Rome warns the clergy not to get too familiar with the Devil

Frances Kennedy
Sunday 17 September 2000 00:00
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Italian bishops meeting in Turin this week will be grappling with a tricky linguistic question; how to address the Devil.

Italian bishops meeting in Turin this week will be grappling with a tricky linguistic question; how to address the Devil.

The Italian Bishops Conference will be considering how to implement changes to the official exorcism rite, approved last year by the Vatican.

For centuries Roman Catholic priests have used the classic Latin formula Vade retro Satanas to drive out the Devil. Now, like the Latin Mass before it, the phrase is being pensioned off in favour of invocations in the local language. In Italian, with two forms of "you", this raises the question of which is more fitting.

" Vai indietro, Satana!" would give the demon his marching orders with the familiar " tu" and seems the most likely choice. But pedants might prefer the formal "lei", more distant and used to address strangers or inferiors.

"I have always used Latin but I don't think the language change will make much difference," commented Father Corrado Balducci, an expert on exorcism and the paranormal.

"The exorcist rite is very brief, it simply orders the Devil out. There can be variations, you may invoke the Trinity or the Madonna, or recall that Jesus overcame temptation by the Devil" he said.

The Catholic Church distinguishes sufferers into two broad categories: those suffering " infestazione locale o personale" where the individual is under the influence of the devil but conscious; and " possessione diabolica" where the person is completely unaware what is happening and his body has become an instrument of the Devil.

"In the past decade the number seeking help from exorcists has grown dramatically. In this era of fear and anxiety many people convince themselves they are possessed; it's purely psychosomatic," said Father Balducci.

He estimates that of 1,000 potential cases only five or 10 are the work of the Antichrist. But he adds that it is important that exorcists are available and ready to help because otherwise people might take their problems to bogus maghi, or witches, who abound in Italy. Dedicated exorcists are named by the local bishop who can also delegate exorcism duties to ordinary priests.

The deliberations on how to translate the formula come after reports that the Pope recently carried out an exorcism. The Italian press reported that during a general audience ten days ago a 19-year-old Italian girl began insulting the Pontiff, speaking disconnected phrases in a strange language. The Vatican later said there had been no exorcism rite, the Pope had simply prayed with and embraced the girl.

In January 1999, the Vatican revised the exorcism rite introduced by Pope Paul V in 1614. Clerics were warned however to differentiate between "genuine possession by the Devil and severe psychiatric disturbances" and in an overture to medical science, were encouraged to consult doctors and psychiatrists if they saw fit.

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