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Why is Hollywood obsessed with Catholic exorcisms?

Associated Press Modified: January 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm •  Published: January 24, 2011

"The Rite," isn't the only media project on exorcism in the works.

Last month, the Discovery Channel announced "The Exorcist Files," a show that plans to pull the curtain from exorcism by presenting "real-life" cases of possession. Media reports said the Vatican was cooperating and would even open its case files. Katherine Nelson, a spokeswoman for Discovery Channel, said: "The implication about the Vatican is not accurate, though we do have cooperation from people in the church." The show's premiere has not been scheduled yet, Nelson said.

Demonic possession and expulsion turned heads long before "The Exorcist." In fact, exorcisms were one of Jesus' most common miracles, scholars say. When Jesus commanded the Apostles to cast out demons in his name, their exorcisms gained much-needed publicity for his fledgling church.

"In the early church, exorcisms were big crowd-pleasers that attracted a lot of converts," said Nancy Caciola, expert on the history of demonic possession and a scholar at the University of California, San Diego.

Some Catholic officials hope "The Rite" will do the same.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., convened a conference on exorcism last year in Baltimore that drew more than 50 bishops and 60 priests from around the country. The aim was to reduce the caseload of the two dozen official Catholic exorcists by encouraging each diocese to appoint their own experts.

The bishop said exorcists are needed now more than ever.

"People are falling away from organized religion, dabbling in their own spiritual path, or practicing no religion at all," he said in an interview. "That opens a door for the devil to come in and get involved in their lives."

Paprocki is eager to see "The Rite." ''It can be a positive thing toward giving people a more balanced understanding of what exorcism is all about," he said.

Thomas said the image of a Catholic priest heroically battling Satan in multiplexes nationwide could deliver a much-needed ego boost for American priests demoralized by the sexual abuse scandal.

"This is an evangelizing movie," said Thomas, who will walk the red carpet at the premiere of "The Rite" this Friday in Los Angeles. "The church actually comes out looking pretty good."