistance in World War II (earning a bravery medal).

He later became a lawyer himself and briefly worked for the future Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti before taking holy orders in 1951.

It was in 1986 that he became an apprentice exorcist and he went on to set up the International Association of Exorcists in 1990. 

He initially conducted exorcisms in Rome’s famous Church of the Holy Stairs until the shrieks drove away the faithful.

He then moved to the headquarters of his order, the Paulist Fathers, and converted a small, nine by 15ft room into his exorcism room — well away from the street so passers-by couldn’t hear the screaming and call the police.

Half a dozen chairs lined the walls for his assistant exorcists and the afflicted’s loved ones, and a worn-out brown velvet armchair for the patient.

Particularly troubled souls might have to be tied down with straps on a small bed.

The patient would always be violent so exorcists never practise alone. 

The walls were decorated with eight crucifixes, pictures of Mary and one of the Archangel Michael, leader of God’s army.

He would also have a photo of Pope John Paul II which apparently made devils ‘particularly irritable’.

The priest kept the tools of his trade in an old briefcase: two wooden crucifixes, an aspergillum for sprinkling holy water and a vial of consecrated oil. He also used a purple priest’s stole, wrapping it round the patient’s neck, and a book of prayers containing the official exorcism formulae.

He was famous for his sense of humour — not the obvious prerequisite for an exorcist — and always started off each ritual by literally thumbing his nose at the Devil.

According to Marcello Stanzione, during an exorcism a demon accused him of being a glutton. ‘Well, what’s it to you?,’ he shot back.

A favourite Amorth quip was to say: ‘You know why the devil flees when he sees me? Because I’m uglier than he is.’

Although the Catholic Church officially recognises exorcism, its modernisers see it as a medieval hangover that plays on superstition to strengthen religious devotion.

Fr Amorth freely admitted many who came to him had mental problems best dealt with by a psychologist, and he estimated he only came across around 100 genuine cases of possession.

People came to Fr Amorth from as far away as the UK and Spain after having trouble finding exorcists closer to home. His exorcisms could involve a single straightforward prayer or take months and repeated ceremonies.

It could even take years. Early in his career, he helped an exorcist named Fr Negrini near Brescia, northern Italy, with a supposedly possessed 14-year-old girl. 

When Fr Amorth joined Negrini in a session with the girl, the latter asked the demon: ‘Why have you taken this girl.’

It replied: ‘Because she is the best of the parish.’ It took Negrini another 12 years to free the girl, says Stanzione. Fr Amorth would carry out some exorcisms on the telephone and even on Skype.

Appointments lasted on average 30 minutes and Fr Amorth could conduct five every morning, doing paperwork in between.

Typical symptoms of demonic procession could be mundane, such as violent headaches and stomach cramps, he said, so it was easy to confuse it with an ordinary illness.

He often wouldn’t know for sure until he had conducted the rituals and observed the reaction. He said the Devil particularly hated hearing Latin and often preferred to speak in English, even when the possessed person couldn’t usually speak a word of it.

They also liked to spit — experienced exorcists hold a cloth near their face in readiness — and, rather more alarmingly, vomit shards of glass or pieces of iron, and even rose petals.

Fr Amorth kept a collection of regurgitated nails, keys and plastic figurines to prove it.

On one occasion, he claimed a devil said a possessed woman would bring up a transistor radio and, sure enough, she began spitting out pieces of it. Almost supernatural strength was not infrequent.

Fr Amorth said he once saw a possessed boy of 11 hurling off three big policemen as they tried to hold him down and a ten-year-old pick up a huge table.

How did all these unfortunates come to be possessed?

In 90 per cent of cases, Fr Amorth blamed Satanists or ‘someone who has acted with Satanic perfidy’. 

The remaining cases he blamed on people participating in practices such as seances.

Most of those he saw were middle-aged women, a fact he blamed on their weakness for seeing fortune tellers, who remain very popular in Italy.

Just months before the priest’s death in 2016, William Friedkin — the Oscar-winning director of The Exorcist — became the first person to be allowed to film him perform an actual exorcism.

The resulting documentary makes for unsettling viewing as the patient, an Italian woman in her late 30s, thrashes violently, shouting defiance in a guttural voice that — for whatever reason — simply doesn’t sound human.

Fr Amorth believed the woman was genuinely possessed, after being cursed by her brother and his girlfriend, who were satanists. Friedkin, an agnostic who hadn’t expected to see anything authentic, said the experience was ‘terrifying’.

Top neurosurgeons and psychiatrists he showed his film to were genuinely flummoxed. Cynics might wonder why only those who genuinely believe in the Devil seem to be possessed by him.

