Editor's Note: This interview discusses key details of scenes crucial to the plot of 'Emily Rose,' which may spoil the movie for you if you haven't seen it yet.
GODSPY: Fr. Lebar, did you find the movie convincing?
Fr. James Lebar: Yes, I would say so. I thought the movie was good; it presented things fairly. I didn't see anything in the movie that didn't belong there.
How do you think it compared to The Exorcist?
That was an entirely different situation. This move didn't show all the grim and gory details ... it did show the attacks by the devil, but I think this was a more cerebral movie in that it was trying to find out how the girl died, and whether the priest was guilty of negligence.
I'd like to ask you about some key points in the movie—for instance, the question of the priest's possible negligence hinged on the fact that he took Emily off her medication for "psychotic epilepsy." Was that realistic? Would an exorcist ever do that?
The devil doesn't just test people who want to be tested.
I certainly wouldn't delve into an area I didn't know anything about. I wouldn't do something like that without consulting a psychiatrist.
One of the most commented on and controversial aspects of the movie was that Emily seemed to be a pious girl who hadn't done anything to open herself up to demonic attack. No dabbling in the Occult, no playing with Ouija boards. Can demonic possession happen without some sort of consent on the part of the person, can it happen against her free will?
Oh sure. The devil doesn't just test people who want to be tested. He wants to test everybody, especially people who aren't asking to be tempted.
In what ways does possession happen?
It can happen in one of two ways. A person can open the door to evil through crime, sin, unholy practices, or hatred of God. There are people who never participate in a satanic cult who make a pact with the devil, who give themselves over to evil.
The other way is when the devil wants someone for a specific purpose, and he initiates the possession to induce fear or despair in the person, or for some other reason we don't know about. These people don't realize what's happening, and are caught up in the whole thing without warning.
Another interesting twist in the movie was that the medication was blamed for blocking Emily's free will during the ritual, which is why the exorcism didn't work. Is that accurate?
Not being a psychiatrist, I don't know; On a certain level the free will of the individual is working no matter what. And within an exorcism itself, the devil does so many different things, that because of the stress and strain it would be hard to determine what the subject was really willing...
The movies implies that the possessed person has to consent to the exorcism.
More than likely the person needing an exorcism would not agree to one. They're so wound up by the devil that he overpowers their mind. That's why we have legal guardians to make decisions when the person can't. So if the person is so wound up because of the presence of the devil another person can say this is what's needed.
When a person does their best to conform to the will of God they can put up with a lot...
What about the emphasis, during the exorcism in the movie, on finding out the demon's names. What's that about?
In Old Testament times it was always thought that if you knew the name of your adversary you had more control over them, so that it was always thought that it was important to know the names of the demons...
The climax of the movie is the scene where Emily has a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who gives her the choice whether to continue her possession. She chooses to stay possessed, which eventually kills her. She martyrs herself as a witness to the reality of Satan. Is there a theological basis for this? Many have asked, "Why would God allow a pious young girl to suffer so much?"
To strengthen her spirituality. To strengthen her love of God. Look at someone like . The Nazis threw him in a concentration camp against his will, but while he was there a situation presented itself where he freely chose to plunge deeper into that horror, to suffer and die in place of someone else. That man he replaced lived to see Kolbe canonized as a saint, someone who gave good example, who was a witness to love's triumph over evil.
So we should see this as a version of the "dark night," the absence of God experienced by saints such as St. Therese, and even Mother Teresa?
Was it a bad thing that Kolbe was sent to the camp? Of course. Did it have another purpose? It certainly did. It made him a saint. What made him a saint was not going to the concentration camp—it was conforming to God's will and doing his priestly work inside the camp, in helping people as best he could. In retrospect, what he did inspired many others to go on.
You're saying that St. Maximilian can help us understand Emily Rose's situation—both were faithful believers who were subjected to evil against their wills, and both situations ended in their freely choosing to lay down their lives for God's sake?
So to ask why God would permit Emily to die this way is just part of the larger mystery of why God permits suffering in general?
Yes. God sees the greater good.
And the idea that Emily could be a saint—which is what the priest in the movie suggests—that's far-fetched?
The director, , said that what helped him come to terms with the tragedy of Emily was that "God Himself endured that—if you believe in the Incarnation." Do you agree with that?
Look, if the devil is possessing a person, who then gets into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the devil ain't happy about it!
I guess I would say yes to that, although I might say it differently. We should also remember that when a person does their best to conform to the will of God they can put up with a lot, and it's not masochistic or self-destructive. God doesn't abandon the person who undergoes these things.
In the movie, Emily runs into a church, where she is subjected to a very physical, demonic attack. Her back arches way back, and she's in great distress. That surprised me...
I'm sure you've heard or read stories of people going into a Catholic church and having to leave because of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and other things as well. Let me give you an example.
Recently in another part of the country, a priest was working on a case where a woman who was being oppressed would meet him in a church. A point came when she didn't want to go into the church anymore—she'd try to go in, but she'd get agitated, as if there was a plexiglass shield at the entrance. So the next time the priest arranged for her to wait in the lobby while he signaled another priest to remove the Blessed Sacrament from the church. She didn't know this was happening. The priest then told her to try again, and she went in and sat down and they talked for an hour. That's an indication that the devil is involved because he doesn't want to be in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
In the movie I was surprised that she could be attacked right in front of the altar.
She went in the church for help. She didn't know that was going to happen to her.
Wouldn't she have been protected there?
Look, if the devil is possessing a person, who then gets into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, he ain't happy about it. That would account for that reaction.
A lot would depend on whether Emily at that point was oppressed or possessed. An oppressed person can go to mass sometimes, other times can't. Because of that, very often they'll fool the exorcist, if you're only depending on that sign.
God doesn’t abandon the person who undergoes these things.
From the movie, I don't know whether Emily was a normal everyday person, whether she did something bad and got possessed, whether the devil went after her because she was good ... a lot of things follow from the answers to those questions. She knew enough to go into a church when she was attacked. The attacks before then could have been oppressions, not possessions. But at one point the devil possessed her so when she went into the church he had an adverse reaction of the worst kind.
So we shouldn't view it as "the demons are getting their way even in a church," but that they're having an adverse reaction to the Blessed Sacrament...
Yes. The devil doesn't want her there at all. He'd want to get her out of there.
What do you think about the media attention that movies like Emily Rose bring to the subject of demonic possession? Isn't there a danger that it will lead people to see demons where none exist?
One of the reasons I'm willing to do interviews like this is so that this phenomenon comes to the attention of people, Catholic and non-Catholic, and they will be informed that a: The devil exists, b: He tries to trouble people, and c: If he troubles people so much that he possesses them, they can be helped through exorcism.
The movie suggests that the reason for Emily Rose's martyrdom was to demonstrate to the world that the devil exists. You could say that, like the crucifixion, an apparent victory for Satan was turned to defeat. Does evidence of real demons lead people to believe in God?
Yes. I've heard of many cases where people who didn't have any strong belief in God, who became possessed or oppressed themselves, or knew someone who came into that condition, from that came belief in the true God.