On Demon Schooling

April 27, 2018

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As a “skeptical demonologist” for nearly half a century, I would have had much to say at the course on “Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation” held in Rome April 16–21, 2018. I know there are those who would say that—because I have never found a single demon in all that time—I appear to be too skeptical. I beg to differ.

The 300 conservative Catholics who attended the 13th annual event (mostly clerics) believe there is a recent increase in evil. They attribute this to atheism, to the Internet, and even, supposedly, to the lax modernistic views of Pope Francis (according to an article in the New York Times). In fact, it is they, their religious ilk elsewhere, and the allegedly “possessed” who are out of place in time, ironically harking back to the Middle Ages and earlier.

I have seen the consequences of such belief many times, as when I accompanied a Canadian broadcaster to the home of a Catholic couple in St. Catharines. She supposedly experienced bouts of possession and exhibited various wounds including a cross, scratched into the skin and running down her left arm. She was a new convert taking church instruction, and he seemed to us a domineering type. I thought the wounds self-inflicted (she was right-handed)—perhaps as alleged signs of divine approval to please him, or even directed by him to please the church. I interpreted as clues the facts that they had invited the media and that it was just days before Halloween.

I have been involved in other “demonic” cases, including the Amityville Horror, and the Haunting in Connecticut, and none survived scrutiny. At Amityville, for example, where George and Kathy Lutz reported cloven-hooved tracks in the snow, and doors and windows severely damaged, there had been no snowfall at the time alleged, and close inspection showed no damage to the old hardware, paint, and varnish. Barbara Cromarty, who subsequently lived in the house, told me she had other evidence the affair was a hoax. In time, attorney William Weber confessed that he and the Lutzes “created this horror story over many bottles of wine that George Lutz was drinking.”

As to the Connecticut case, Allen and Carmen Snedeker (another Catholic couple) joined with the infamous “demonologists” Ed and Lorraine Warren (all of whom I later appeared with on a Sally Jessy Raphael show) to produce an exaggerated and largely fictionalized account of alleged demonic activity timed for Halloween promotion. Some events, including a niece being fondled by an “unseen hand,” were ultimately revealed to be the misbehavior of son Philip. He was not “possessed,” but after police took him to a juvenile detention center, they found contributing factors to be his drug use and schizophrenia. (For more on these cases, see my The Science of Ghosts and The Science of Miracles.)

Much more recently, I visited the Rhode Island home that had been the subject of the Hollywood horror film The Conjuring, where a Catholic family, the Perrons, had been plagued throughout the 1970s by “demonic forces.” Instead I found the occurrences consistent with misperceptions, vivid dreams, schoolgirl pranks, and the like. A suggestible Carolyn Perron was egged on by the Warrens, who had brought in a priest for a rather unsuccessful exorcism. I was invited to the house in mid-2016 by Norma Sutcliffe who has subsequently resided in the house with her husband for over thirty years. They do not believe in demons and, not surprisingly, have lived undisturbed there except for demon-hunting trespassers.

Now that science recognizes brain disorders like epilepsy, and mental conditions such as schizophrenia and hysteria, reports of possession have declined—except where ignorance and superstition continue to be the domain of “demons.” The Internet can help dispel these, and so it is not a cause but a remedy; atheism is not a consequence but, coupled with humanist values, a salvation. I say this as one who has received “demon” schooling for half a century.