In my younger days, I was a chaplain at the Hudson River Psychiatric Center, a more politically correct name than the one from which it was changed: The New York State Insane Asylum. I think this is where Rose Marie Kennedy (R.I.P.) had her lobotomy done, poor girl. The hospital was doing some pretty horrific downsizing when I was there. It’s set to close up in October 2011. I hope we’re not going to find some of the released-to-the-community patients dead from exposure in the nearby woods down by the Hudson River. This is what happens with the downsizing of such essential facilities. In it’s heyday, there were 9,000 patients and 9,000 staff: 18,000 people, a small self-contained town. They were doing great until some liberal knuckleheads said that having the patients have the joy of getting supplemental therapy by working the farms and powerhouses and laundry of the hospital wasn’t as nicey nice as up-to-date liberals would have things done. Instead of the patients enjoying accomplishments, they now had to stare at the walls. An interesting place, especially the razor-wired facility with quadruple sets of steel doors which the patients could stare at all day and night. In my time as chaplain I had occasion to think about exorcism and psychology / psychiatry.
Skeptics of exorcism have it that psychology and, if there is a doctor in the house, psychiatry, together constitute the answer to everything, including demonic possession, which is then said to be readily explained by multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia, and any number of other possible diagnoses or combinations thereof. However, the presence or lack of presence of such things or others is pretty much irrelevant to whether or not someone is possessed.
The prudence in judgment demanded of the exorcist includes his being as skeptical as he can be without prescinding from the faith. The arrogance of prescinding from the faith is, instead, cynical skepticism, merely self-serving self-righteousness. The exorcist must recommend that an appropriate diagnosis be acquired for someone who is psychologically or psychiatrically ill, or someone who needs to go to an extended rehab for drug addiction or alcoholism.
Moreover, very often people desperately want all their problems to be caused by the devil, so that, in getting an exorcism, they can then be cured of all their problems: a quick and easy fix. However, escapism and exorcisms wrought for no good reason are not going to help anyone, ever.
Also, sometimes, people think they have a psychological need to be victims, and they bring this to an extreme. Perhaps we can think of exorcisms in this past century which were catastrophic failures for the reason that the person wanted to be possessed, but was not. Perhaps the exorcists had their own psychological need to be the saviors in the situation, and fell into the trap of the self-victimized person, thus encouraging such behavior all the more. But these are, perhaps, topics for other posts.
As it is, Judeo-Catholic prudence in these matters has it that although the exorcist will listen to what a person says about himself in regard to being possessed, but that’s about the extent of the importance that should be given to such a report. A possible candidate for exorcism could say he is or is not possessed for a multitude of reasons that no team of psychologists could ever fully explain, so labyrinthine is the lifetime complexity of the human psyche. So… whatever. What a person says in this regard is pretty much irrelevant. One might even listen to how someone belonged to a satanic group which cannibalized people during black Masses or whatever. That’s interesting in a want-to-vomit sort of way, but is not necessarily relevant to whether or not someone is actually possessed.
Does an exorcist have to be psychologist or psychiatrist in order to make distinctions of what is of the devil or not? No. Why not? Because illness of whatever kind, however bizarre, is not that which the exorcist is to base the judgments of his prudence. Discernment is brought to another level. That’s the subject matter of many other posts in the series, please God. Here, I’d just like to make a few general comments.
- The “certainty” that someone is being harrassed by the devil is not perfect, not physically provable, but only adequate. And that’s the jist of the description of perfect in Latin.
- The most that a psychological assessment could provide is that there is no known scientific explanation for the events occuring in such a person’s life. This is same value of what is said by doctors investigating the veracity of any miracle, such as people seeing perfectly with no optic nerves, etc. The only thing that can be said is that the miracle is not explainable.
- It is not necessary to force people to have psychological assessements before doing an exorcism. Some of the criteria for discernment of a true case of possession will otherwise be immediately presented. It depends on the case.
- Some people can be psychologically ill and harassed by Satan at the same time. Satan is not the kind to say that because someone is already suffering a terrible illness that he, Satan, in all his charity[!], will refrain from bothering that person. However, this is precisely what the cynical skeptics have to say about this. Included in this number of cynical skeptics are untold numbers of ecclesiastics, at least in past decades. I think we’re getting over that now. I think we’re moving into a time of a faithfulness which permits a more clear-headed approach. Thinking that Satan is so charitable is simply muddleheaded.
- Being harassed by Satan can exacerbate psychological illnesses, just as any ongoing extremely stressful situation can have an effect on anyone. Those who are psychologically ill are already weak.
Outside of one or two, perhaps three exorcists in France (some years ago), there was no other exorcist who had done or would do an exorcism on anyone for any reason, with the rationalization that all such people were only psychologically ill. There are many aspects of this way of going about things which are tempting to those who have the laziness inherent in the aloofness from suffering of politically correct arrogance. One doesn’t have to bother with the suffering of anyone, farming out these suffering people immediately to others.
I remember a student at the the Pontifical Gregorian University’s psych institute, two students actually, at different times and places, who said that they would never, ever send someone to an exorcist, for such things are fantasy. I asked them if they would rather keep people locked up in a psych ward for the rest of their lives even if their difficulties did not have a provenance in psychological illness. The answer was, “Yes.” Sad, that. Both were Catholic priests.
It’s high time to take care of the unnecessary and very real suffering that people go through. Cynical skeptics couldn’t care less about the very real hellish suffering of real people. They are only concerned about their self-serving ideology of self-righteousness.
Psychology and psychiatry have their place, also with exorcisms, especially is someone is ill and needs to be followed medically during an exorcism. There are plenty of doctors at the top of their field who will assist if asked. And they should be asked, if necessary.