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Interview with an Exorcist: Fr. James Lebar talks about �The Exorcism of Emily Rose�, by Angelo Matera
The recent box office success of �The Exorcism of Emily Rose� got people talking about the existence�or not�of the demonic. We spoke to Fr. James Lebar, exorcist for the archdiocese of New York,  about the thorny theological issues raised by the movie, and where the line between fact and fiction really lies.

An Exorcist Tells His Story, by Fr. Gabriele Amorth

An Exorcist: More Stories, by Fr. Gabriel Amorth

Cardinal Angelo Scola on Satanic rites in the Church's judgement
��before an exorcism is: performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness" (CCC, n. 1673).�

Catechism of the Catholic Church: Exorcism
�1673: When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism��

Catholic Encyclopedia on Exorcism

Demonic Possession or Mental Illness? by John L. Allen, Jr.
Knowing when to exorcise and when to refer for psychiatric treatment is a nagging problem for priests. [Beliefnet]

Emily Rose�s Exorcism, and Mine, by John Zmirak
Movies about the supernatural sometimes have devastating effects on people�especially Catholic boys with neurotic dispositions, prodigious reading habits, and powerful imaginations.  Just ask John Zmirak about �The Omen.�

Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption, by M. Scott Peck

Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans, by Malachi Martin

Satanism and how it affects young people today, by Sandro Magister
A summary of Pope John Paul II�s exorcisms; the history, organization, subculture and worldwide presence of Satanism; and an interview with well-known exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth. [Chiesa]

The Patient Is the Exorcist: Interview with Dr. M. Scott Peck
�Because I was a scientist I was perhaps more stringent than most people would be in diagnosing these two cases. I wasn�t going to try to deal with something I wasn�t sure was possession. Particularly as a psychiatrist, I was really sticking my neck out.� [Beliefnet]

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'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' is a well-crafted, creepy film that explores profound questions about the nature of God. Does He exist? Do you really want to know?

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Looking for a feel-good movie this weekend? Something for grown-ups that addresses the everyday crises and disappointments of life, but ends with a warm, suffusing sense that all is well, and every problem, if honestly faced by a genuinely good-looking protagonist, can be solved within 120 minutes? Then this is not the movie for you. Go see Wedding Crashers instead.

The film raises and addresses profound questions about the nature of evil but doesn�t pretend to answer them.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is the kind of movie that disturbs while it entertains. The film depicts (employing poetic license) the true story of a bright, young college student, Emily Rose (played by the gifted Jennifer Carpenter) who seemingly became possessed by six demons and was approved for exorcism by her local diocese. The exorcism was protracted, horrific, and futile. She died of malnutrition, and the priest in charge was prosecuted for criminal neglect.

The film is a courtroom drama centered on the trial, suffused with flashbacks to apparently preternatural, and profoundly disturbing events. The protagonist is the priest's lawyer (played by the ever-brilliant Laura Linney), a cynical agnostic driven by ambition, hired by a shame-faced diocese to hush the whole thing up. But the priest (portrayed by the compelling Tom Wilkinson), refuses to cop a plea�insisting that he must take the stand and "tell Emily Rose's story. That's what she wanted." The prosecutor, a dour Protestant (played with silk and steel rectitude by Campbell Scott), brings an army of expert witnesses to try to prove that Emily had a diagnosed, treatable psychiatric condition�"psychotic epilepsy"which the priest culpably ignored in favor of exorcism. Thus the film presents forensically the clash between contemporary scientific humanism and spiritual warfare. The contest is presented impartially, with men of each tradition speaking cogently and persuasively for their points of view�including the priest. As the director said, "It really was one of my goals to present a Catholic priest as a character with dignity and respect. I think Catholics and priests are such easy fodder for stereotype and vilification. I wanted to create character you couldn't help but respect for his passion and integrity."

