Despite the intrigue and attention given to the topic of exorcism, the primary work of the Devil lies in daily “temptation,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki said, following a successful exorcism training weekend hosted by the U.S. bishops in Baltimore.
The Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism took place Nov. 12-13, just before the bishops' annual fall assembly. According to Bishop Paprocki, who chairs the Bishop's Committee on Canonical Affairs, the program came about after an increasing number of inquiries from priests in the U.S.
Because only a “small number” of priests have undergone exorcism training, the conference was held “really to provide some guidance for bishops,” he said.
He explained that exorcism training falls under the jurisdiction of the canonical affairs committee because of the requirement in canon law that says a priest needs permission from his bishop to perform an exorcism.
Over 100 bishops and priests attend the two day conference, which Bishop Paprocki said they described as “very helpful.”
In an interview with CNA, he said that “the reality is that an exorcism is really rare. It's really something rather extraordinary because possession – a person being possessed by a devil or demon – is also very rare.”
“Given the fact that possession and exorcisms are rare, people tend to think that that's the only activity of the Devil,” and they mistakenly think that “if I'm not possessed, I don't need to worry about the Devil,” he said.
However, it's “quite the opposite,” he explained. “The ordinary work of the Devil is temptation and everybody has to face that everyday.”
“The ordinary response to dealing with temptation” can be found in “the ordinary means of spiritual life that the church offers: the Sacraments, going to Confession, receiving Holy Communion, saying prayers and devotions, the Rosary, blessings, Holy Water, things like that,” he said.
“And in fact, I would go so far as to say that the Sacrament of Penance is more powerful than an exorcism.
“An exorcism is a type of blessing in effect – it's a sacramental – whereas the Sacrament of Penance is actually a sacrament,” the bishop explained.
“So if we live a good life, a good spiritual life that's sound, we don't need to worry about that.”
Bishop Paprocki smiled as he clarified that exorcism is ”sensationalized in the movies,” and that demonic possession “is not contagious.”
Usually it's needed “because people have willingly and freely opened the door to the Devil, looking for that kind of involvement and enjoying the pleasures that the Devil has to offer,” he said.
“It's a relationship – a relationship between a human person and a fallen angel – a devil.”
“Exorcism,” he explained, “is breaking that relationship,” and it “starts with the person renouncing Satan.”
Primarily, it “involves getting a person to renounce that relationship,” and “secondly, for a priest to intervene and invoke the power of Christ to break that relationship.”
Speaking on what determines the need for an exorcism, Bishop Paprocki said that “we use the principle that you have to exclude all the natural explanations before you resort to the supernatural.”
“That means getting a medical exam” and a “psychiatric assessment” first, he clarified. If a person is mentally unwell, bringing up the suggestion that he or she is possessed would undoubtedly make the situation worse.
“That's why a careful screening and permission from the bishop is needed,” he explained.