Faith in God, not Hollywood

With disturbing horror films and ghost stories galore, supernatural hysteria can often dominate consumer culture during the Halloween season. One way to quell paranormal fears is recognizing that the tales are not based on real-life occurrences. Unless, of course, they actually are.

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For Father Vincent Lampert, priest at the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and exorcist for his ministry, exorcism’s modern-day realities make up his daily work. Father Lampert visited Foellinger Auditorium on Monday night for his lecture, “The Real Exorcist Returns!”, sponsored by the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center. Starting at 7 p.m., his lecture recounted the realities of his position, debunked the common myths created by popular culture and set guidelines that individuals of all faiths can follow to prevent forms of evil from entering into their lives. A 30-minute Q-and-A session followed the 45-minute lecture, with questions submitted via text and Twitter and asked by a student moderator.

Jennifer LaMontagne, director of marketing and communications for St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, explained that Lampert was invited back to campus this month after his October 2009 lecture, which was well-received by a packed Foellinger.

“I think one of the reasons that we have events like these ... is that there certainly is kind of this sensational aspect to it, but it’s something that people don’t really think about outside of the context of fiction or film,” LaMontagne said. “So it (was) an opportunity for students all across campus, regardless of their beliefs or backgrounds, to come hear about a topic that they may not have thought about in depth.”

Monsignor Gregory Ketcham, director and head chaplain of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, first met Lampert in 1990 when they were both students at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill. He was still in touch with Lampert when he first heard Lampert was appointed by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of the Archiocese of Indianapolis to become an exorcist in 2005. He said he thought Lampert was a fitting selection for the job.

At the time of his first campus lecture, Lampert was reportedly one of 12 trained exorcists in the United States. Now, as one of the more than 50, his line of work is increasingly prevalent to the public’s rising concerns involving exorcism, or as Lampert defined, the persistent request manifested before God and directed against demons to depart.

“I think (after) there’s been a lot more people asking questions about it, the church realized it needed to appoint more, just because the 12 of us were getting so many calls and inquiries,” Lampert said. “So it became a need to have more people to respond to these people. If the church doesn’t provide the assistance that people are looking for, there’s a concern that people may look for it in an area that really isn’t going to help them.”

During the Halloween season, however, Lampert experiences a 100-fold spike from his typical 10 calls or emails per week from concerned individuals across the U.S. To address the seasonal rise in interest, Lampert is in the midst of a six-stop lecture tour in the Midwest, which began Oct. 23 and goes until Nov. 6.

However, Lampert reported that the number of cases determined to require an exorcism has stayed stagnant, despite increased inquiries and seasonal hysteria.

“(The need for an exorcism is) extremely rare. The example would be maybe one out of 5,000 people who contact me would be a genuine case of possession,” Lampert said. “The exorcist is trained to be a skeptic, so just because somebody calls me doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe they’re possessed. Obviously, something’s going on in their life, but it’s important to determine whether it’s of a spiritual or of a mental nature.”

Lampert said he requires concerned individuals to have a physical and psychological evaluation, by medical experts of their choosing or of his recommendation, to determine if the perceived possession might be due to delusions, hallucinations or other non-spiritual causes.

Once medical and psychological experts evaluate the individual and determine there is something they cannot explain, Lampert must determine the type, degree and entry point of the demonic presence, as well as the number of demons involved. A full-blown demonic possession can call for an imperative exorcism, in which the demon(s) are commanded to depart. However, lesser forms of a demonic presence — such as infestation, oppression and obsession — call for a supplicating exorcism in which God is asked to dispel the demonic presence. Lampert said he likes to keep sessions under 30 minutes, although the duration can differ depending on the exorcist. The number of required sessions can also vary, based on the level of “evil” at hand. While Lampert pressed that actual exorcisms are often far less dramatic than their Hollywood portrayals, he has witnessed eyes rolling into the back of the head, supernatural strength, bodily contortions, foaming at the mouth and, in one particular case, levitation.

“I think movies tend to want to highlight the manifestations of evil ... exorcism, in reality, is basically a prayer; it’s a prayer of healing and wanting to bring healing into the person’s life,” Lampert said. “(Movies) tend to look at the more bizarre ... but most exorcisms are not of that degree or nature.”

One of the most common misconceptions involve the cause of demonic possession. Movies tend to focus on external causes, Lampert said, when typically the problem lies within the person’s own internal thinking.

“Usually when people believe their dealing with something evil, they have to do something extraordinary to rid themselves of it,” he said. “Usually, the way to defeat the presence of evil would just be doing the very ordinary things that are tied to one’s belief in God.”

Derek Miller, Illini Secular Student Alliance president and senior in LAS, attended the lecture with a group of members from his RSO. He left the lecture still not convinced that demonic possession is a real issue and that many of Father Lampert’s experiences could be explained by medical conditions.

“I thought it was a lot of scary language designed to have people think a certain way,” Miller said. “It sounded a lot like a sermon to me. ... If you listened to the way this guy talked about things like witchcraft and vampires, you’d realize this is totally out of touch with reality.”

On the other hand, Cristina Morales, recent University alumna, saw Lampert’s 2009 lecture and said she believed it was a great way to hear from an expert in the field.

“Lampert has had some pretty terrifying life experiences,” Monsignor Ketchum said. “But that’s not something we should celebrate, that’s not something we should rejoice in; it’s just the opposite. When people get mixed up with Satan and personified evil, it has often destroyed their lives.”

Sarah can be reached at soenke2@dailyillini.com.