The film raises and addresses profound questions about the nature of evil and why God permits the suffering of the innocentbut doesn't pretend to answer them. And that's just what the filmmaker intended. Scott Derrickson, a graduate of the artsy Christian liberal arts university, Biola, calls himself an "orthodox Christian" and confesses that he's addicted to the novels of Walker Percy, and to reading and re-reading G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy. In fact, as Derrickson told me in an interview, Catholic screenwriting maven Barbara Nicolosi warns him, "You're just one Chesterton book away from crossing the Tiber," and becoming a Catholic. Whatever his background, Derrickson has crafted a compelling drama which sends you out of the theater feeling queasily fascinated, wondering if you need to seek some kind of protection, despite your faith or lack thereof.

I expect that this film will drive some people afflicted by unfamiliar voices and eerie occurrences to pester priests with the suggestion that they might be possessed. And the priests will do what the Church tells them to do�send these poor souls to the doctor. As the film makes clear, Church officials are extremely skeptical about such claims, insisting that every natural explanation and treatment be completely exhausted before a spiritual cause is inferred for a person's distress. When Catholics get a toothache, they're supposed to go to the dentistnot to Lourdes.

When Catholics get a toothache, they�re supposed to go to the dentist�not to Lourdes.
I raised with the director the possibility that the film might provoke a panic about demonic possession�as had The Exorcist, which some said inspired the delusions endured by Anneliese Michel, the real Bavarian girl upon whom "Emily Rose" is based. Derrickson admitted that it was a danger. "But as a filmmaker, I feel responsible for the effect my work would have on normal, balanced peoplenot on the small number of troubled souls. I mean, you can point to several serial killers who carried around the Bible. They just didn't understand it. The Bible's full of provocative, dangerous stuff."

(To read how the movie The Omen screwed me up almost irreparably, click here.)

Derrickson admits that he didn't follow the facts of the case as closely as one would in making a biopic (such as Kinsey). "I felt obliged to take this true story and do it justice by creating a thought-provoking film that caused people to think deeply about the subject of whether there's a spiritual realm. I thought this was a great way of getting into those questions. It's a work of fiction based on a real thing that happened."

The real things that happened, according to the film, are fairly disturbing�especially for a believer. Emily Rose was not a Satanist or an aspiring witch; she'd never even touched a Ouija board. Indeed, she was the pious, virginal daughter of a devoutly Catholic familythe last person who'd open herself to demonic possession. But demons seem to have kicked down the door, and tormented her for years, until Fr. Moore undertook a course of exorcisms�which failed. If a faithful and holy priest like Fr. Moore cannot expel the forces of evil from the soul of an innocent by invoking the name of Jesus... one begins to wonder: What's the point? Which side is really stronger, after all? What kind of a God permits such innocent suffering; is He sadistic, incompetent, or merely distracted? Is the Creator an overworked cosmic chef who's put one too many universes on the stove, and hasn't noticed that ours is bubbling over?

Derrickson says he wanted to raise such questions, rather than answer them. "I'm kind of a doubter by nature. That's been a big part of my spiritual journey. What I found personally compelling about this tale is that there's no easy way to resolve the questions the movie presents. There's no simple, clean-cut obvious answer. But the questions it raises are important for everybody. I'm not interested in trying to propagate my own view. It's much more about asking the right questions," he said.

If a holy priest cannot expel the forces of evil, then one begins to wonder: Which side is really stronger, after all?
The answer offered by the film's most heroic charactersFr. Moore and Emily Rose herself�is that Emily is a "victim soul," an innocent who willingly offers to "make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ," for the benefit of sinners on earth. We don't like to think about saints like thisand personally, I don't recommend reading about them�but the Church has recognized quite a few, most famously St. Lidwina of Schiedam. Emily suffered, the film's heroes suggest, to prove to the world the reality of the preternatural and supernatural worldsby showing men the devil, she would turn them to God.

Which led this viewer to ask the director if he wasn't encouraging us both to believe in God and to dislike Him? Derrickson responded: "I often find myself troubled when I think deeply about this and the nature of God. It is perplexing. But isn't that the story of the saints, the apostles themselves? People who suffered tremendously so that God's nature could be revealed to the world. That does give me questions and apprehensions about God, but I always come back to a place of comfort when I think that God Himself endured that�if you believe in the incarnation. I hope agnostics will be troubled by the spiritual possibilities the film presents, but that Christians will also be troubled into thinking about issues like this."

