Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference said only a tiny number of U.S. Catholic priests have enough training and knowledge to perform an exorcism
More than 50 bishops and 60 priests were signed up to attend. The intent of the training was to outline the scriptural basis of evil, instruct clergy on evaluating whether a person is truly possessed and review the prayers and rituals that comprise an exorcism.
Among the guest speakers was Houston’s own Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
"Learning the liturgical rite is not difficult," Cardinal DiNardo said in a phone interview before the conference, which was open to clergy only. "The problem is the discernment that the exorcist needs before he would ever attempt the rite."
Exorcism has deep roots in Christianity. The New Testament contains several examples of Jesus casting out evil spirits from people, and the church notes these acts in the Catholic Catechism. Whether or not individual Catholics realize it, each of them undergoes what the church calls a minor exorcism at baptism that includes prayers renouncing Satan and seeking freedom from original sin.
"When it was evening, they brought Him many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by His word, and He healed all that were sick"
A renewed focus on exorcism by the Church highlights the belief that evil is real.
DiNardo said some Catholics who ask for exorcisms are really seeking, "prayerful support. They're asking for formation in the faith." Still, he said sometimes the rite is warranted.
"For the longest time, we in the United States may not have been as much attuned to some of the spiritual aspects of evil because we have become so much attached to what would be either physical or psychological explanation for certain phenomena," DiNardo said. "We may have forgotten that there is a spiritual dimension to people."