Earlier this year there were a flurry of articles about a well-documented case of demonic possession and exorcism in Gary, Indiana. It’s described in this article in the Indianapolis Star and in an interview covered in this article on the blog Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
It is a recent interview with the priest who performed the exorcism, and reports of a movie deal being signed which have spurred the recent spate of interest.
Personally, I’ve always found cases of demonic possession and exorcism fascinating, because they are instances of the veil between the spiritual and the physical lifting just a bit. They are a dramatic reminder of the spiritual battle we are constantly waging, where we want to or not. But is this just another paranormal story to be ignored? Or is it something worth paying attention to?
The reports read like a synopsis of a Hollywood movie (so a movie deal in place really shouldn’t be a surprise).
The case involves a single mother of three of very limited means. Supernatural phenomena began to appear after they began renting a particular house, phenomena
Some of the supernatural events which occurred include:
An infestation of large black flies, the sound of footsteps and doors opening when no one was around; mysterious wet bootprints; bulging eyes, evil smiles, and deepening voices of the afflicted; moving furniture; physical attacks on victims; victims attacking others; ghost-like apparitions; voices; paralysis; malfunctioning equipment (recorders, flashlights, police radio, police officer’s car); strange images in photos; the levitation of a victim over her bed; a victim sliding up the wall and across the ceiling backwards.
Even the last most dramatic event occurred in front of witnesses from outside of the family.
Not surprisingly, the family was traumatized. When the events began happening (there is a fairly detailed description of the timeline in the IndyStar article), they did seek help from doctors, local churches, and two self-professed clairvoyants. A visit to the family physician resulted in a call to 911, which resulted in DCS involvement in the case. The mother lost custody of her children for a period of time, ostensibly because they were not going to school.
The priest who was eventually called in requested and finally received permission from his bishop to perform an exorcism. He initially performed what is called a “minor exorcism”. A minor exorcism is the everyday kind of exorcism. Baptism is a form of minor exorcism, as is the final part of the Our Father (deliver us from evil). He eventually performed a major exorcism three times. DCS case workers were witnesses to many of the supernatural events as well as to at least one of the attempts at exorcism. Police were also present at the exorcisms.
After the third exorcism, the family seemed to return to normal. DCS returned custody of the children, and the family moved away from the house.
How Credible is this Story of Exorcism?
As you can see if you read the interview, the priest involved not only received his bishop’s approval to perform the exorcism, but he also consented to give an interview on the subject. In addition there are reports of unexplained occurrences from not only family members but from doctors and nurses, DCS case workers, and police.
Now, we’ll never know the truth of it, but documented statements from police, Department of Child Services (DCS), nurses, a priest and others make this something more than just a simple ghost story.
Could it be a Hoax?
Of course it could be a hoax. This hoax, however, would have had to involve a Catholic priest, police officers, a family doctor and nurses, and Child Protective Services case works. It strains credibility to imagine that all of them were all willing to go along with a hoax. They have no reason to go along with it and every reason to refute it.
Could the hoax have been perpetrated by the family, and the other witnesses tricked? That is hard to imagine. That would require a large number of coincidences and some fairly gullible witnesses. It would probably also require the collusion of the priest. To think that the witnesses imagined what they saw, or reinterpreted otherwise “normal” occurrences in the light of the claims of demonic possession seems reasonable in the abstract, but if you try to imagine yourself in those circumstances, it doesn’t seem to make any sense. We live in a society built around hoaxes, and we laugh at online and TV videos of people who fall for them. People these days are more likely to assume something is staged than they are to fall prey to some kind of mass hysteria.
Yes, the priest has signed a movie deal. However, he has claimed that any payments will go to charity, and that he is doing the movie and documentary explicitly to help make more people aware of the realities of demonic possession. With no evidence of mal-intent, I would be very reluctant to disbelieve a priest in good standing.
So What’s the Bottom Line?
A person of faith doesn’t need to pay attention to this kind of report if they aren’t interested. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter whether it was a real demonic possession or not. In the same way, it doesn’t really matter whether the Shroud of Turin is the true burial cloth of Jesus. In both cases, there is something to be learned from the phenomenon.
The reality of demonic possession should give us pause. It reminds us of the reality of evil and the reality of Satan. That latter reality is something Pope Francis preaches about frequently, and the fact is that the Holy Father recently found it necessary to train 200 new exorcists.
We need to be reminded of the danger of sinful behavior and the occult. If it is true that the demon was “invited in” due to the presence of a sexual relationship outside of marriage coupled with occult activity by the boyfriend, then this is a serious reminder of the terrible consequences of such behavior.
Christ cast out many demons in the bible, as did the apostles after him, as have many saints through the centuries. We cannot dismiss these events as fantasy, especially those recounted in Holy Scripture. And if demonic possession was real then, it must be just as real today. Stories like this remind us of that fact, and it is a sobering reminder.