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Healing Line

Healing Line

Healing News

by Francis MacNutt
Winter 2001

Mother Teresa's "Exorcism"

You may have seen the rather sensational news (AP. September 6) that Mother Teresa had an exorcisim performed on her when she was hospitalized in 1997. Archbishop Henry O'Souza of Calcutta disclosed this news at a large gathering commemorating the fourth anniversary of her death. Fr. Richard McBrien, a Notre Dame theology Professor and well–known Roman Catholic author, called the exorcism and the Archbishop's disclosure "bizarre," especially when the Vatican is hastening the process that would lead to Mother Teresa's canonization by waiving the customary five–year waiting period. "I cannot believe they would have allowed this to happen," said Fr. McBrien.

If you were confused by this news, perhaps the following observations will help. In the first place we have to realize that for many contemporary Scripture scholars and theologians, the very idea of confronting real personal demonic spirits is primitive or medieval: in other words, "Bizarre." And Fr. McBrien is among those theologians who hold this belief. His honest response simply reveals to us, how important it is for those of us who daily encounter the reality of evil powers, and who receive phone calls and letters from people desperate for help, to somehow convince the present–day church of the vital need to resurrect a balanced ministry of deliverance. Among theologians in the mainline churches, we find, for the most part, skepticism, if not downright hostility.

The second confusing element in this news item is the use of the word "exorcism," which is usually understood to be the formal rite used in the Catholic Church for someone who is possessed. Clearly, it is ridiculous to consider Mother Teresa as possessed. Exorcism is certainly not the right word that should have been used for the Archbishop's prayer.

Again, we come up against a great element of confusion because most Christians in mainline churches have never heard of deliverance from evil spirits, a prayer used to help people who are by no means possessed but who are truly infested or oppressed by demonic powers. (The reason I wrote Deliverance from Evil Spirits was to try to make this kind of distinction, at a time when the study of deliverance is not offered in most seminaries.) Consequently, the whole discussion of what the Archbishop sanctioned is made to look ridiculous by using the word "exorcism."

The Archbishop's explanation is perfectly rational. He says that when Mother Teresa was admitted to the hospital for heart problems at the age of 87, she was having difficulty sleeping. Since there was no medical reason for her sleep deprivation, "It struck me that some evil spirit was trying to disturb her." He assigned a priest to pray for her a prayer of protection, and after that she slept peacefully. According to another news source, which I just read last week, Mother Teresa was also going through the "dark night of the soul" a period of desolation much like what Jesus went through in the Garden of Gethsemane, when God seems to remove his presence.

In our experience such a prayer to be freed from oppression, plus a prayer for protection, ought to seem to be quite ordinary and normal — not bizarre.

The news media sensationalized the entire episode, but worse yet, made those who believe in the reality of evil spirits look ridiculous. As you can see by holding what we believe up to ridicule, this kind of news item makes it hard for CHM, and everyone else in the healing ministry, to hold a rational discussion on the subject of deliverance. Those speaking as experts haven't yet learned the proper terms which will enable us to talk rationally.

*I wrote about the Dark Night in The Healing Line, November 1995.

Archbishop Milengo's Problems

You have also probably read about Archbishop Emmanuel Milengo's painful recent history, which the London The Tablet headlined as "Tragic Opera in Rome." The part that the press has emphasized has been the 71–year old Archbishop's departure from Rome to be married to a Korean physician whom Milengo had never met by the Reverend Moon in a group ceremony. Then, surprisingly, the penitent Archbishop traveled back to Italy to meet the Pope, when he renounced his marriage and promised to do penance (at Monte Cassino). Again the press centered on the new bride's fasting outside St. Peter's in Rome, until she was finally allowed a three–hour meeting with the Archbishop, after which he disappeared from public view.

What is not so well known is the background to the Archbishop's problems, which center on some of the same basic difficulties as Mother Teresa's "exorcism," namely, a misunderstanding about the need for deliverance from evil spirits. The Archbishop's problems go back nearly 30 years to when he was appointed bishop of Lusaka (Zambia) at the very young age of 39. Quickly, he became known for holding healing and deliverance services for large numbers of Africans; unfortunately, some of his own clergy denounced these services as "pagan" and "witchcraft," so he was recalled to Rome, where he was subjected to a battery of psychological tests and was kept almost as a prisoner, according to The Tablet.

Then in 1983, after a meeting with the Pope, he was allowed to resume his healing work and he began traveling around again, especially in Italy, giving healing and deliverance services. As in Africa, these meetings were largely attended and, naturally, he conducted them African style with much exuberance and noise — the very style that offends many Europeans. Eventually, the key dioceses of Rome and Milan forbade him to perform healing masses in their cities. Archbishop Milengo has been very open in saying that he has felt wounded and rejected by the official response (he excludes the Pope from this) to his efforts to bring healing and deliverance to hurting people. Finally, he felt he had been closed in long enough., After 30 years of feeling slandered, he fled to the Moonies.

Way back in the early 70s, I met him and was impressed by his warmth and friendliness. Since then I really don't have enough first–hand information to judge in any way whether

the bishops were right in trying to rein him in. What I do know by experience is that the African style of worship and praying is more expressive and emotional than the more subdued European style. If you add to that the lack of understanding about the deliverance ministry, you can realize that you have the right mix for a tragic misunderstanding.

Again, Archbishop Milengo' s plight underlines the desperate need for church leaders to understand and experience the deliverance ministry, which is often ugly and repulsive. Watching deliverance take place easily repels a normal person, so you can understand why a leader might say, "I don't want any of this on my watch!"

A New Book on Exorcism

But then, last week I read a book by an author who had done his homework on deliverance and exorcism. The book, titled American Exorcism (Doubleday), was sitting out there on the new book table at our local Barnes & Noble bookstore. Intrigued by the title, I opened the book and found that, indeed, it really was about exorcism. Then I recognized the author's name, Michael Cuneo, who visited here several years ago and spent a day interviewing us. Quickly I read the entire book, which is a well–written account of the history of exorcism and deliverance in the U.S since 1970.

Many of the names I recognized (and some I didn't), but American Exorcism has given me a fuller understanding of the different traditions of exorcism that are active in our country. Michael has done his homework and spent several years watching various exorcisms (including the formal rite in the Roman Catholic Church) take place in a wide variety of styles, all the way from the rough and tumble wrestling–match type to the more sedate "bind up the spirits and tell them to be quiet" style. American Exorcism then is fascinating and very informative reading, and I would recommend it to anyone in the deliverance ministry.

Unfortunately, from our point of view, Michael remains something of a skeptic about the existence of a real demonic realm; he seems to believe that most of the dramatic phenomena can be accounted for by psychological influences and the power of suggestion. In the scores of exorcisms he observed, he certainly has seen most of the ugly and violent manifestations that we often find. His own critical interpretation of all these phenomena certainly illustrates what I have written about — the need for the gift of discernment; namely, you can't see the spirits (without a special gift) so all the signs you see, the effects caused by the spirits, are ambiguous: you can't prove that spirits are what are causing this person's eyes to roll back or for them to bend forward and retch. There may be some psychological reason for people to act in these ways. To me it indicates more than ever that Christians need to experience the baptism of the Spirit, so they can have knowledge through discernment and the word of knowledge about the spiritual causes of these phenomena which are not accessible to proof by to our human intellects, no matter how bright we are.

All three of these apparently disparate news items are connected by a common theme: "Is exorcism (deliverance) real?" All three show that there is a desperate need for dialogue and teaching on this subject, especially for church leaders!


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Winter 2001 Issue