It remains to be seen if audiences will be challenged, troubled, and fascinatedas I was�or if they'll leave the theater unsatisfied, because the film leaves unanswered questions. Even after 9/11, and now Katrina, most moviegoers may not be interested in listening to subtle arguments about God and the existence of evil, especially on a Saturday night. I suspect they'd prefer a demon movie that delivers the "moral of the story" nicely packaged up, with a bright red bow. I can't say I blame them. Will "Emily" tap into the mass Christian audience that made The Passion of the Christ a huge success? It remains to be seen. I hope so.

'...God Himself endured that�if you believe in the incarnation.'
But there's another audience I can't excuse. Already, critics at Slate and the New York Times are complaining that this film is religious agitprop. And to them, it must seem that way, since it proposes a spiritual explanation of events as one (out of several) plausible alternatives. Compared to the films which they're accustomed to praising, that would constitute religious propaganda. If only The Exorcism of Emily Rose had (like the award-winning 1995 Dutch film Antonia's Line) presented its priest as a drooling sexual predator who molested retarded childrenthen it might be considered "provocative." If (as in virtually every Stephen King film) it had portrayed Christians unambiguously as dangerous fanatics, then it might qualify as "complex and penetrating," not (in the words of New York Times critic A.O. Scott) "propaganda disguised as entertainment." Scott's review says more about the narrowness of his experience and imagination than it does about the film.

As someone who does believe (reluctantly) in demonic possession and exorcism, I came out of the theater undecided about whether Emily Rose had in fact been possessed, or simply mentally ill. So did other believers I know who saw the film�not superstitious peasants, but educated people with advanced academic degrees. That's because the film is genuinely ambiguous and ambivalent. But that's not how the (mostly) secularist film reviewers for major newspapers and magazines see the film. One wonders if audiences will listen to them.

September 9, 2005

JOHN ZMIRAK is co-author, with Denise Matychowiak, of "The Bad Catholic�s Guide to Good Living" (Crossroad, 2005) and a contributing editor at Godspy.com

©2005, Godspy.com. All rights reserved.

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02.11.06   snapshot says:
I want to inform anyone who read my January comments that my theory about why Anneliese's exorcism failed (because the new defective rite was used) fails the test. I found out recently that the new rite wasn't promulgated until 1999. So Dr. Goodman's answer must be the correct one.

01.01.06   snapshot says:
I read the book, "The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel," by non-Catholic anthropoligist Felicitas Goodman, before seeing the film. I presume director Scott Derrickson based his production on this book, which I encourage all viewers to read BEFORE seeing the film, but even afterwards as well. Because I had the facts of the case from Goodman, I was quite disappointed in the movie. As I told everyone, "Just like Hollywood to take the real story -- which would make an excellent movie someday -- and turn it into something else...inventing things like the 'courtroom (and off-courtroom) drama' between the defense attorney and the prosecutor, which is fantasy; showing how the defense attorney became a target, too, of the demons (her finding a medal in the snow is pure fantasy, too) etc. to distract the viewer from the real drama of the case." Then my wife and I got the DVD and watched it -- or, rather, tried to. Would you believe, right when the priest began his testimony, the picture froze on my screen and the sound stopped! Every second or two after that, the picture advanced a tiny bit but eventually went completely haywire. My wife immediately said "It's the Devil!" and ran to get the holy water. She sprinkled it on the TV, me and the entire room, but to no avail. Soooo...we never got to see the rest of it. I fast-forwarded until the sound returned but by then Anneliese had been buried already. In her book, Goodman argued that the medicine she was taking was responsible for the failure of the exorcisms. She based her book on almost a thousand pages of evidence and testimony provided by the defense lawyer, including more than 40 tape recordings of all the exocism sessions. Her theory so impressed the lawyer that she was convinced she could get the verdict overturned if she could get the convicted (which included not just the priest, but Anneliese's parents, family and friends...all those who assisted at the exorcisms) to agree to a new trial. Unfortunately, they refused. The trauma was too great for them to go through again. Can't blame them, but it's a shame the truth will never come out and their names cleared. My main reason for wanting to comment on the film and the story is to propose my own theory, to wit: it wasn't the medicine but the new, revised Vat. II exorcism rite, which was written by "experts" who had never seen an exorcism or performed one. Rome's own famous exorcist, Fr. Gabriel Amorth, explained why he thinks the new rite is worthless in a June 2001 interview in the magazine 30 DAYS, which is must-reading for anyone who wants to hear from a man who has performed thousands of exorcisms. Read Goodman's book and Fr. Amorth's scathing criticism and tell me what you think. By the way, thanks to this review and the knowledge that Scott is a fan of Chesterton (my favorite book is Orhtodoxy, too) and in gratitude to him for depicting a real, honest-to-goodness Catholic priest, I plan to see the movie again. All the way through, I hope! Richard.

