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American exorcist plies his lonely trade

Associated Press Modified: November 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm •  Published: November 11, 2010

Every Catholic still undergoes what the church calls a "simple exorcism" at baptism, when their godparents recite prayers renouncing Satan and rinsing the stain of Original Sin.

Serious cases of diabolical possession are usually manifested by superhuman strength, speaking in unfamiliar languages, and a raging hostility to sacred objects like crucifixes, according to exorcists; these require "major exorcisms," which are only to be performed by priests, with permission from their bishops.

The Catholic Church updated its Rite of Exorcism, in which the power of Jesus is invoked to expel demons, in 1999, bringing a text written in 1614 into the 20th century. The Vatican warned that exorcists should "demonstrate maximum circumspection and prudence," and approach the possessed person as they would anyone who suffers from physical or psychological illness.

Thomas knew little of this in 2005, when his bishop sent him to Rome to train as an exorcist. At Regina Apostolorum, a Vatican-sanctioned school run by the conservative Legion of Christ religious order, Thomas learned about detecting demons, how spirits fit into Catholic theology, and the source of the devil's power.

He also apprenticed with a veteran Italian exorcist, sitting in on 80 of his appointments with reportedly possessed people. In Italy, where more than half a million people seek out an exorcist annually, exorcisms are commonplace — more like going to the dentist than starring in a horror movie, Baglio reports.

In America, however, exorcism has often been relegated to the dark corners of the church — or the silver screen. Most demonic possessions, however, are nothing like Linda Blair's head-turning role in the famous 1973 movie "The Exorcist," Thomas said.

Thomas said 10 bishops and seminary rectors responded to his letters, thanking him for sending the book but saying little more. "I thought I would've gotten a lot more (letters) by now," he said wistfully.


But if the bishops aren't game, Hollywood is. New Line Cinema, a major movie studio, bought the rights for "The Rite," and hired a Hollywood veteran to direct.

Thomas said he was paid $25,000 when the film rights were sold, all of which he will give away; exorcists are not allowed to take money for their services, and the priest said he doesn't want to get a big head.

"The worst thing for me would be to become a celebrity," Thomas said. "That would be a great way to derail me; and that's exactly what the devil wants."