Did the devil just make you watch that porn?
Priests meeting this week in Rome for an annual exorcism course will study, among other issues, whether demonic influences are at work in the "widespread" use of pornography around the world, the Catholic News Agency reports.
Blaming pornography on Satan, however, does not absolve people from taking personal responsibility for their actions, the Rev. Pedro Barrajon, a Spanish priest, told journalists in Rome on Monday.
"Does it come only from human causes — psychological, familial, social or cultural — or is there more?” he said. “Human sexuality in itself is a value, but when you use it poorly, you are creating harm for yourself and others, especially if it involves children."
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He called pornography "this modern cultural phenomenon of an evil that harms people."
More than 250 priests, theologians, psychologists and criminologists from 51 countries have gathered for the week-long Vatican course, described as the only international lecture series of its kind, according to The BBC. This is the 13th conference and the number of priests participating has more than doubled since 2005.
This year's agenda includes the rising practice of witchcraft in Africa, cults in Latin America and learning how to tell the difference between psychological illness and demonic possession.
The devil's grip is growing stronger, priests have been warned. Demand for exorcisms is booming, which Vatican organizers blamed on declining interest in Christianity and the internet giving people easy access to the occult and Satan worship, Britain's The Telegraph reported.
About 300 priests trained in exorcisms work in Italy alone, where half a million people have reportedly asked for exorcisms in the past decade.
"Demand is growing, absolutely,” said the Rev. Anthony Barratt, a priest in Albany, N.Y., told the Telegraph. "I think it is partly due to the internet, which makes (satanism) so accessible. Films and television programs are also a factor. There’s a fascination.”
Barrajon, however, cautioned journalists against placing too much weight on reports that exorcisms are on the rise because “there is no serious statistical study on the practice of exorcism," the Catholic News Agency noted.
But apparently so many people are seeking help that some priests are delivering prayers of liberation — one of the first steps in an exorcism — over the phone.
“There are priests who carry out exorcisms on their mobile phones. That’s possible thanks to Jesus,” said Cardinal Ernest Simoni.
Exorcism by cellphone worried some priests because people fighting satanic possession often must be physically restrained to keep them from hurting themselves during the exorcism process.
“Priests pray with people on the phone to calm them down, but if you are not there you cannot control the physical aspects,” Giuseppe Ferrari, an expert on demonic sects, told the BBC. “Some exorcists say it is effective. Whether it is orthodox or correct, I couldn’t say.”
The 89-year-old Simoni described one particularly aggressive exorcism he once performed on a woman he described as being at least 6 1/2 feet tall.
"It took six people to hold her down in a chair. After hours and hours of struggle, I was able to banish the evil. I cast out the demons. This is the power of God," he said.
Other priests who have performed exorcisms said they really do happen the way they've been depicted in movies. They described victims speaking in gravelly growls, in languages that couldn't be understood, and vomiting nails and shards of glass.
“Most commonly they speak Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic,” Barrajon told the Telegraph. “If you show them a holy object, like a rosary or a cross or a picture of the Madonna, they go into shock and start yelling.”
Speakers insisted that the devil is real, a belief shared by Pope Francis, who often references Satan in homilies and addresses.
“He is evil, he’s not like mist. He’s not a diffuse thing, he is a person,” the Pope told a Catholic television channel in December, the Telegraph noted. “I’m convinced that one must never converse with Satan — if you do that, you’ll be lost.”
Even so, speakers noted that many Catholics, even some priests, do not believe in Satan.
The Rev. Jose Enrique Oyarzun, professor of theology and philosophy at the Regina Apostolorum University where the exorcism conference is being held, said there was “great confusion” about the devil.
"We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea," Oyarzun said. "This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable."