Exorcisms all about prayer and kindness

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 23/05/2013
Michael Blain, exorcisms
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ
SPIRITUAL COMFORT: Michael Blain, a retired Anglican priest who was an exorcist for the church, holds a stone carving of an African spirit.

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Father Michael Blain does not believe in demons, but was once Wellington's own city exorcist.

Now 70, the retired Anglican priest sees his old job as just another way of helping people. He learned exorcism in rural Zimbabwe, where he worked in the 1980s.

As a liberal Anglican, he had to adjust to African social norms, where distress was often blamed on curses, demons, or magic.

Some families would call for a witchdoctor, but others came to the church.

"I don't believe in all that sort of thing - it's a load of rubbish," he said.

"But the church staff said it was my job ... they see the world in such a way they believe you can help them, and it was my job to help."

It was not about what he believed - it was about what people needed.

Turning up on a motorcycle, he would perform exorcisms alongside village elders. He never believed he was casting out Satan. It was a spiritual comfort for people.

When he returned to New Zealand, he became vicar of Kelburn and was asked to do the job for the city.

"[The bishop] wanted someone who wasn't going to make it worse or do freakish things," he said.

"My parishioners in Kelburn laughed at me ... said they were embarrassed to tell anyone they had a priest who did exorcisms."

He is proud to say he never actually performed the ceremony. If he was asked to do one, he would talk and pray with the person.

"I tried to find out where the sore point was."

Often they had drug problems, or serious medical conditions.

"These are people so scared, scratched and scarred they couldn't handle life and relationships."

He often referred them to a psychiatrist or a doctor.

"It was about treating them seriously, showing respect and kindness."

For him, it was not about battling Satan. He is concerned, however, about the growth of some churches that believe in demons and possession.

PART OF CLERGY'S ROLE

Every Catholic diocese is still obliged by canon law to have someone available to do exorcisms, it has emerged after controversy surrounding the Pope supposedly ridding a man of demons.

Wellington, however, does not have an appointed exorcist, and Catholic Archbishop of Wellington John Dew said that, as far as he knew, it had never needed one.

Debate over the role of exorcism comes after Pope Francis laid his hands on a man's head and recited a prayer after Sunday mass in St Peter's Square in Rome.

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The man heaved deeply half a dozen times, shook, then slumped in his wheelchair.

The images, broadcast worldwide, prompted claims that the Pope had either performed an exorcism or a prayer to free the man from the devil.

Pope Francis, with his background in Latin American and Jesuit spirituality, is known to frequently refer to the devil, leading some to claim he has a fascination with Satan.

The Vatican, however, insisted he "didn't intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone who was suffering who was presented to him".

Exorcisms in New Zealand are rare, but they do happen - and Catholic Education Office chief executive Pat Lynch said canon law made it obligatory for a bishop to have someone able to perform an exorcism.

"These things, they are not in the realm of fantasy," he said.

He remembered a house, near where he lived in Auckland in the 1970s, where "some sort of black magic was taking place".

"People were getting in touch with the Underworld."

The story was that a one-metre hole would open up in the side of a wall, leaving scorch marks around it.

While parts of the story may have been embellished, a priest with exorcism credentials was brought in to perform the ritual as described in the canon for exorcising spirits.

The ritual apparently worked, he said.

"I have no reason to disbelieve it."

Anglican vicar Michael Hewat, of the West Hamilton parish, said he saw his job as doing what Jesus did - including exorcism.

"The truth is some clergy either don't believe in demonic forces or they may feel lacking in confidence," he said.

Manifestations of a demonic force ranged from people hissing like snakes, to people with supernatural strength or "super-human evilness".

- Tom Hunt and AP

- The Dominion Post

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