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The Vatican, the exorcists and the return of the Devil in a time of enchantment

Sicilian priest and long-time exorcist Father Benigno Palilla recently told Vatican Radio that requests for exorcisms had tripled in the past few years. There were now, he said, 500,000 alleged cases of demonic possession recorded in Italy each year.

With a population of around 60 million, this means the Devil is apparently active in one of every 120 Italians. That’s a lot of demoniacs and a lot of demons – at least some 500,000 of them if they’re not multi-tasking.

As a result of this demonic epidemic, a six-day school will be held in Rome in April at a Catholic education institute, the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, to train clergy in how to recognise and deal with the demonically possessed.

Why the sudden increase in possession by the Devil? Palilla attributes it to an increase in practices that “open the door to the Devil” – such as people seeking out wizards and fortune tellers, reading tarot cards, and generally dabbling in magic and the occult.

All this seems rather odd coming out of a Vatican under the reign of the apparently “modern” Pope Francis. Yet, while the pope is socially progressive, he is theologically quite conservative. The Devil is a real person, “armed with dark powers”, he declared in a television interview in December 2017.

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