Canadian news outlets are sensationalizing an event that was not treated as demonic possession and did not prompt a search for an exorcist, according to the Diocese of Saskatoon's communications office.
Communications coordinator Kiply Yaworski told CNA that the public had been misled by “headlines that were completely false,” suggesting that an exorcism had been performed by a local priest in March.
“There was no rite of exorcism,” said Yaworski. “No one here was calling it that.” She said media outlets were erroneously connecting the “blessing of a distraught man” to the topic of possession and exorcism, “just to get people to click on their stories.”
Yaworski was eager to clear up misunderstandings about an event reported by CBC News on April 13, under the headline “Exorcist expertise sought after Saskatoon 'possession'.”
According to CBC News, the incident involved a “shirtless middle-aged man, slouched on a couch and holding his head in his hands,” who had “used a sharp instrument to carve the word 'Hell' on his chest.”
“When the priest entered the room,” the Canadian outlet reported, “the man spoke in the third person, saying 'He belongs to me. Get out of here,' using a strange voice.”
CBC's article acknowledged that the priestly blessing the man received was “not a formal exorcism.” Bishop Donald Bolen, the only Catholic leader named in the article, reportedly said it was unclear whether the man was possessed or merely mentally disturbed.
But his comments were placed alongside those of the unnamed “church leaders,” who were said to be “considering whether Saskatoon needs a trained exorcist” after “a case of what is being called possible demonic possession.”
Yaworski blasted the misleading portrayal of the blessing that had occurred in March, and said Bishop Bolen's considerations about a diocesan exorcist had not been affected by the incident at all.
Bishop Bolen did tell CBC that the diocese was “kind of looking at what the diocese of Calgary does,” with its “special commission for spiritual discernment” which looks into unusual cases. Yaworski explained that these comments were a general reflection, not a response to the March incident.
The spiritual discernment commission in Calgary does not discuss its cases with the media. On April 20, this prompted the Toronto Sun to claim that the Calgary diocese was “working in mysterious ways” with the Church in Saskatoon, through its “shadowy” and “closely-guarded” commission.
Yaworski dismissed the notion of a “shadow” and “mysterious” commission in Calgary, and suggested the media were mistakenly imagining a secretive attitude in cases where the Church simply seeks to protect family and personal privacy.
On April 17, the Saskatoon diocese issued an official statement on the original March occurrence, acknowledging that it had “captured media attention.”
During the incident, the diocese said, “a priest blessed a distraught and emotional man with holy water and prayed with the family, before advising them to call the police.”
In his statement on the matter, Bishop Bolen stressed the reality of supernatural evil, but confirmed that no exorcism had occurred in the March incident.
“In Jesus' ministry there were exorcisms, and so it is not something that we can lightly dismiss,” he said.
“But the headline that the bishop of Saskatoon is looking for an exorcist was a vast oversimplification. Catholic dioceses, like other Christian communities, must look at how best to respond to requests in this area.”
“Our resurrection faith is that life is stronger than death, that God brings hope out of despair and light out of darkness,” Bishop Bolen said. “It is more important to affirm the goodness of the love of God than to speculate about the nature of events such as these.”