Saturday, November 16, 2013

Readers Respond to Paprocki and His Exorcism: Nobody Ever Holds a CEO Down and Shouts That He's Possessed of Devils

There is so much that is so valuable in the outstanding reflections many of you have posted here about Bishop Paprocki and his intended exorcism. Rachel suggests in several keenly perceptive replies that the demons with which exorcists are struggling are often in their own psyches. 

As Ruth Krall points out, the healing process demands that we confront our inner demons, our shadow side, not split it off from the rest of our psyche, demonize it, and try to expel it. Colleen Baker repeatedly notes the danger posed by a public exorcism of the kind Paprocki has announced. As a mental health professional, her work dealing with people teetering on the edge of reality has convinced her that it's exceptionally dangerous to stage public rituals like the one Paprocki has announced, because of the effect of those rituals on people whose psyches have been fractured.

I'm struck, too, by a point Boltingmadonna makes

I'm not a professional, but I know from experience with cultish people that exorcisms and inculcating belief in malevolent superbeings who are invisibly active in daily life creates real harm and psychological damage. In this case, exorcism is being performed in a general way--as a sort of temper tantrum by the bishop--but normally they are performed on individuals who are already damaged and victimized. Nobody ever gets hold of a congressman or a CEO, holds him down and shouts at him that he's possessed of devils. It's always someone who is already at the margins, often a woman or child. Exorcism violates real human beings. It also demonstrates a dangerously off-kilter state of mind in the exorcist. Paprocki is showing himself to be a deranged, irrational person who shouldn't be in charge of anything, much less the souls of other human beings.

I share Boltingmadonna's experience with cultish people. I think I have mentioned to readers here that, when the charismatic movement first got underway as Steve and I were finishing our undergraduate studies in New Orleans, we were briefly involved with it. During those years, when we lived with several other Loyola students and a priest in a community of prayer and service with a strong charismatic caste to it, we lay students were once ordered by the priest in the household to assist him in an exorcism.

I did so unwillingly. To me, it was evident that the young woman he was "exorcising" was mentally disturbed and needed therapy and/or medication--not magic. I also knew enough theology to know that priests aren't encouraged or permitted to use rituals of exorcism casually, as I could see this priest was doing in the case of the young woman he was "exorcising." I feel quite sure no diocesan authority was notified of his intent to perform this exorcism.

There was a lot of shouting, a lot of commanding, a lot of self-aggrandizing casting out of this and that. The young woman duly complied by grunting and talking in a guttural voice. But I could see no compelling evidence that she was freed of a demon--or that demons were in any way responsible for her struggles. What I saw, instead, was a priest who seemed to me frighteningly out of control, with delusions of grandeur aided and abetted by his charismatic piety, which (in his own perceptions) hooked him up in a direct way  to the Holy Spirit and made him, in his own head, a unique agent of the Spirit.

It was not long after this that Steve and I dissociated ourselves completely with that movement and that community, and then in a few years down the road, chose to complete the graduate studies in theology we'd begun while living in that community.

I agree with Boltingmadonna: Paprocki is throwing a big public temper tantrum about gay marriage. I think this is also a publicity stunt to keep himself in the limelight of the political and religious right. And as Boltingmadonna so aptly notes, it's a stunt for which targeted others--in this case, gay folks--pay the price. As she says, "Nobody ever gets hold of a congressman or a CEO, holds him down and shouts at him that he's possessed of devils. It's always someone who is already at the margins, often a woman or child." 

And she's right.

The graphic is from a poster advertising the 2010 CBS film The Last Exorcism. I find the image used at various blog and news sites online, including this Screen Crush posting, and so I am assuming it can be used for non-commercial purposes in a blog posting. If any reader has information to the contrary, I'd appreciate hearing it. 

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