Church warning on risks of exorcism

Cult-like healing centres see demons in women's rights and acupuncture
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The Independent Online
Fundamentalist Christians who see the devil everywhere can drive vulnerable people to suicide, according to one of the Church of England's most experienced exorcists.

Canon Dominic Walker, the Vicar of Brighton, has produced one of the fiercest attacks of recent years on the excesses of charismatic Christian groups who claim to be returning to the pure church of the New Testament.

Canon Walker says that on the extreme fringes of charismatic Christianity it is not merely Satanism which is thought to lead to demonic influence, but "such things as acupuncture, women's rights, vegetarianism and even Roman Catholicism".

One of the most influential practitioners is a New Zealand evangelist, Bill Surbritzky, who warns against such supernatural beings as the demons of masturbation, oral sex, and smoking.

In an essay on the casualties of the movement, published in a recent book on Christianity and the occult, Canon Walker writes: "Those who have been involved in such groups often become desperate. Often, they will have been convinced that they are 'demonised' and the inability of the group to cure them will not be seen as any inadequacy or misdiagnosis of the group, but as a result of deliberate sin or lack of faith on the part of the sufferer.

"This adds to the feeling of guilt by the sufferer and sometimes to the feeling that if the Church does not have sufficient power to exorcise such spirits, then the only cure may be suicide."

Canon Walker said yesterday: "When people come to you for exorcism, you're dealing with people in total desperation, who feel that the medics have failed them. If they feel that God can't help them either, then they may well kill themselves. I have dealt with people who have tried, and I have dealt with the aftermath of cases where people have succeeded."

In his essay Canon Walker writes: "There are now a number of healing centres which give prominence to the ministry of deliverance and where most visitors are diagnosed as being possessed by evil spirits and return on a number of occasions to undergo exorcism, thus developing a sense of dependency.

"Casualties from these centres will frequently describe cult-like features - lovebombing, lack of privacy with dormitory accommodation, lack of sleep, idolising of the leader, and teaching which cannot be questioned without being accused of being in league with the devil.

"Some churches and centres have developed a complex demonology of various kinds of demons which they claim can possess people. It is not uncommon for people to be told that they are possessed by an incubus spirit, which is attacking them sexually, and there have been complaints of sexual assault by some of those claiming to attempt to exorcise such spirits in what is described as 'internal ministry'."

The most celebrated of these cases involved the Rev Andrew Arbuthnott, who was removed from his post at the London Healing Mission in 1994 and defrocked for sexually assaulting with a crucifix women in an attempt to rid them of demons that had supposedly entered them through their genitals.

Canon Walker says: "The vast majority of charismatic churches are aware of the dangers of confusing demonic attack with psychological problems or psychiatric illness." It is only a minority, he says, which produce casualties: "People who have undergone exorcism where it has been carried out by inexperienced people or where it was quite inappropriate and has resulted in greater disturbance."

Every diocese in the Church of England has an exorcist but they are told to be as undramatic as possible.