Channel 4 to broadcast exorcism in the name of science

First it screened an abortion, then an autopsy. Now, Channel 4 is set to spark a fresh row by televising the exorcism of a man who claims he is possessed by evil spirits. Last night the channel defended its decision to run
The Exorcism, saying it was a "scientific experiment" and would be broadcast after the 9pm watershed.

First it screened an abortion, then an autopsy. Now, Channel 4 is set to spark a fresh row by televising the exorcism of a man who claims he is possessed by evil spirits. Last night the channel defended its decision to run The Exorcism, saying it was a "scientific experiment" and would be broadcast after the 9pm watershed.

But there is concern within the Church of England that those willing to put themselves forward for exorcisms are more likely to be mentally ill than possessed.

In the programme, an Anglican priest will perform the exorcism on the man in a television studio. He will be wired to brain-scanning equipment and monitored throughout. The priest is understood to have been practising what he calls "deliverance" for several years and the subject of the exorcism has been consulting him for some time over the possession by evil spirits.

Those who undergo exorcisms can range from those who complain of hearing voices to people who have dabbled in the occult and want to close the door on their experiences.

"This isn't just a man we've pulled off the streets - he is somebody the priest has been working with for years and it will be a proper scientific experiment monitored by a leading neuroscientist," a Channel 4 spokesman said.

Before an exorcism, priests are supposed to ensure the subject does not suffer from a medical condition, including mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, in which the symptoms of hearing voices and experiencing delusions involving evil spirits are commonplace. The man, who will only be identified by his first name in the programme, had been examined by two psychiatrists who concluded he had no diagnosable mental illness, the spokesman said.

But one Anglican bishop expressed concern over the motivation of anyone seeking an exorcism. "People who need this sort of help are nearly always psychologically troubled," the Right Rev Dominic Walker, Bishop of Monmouth, told The Sunday Times. "Once you've got a television programme on exorcism we'll end up with lots of telephone calls from people saying, 'I think I'm possessed' because they have got some problems that a doctor hasn't been able to solve."

Channel 4 argues that the programme, which will be recorded on 24 February before being broadcast at 11pm that night, was driven through by the science department and should be seen within the wider context of research into neuroscience.

Simon Andreae, Channel 4's head of science, said: "Exorcisms are performed regularly in Britain, and some scientists who have studied religious experiences believe measuring brain activity could reveal what's going on during the process."

The Church of England will be reserving judgement until the programme has been seen, a spokesman said. But he added: "There are very careful pastoral decisions made by priests about exactly what circumstances it's right to offer this ministry."

The 1973 horror film The Exorcist is thought to have led to a considerable increase in the number of people approaching the church seeking exorcism.

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