Amorth was born in Modena, Italy, on May 1, 1925. In wartime Italy, he was a soldier with the underground anti-fascist partisans. He was ordained a priest in 1951. He did not become an exorcist until 1986, when Cardinal Ugo Poletti, the vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, named him the diocesan exorcist.
The priest was frequently in the news for his comments on the subject of demonic forces. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph in 2000, he said: “I speak with the devil every day. I talk to him in Latin. He answers in Italian. I have been wrestling with him, day in, day out, for 14 years.”
The movie “The Pope’s Exorcist” claims to be “inspired by the actual files of the Vatican’s chief exorcist.” The Sony Pictures movie stars the New Zealand-born actor Russell Crowe as Amorth. Crowe’s character wears a gray beard and speaks English with a noticeable accent.
“The majority of cases do not require an exorcism,” the Amorth character says in the movie’s first trailer. A cardinal explains that Crowe’s character recommends 98% of people who seek an exorcism to doctors and psychiatrists instead.
“The other 2%... I call it… evil,” Crowe adds.
The plot appears to concern Amorth’s encounter with a particular demon. Crowe’s character suggests the Church “has fought this demon before” but covered it up.
“We need to find out why,” he says.
The trailer shows short dramatic scenes of exorcism, including a confrontation between Amorth and a girl apparently suffering demonic possession.
The International Association of Exorcists said such a representation makes exorcism become “a spectacle aimed at inspiring strong and unhealthy emotions, thanks to a gloomy scenography, with sound effects such as to inspire only anxiety, restlessness, and fear in the viewer.”
“The end result is to instill the conviction that exorcism is an abnormal, monstrous, and frightening phenomenon, whose only protagonist is the devil, whose violent reactions can be faced with great difficulty,” said the exorcist group. “This is the exact opposite of what occurs in the context of exorcism celebrated in the Catholic Church in obedience to the directives imparted by it.”
CNA sought comment from Sony Pictures and “The Pope’s Exorcist” executive producer Father Edward Siebert, SJ, but did not receive a response by publication.
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Amorth co-founded the International Association of Exorcists with Father René Laurentin in 1994. In 2014 the Catholic Church recognized the group as a Private Association of the Faithful.
The association trains exorcists and promotes their incorporation into local communities and normal pastoral care. It also aims to promote “correct knowledge” about exorcism ministry and collaboration with medical and psychiatric experts who have competence in spirituality.
Exorcism is considered a sacramental, not a sacrament, of the Church. It is a liturgical rite that only a priest can perform.
Hollywood made the topic a focus most famously in the 1973 movie “The Exorcist,” based on the novel by William Peter Blatty.
“Most movies about Catholicism and spiritual warfare sensationalize,” Lichens of Sophia Institute Press told CNA. “Sensationalism and terror sell tickets. As a fan of horror movies, I can understand and even appreciate that. As a Catholic who has studied Father Amorth, though, I think such sensationalism distorts the important work of exorcism.”
“On the other hand, ‘The Exorcist’ made the wider public more curious about this overlooked ministry. That is a good thing that came out, despite other reservations and concerns,” he continued. “Still, I would love it if a screenwriter and director spoke to exorcists and tried to show the often-quotidian parts of the ministry.”