For Fr Amorth, who railed against the scepticism of the modern age, such cynicism suits Lucifer just fine.

‘The Devil is always hiding,’ he warned, ‘and the thing he wants above all is that we don’t believe he exists’. 

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To make money, Mr. Beauvoir also practiced voodoo tourism. In 1975 he staged a ceremony for Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton on their honeymoon. In his memoir “My Life” (2004), Mr. Clinton recalled, “The spirits arrived, seizing a woman and a man.”

Max Beauvoir, a former City College of New York chemistry major who gave up hard science for magic spirits, spell-casting and ritual animal sacrifices vital to becoming Haiti’s high priest of voodoo, died on Saturday in Port-au-Prince, the capital. He was 79.

His death was announced by the president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, who described it as a “great loss for the country.”

Mr. Beauvoir was in his mid-30s and planning a career in biochemistry when his grandfather, on his deathbed, stunningly anointed him his successor as a houngan — one of the 6,000 or so healers, soothsayers, exorcists and therapists who outnumbered doctors and Roman Catholic priests in Haiti. The 17th-century mystical traditions imported by slaves from West Africa and known in Haiti as Vodou coexist there with Christianity.

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“Just as a carnival band went by the house,” Mr. Beauvoir recalled in a 1983 interview with The New York Times, “grandfather turned to me and said, ‘You will carry on the tradition.’ It was not the sort of thing you could refuse.”

In 2008, when Mr. Beauvoir was 72, Haiti’s houngans, frustrated with being marginalized by their impoverished nation’s elite, formed a national federation and chose him as supreme chief.

“My position as supreme chief in voodoo was born out of a controversy,” he said. “Today, voodooists are at the bottom of society. They are virtually all illiterate. They are poor. They are hungry. You have people who are eating mud, and I don’t mean that as a figure of speech.”

From a lavish temple and clinic just outside Port-au-Prince, Mr. Beauvoir lobbied for official recognition for the houngans as healers and sought to transform the Hollywood image of voodoo from that of shamans pricking effigies and wrangling zombies to that of priests of a natural order that bonds body and soul and encompasses a single god, some 400 spirits, reincarnation and countless raucous and colorful rituals.

In her 1989 book “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier,” the journalist Amy Wilentz characterized Mr. Beauvoir as an opportunist with “the oily manner of a man whom you wouldn’t want to leave alone with your money or your child.”

Yet many Haitians regarded him as the most outspoken defender of a religion that helped stabilize a fragile society but that was not officially recognized until 2003. They saw him as a polished spokesman who could navigate between African and Western cultures and insinuate voodooism into Haitian government policy.

To make money, Mr. Beauvoir also practiced voodoo tourism. In 1975 he staged a ceremony for Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton on their honeymoon. In his memoir “My Life” (2004), Mr. Clinton recalled, “The spirits arrived, seizing a woman and a man.”

He added: “The man proceeded to rub a burning torch all over his body and walk on hot coals without being burned. The woman, in a frenzy, screamed repeatedly, then grabbed a live chicken and bit its head off.”

Mr. Clinton did not elaborate on whether the man and woman benefited from the ceremony, except to say, “Haitians’ understanding of how God is manifest in our lives is very different from that of most Christians, Jews or Muslims, but their documented experiences certainly prove the old adage that the Lord works in mysterious ways.”

So, according to his critics, did Mr. Beauvoir.

He was linked with Jean-Claude Duvalier, the dictator who fled the country in 1986 after a popular uprising, and he opposed a democratically elected successor, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Mr. Beauvoir fled in the 1990s with his wife and two daughters to Washington, where he founded a voodoo temple and lived for about a decade.

François Max Gesner Beauvoir was born in Haiti on Aug. 25, 1936, the son of a doctor. He earned a degree in chemistry from City College in 1958 and attended the Sorbonne to study biochemistry.

Returning home in the early 1970s, he applied for a patent to extract cortisone from the sisal plant and was planning to start production when his grandfather died and anointed him a houngan.

Survivors include two daughters.

Although he had not been particularly spiritual as a young man, Mr. Beauvoir became the public face of voodoo and its most prominent promoter, even before he was chosen as chief priest.

“Haiti has a Western veneer, with an educational system, courts and a government,” Mr. Beauvoir said in 1983, “but this has very little to do with the way things really work. We should stop being ashamed and recognize what we are: a country with an African social structure that revolves around the voodoo community. Voodoo governs everything, our moral codes, the way we rationalize, eat, cure, and work the land.”

“We have to find a Haitian answer in harmony with what we are,” he said.

Vladimir Laguerre contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on September 18, 2015, on page B15 of the New York edition with the headline: Max Beauvoir, 79, High Priest of Voodoo in Haiti.

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