12.29.05   pld59 says:
I have watched this film two times now in an effort to understand certain issues, and questions, that this movie inspires. (I have also seen the Exorcist several times.) I believe the ending was quite appropriate. Clearly, if one believes in God, one must believe that Satan also exists. However, the film, being produced by an agnostic, could not ever presume to answer the question(s) of why God does, or does not, allow "things" to happen. Only God can answer these questions. Therefore, the film, in my opinion, is constant (ie: scientific theory vs. spiritual theory; belief vs. non-belief vs. I don't know). It also pits believer against believer (the prosecuting attorney (a man of faith) and Father Moore) and illustrates the difference, or levels, of belief between different people, or faiths, in general. While the Christian faiths' create a list of certain criteria that must be met in order to be "possessed", I disagree. I believe that possession is what it is; possessed. While I am sure that there are true instances of possession, I am also sure that there are those who truly are mentally challenged and who only believe they are possessed, but are not. I do not pretend to have any answers to the questions offered in these types of movies. That would be presumptuous on my part and would, in my mind, be an act of hubris. All I know is that I deeply believe in God, and in Christ. And with them, as well as through them, all "things" are possible, whether they be natural, preternatural or supernatural. This film serves to strengthen my faith, as did the Exorcist.

12.23.05   spknarr says:
I have just viewed the movie. I do not know 'What happened to Emily' but I do know that Satan is 'The Great Deciever' and works in more subtle ways than this 'In Your Face Hollywood theory". Demons wish to possess people and dwell in them, not be cast out, so they remain behind the scenes doing Satan's work mostly without our knowledge. I also do not beleive one can be possessed without giving the demon(s) an open door or invitation and can be cast out of the person if the person wishes the demon to go. The only way a demon can be cast out is when a true child of God uses the name of Jesus. The Bible tells us that satan and his angels (demons) must obey God and will flee when the name of Jesus is used against them. When this is not successful is when the person possessed does not want to be free of the spirits. If you choose to beleive or not beleive what I say (from the Bible) does not matter, it is still a fact and all will know when we die and cross over to our individual eternities in Heaven or Hell.

12.21.05   solomon says:
Living in a universe and world that is so unpredictable as to science as well as the spiritual realm. We need to be very careful as to our opinions as to the creation of the world; human beings and the existance of a higher being we know as God. I can respect the different beliefs as to religion but we often miss that there is an underline truth, whether there is a difference in religious practice, rituals or even what science can prove! Really both compliment each other whereas relgion present values and science present facts, but it all points back to God. Now honestly I haven't seen the movie as of yet, but I have read the reviews and it troubles me how we totally depend on science to give us our answers. This movie of course reminds me of the ''Exorcist'' and how can we believe in God but excuse the fact that He has enemies, especially if you are a believer! I am presenting my view as a Christ believer or Christian, and I do believe in ''influence'' by the enemy and I hope that I never witness anything of this nature. I have seen whereas satan can influence us in subtle ways and the ultimate goal is to carry out his work!. Maybe what happened to Emily as one author disclosed in paraphrasing ''maybe it will draw us closer to God''! If man can only travel so far in the universe and go so deep in the ocean we really haven't touched the surface in understanding the spiritual realm.

09.10.05   Godspy says:
'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' is a well-crafted, creepy film that explores profound questions about the nature of God. Does He exist? Do you really want to know?

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