Canadian Catholic News, Deborah Gyapong, Dec. 29, 2005.
Father Emanuel Buttigieg stresses he is not an exorcist. The Calgary priest, however, is the only Canadian priest who attended the recent Exorcism School in Rome, and possibly the only priest from all of North America sent by a bishop.
Buttigieg is the contact person for the 15-year-old Diocesan Spirit Discernment Commission, which includes another priest and medical experts, including a psychiatrist.
If someone presents a case of possible demonic possession to the diocesan Pastoral Centre, Buttigieg is contacted. He takes down the information and presents it to the commission’s monthly meeting.
A subcommittee of two or three people then goes to meet the affected person face to face, then brings back a report to the commission to discern whether there is any demonic involvement.
Calgary Bishop Fred Henry said he sent Buttigieg to Rome “to meet pastoral needs by providing the best of continuing education so that our commission would have more background and information to deal with referrals and general discernment as to appropriate pastoral response.”
The commission was set up before Henry came to Calgary as bishop. Buttigieg, who has ministered for 40 years in the Calgary Diocese, attended the first part of the exorcism and the prayer of deliverance course offered by the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University and the Socioreligious Research and Information Group in October and November.
“The thrust of the course was how to identify a case of possible possession by the devil,” he said.
The course explored exorcism from biblical, historical and theological perspectives, relying not only on Catholic theologians, such as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and various popes including John Paul II and Paul VI, but also eminent Protestant theologians such as Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich.
Buttigieg says that by the middle of the previous century, many theologians had “kissed the devil goodbye” and denied his existence.
Then Pope Paul VI shocked the world with his 1972 comment that “From some crevice, the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God.”
“That created an upheaval in the Church,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg says that taking rationalism too far might lead to the conclusion that the devil does not exist. Going too far in the opposite direction might lead to the conclusion that he is “present in every case.
“You can err. You have to be very careful,” he said. “You are not to act unless you are certain.”
The Calgary Commission has never been involved in an exorcism. However, Buttigieg says that sometimes he and members of the commission have prayed with troubled individuals.
“We pray for them. They seem to have calmed down. It’s not an official exorcism,” he said, noting the explicit permission of the bishop is necessary.
“It is God, through the priest, who performs the exorcism,” he said. “Some people think it’s the priest. Priests have no special powers.”
Buttigieg points out that Jesus said that in his name, his disciples would cast out devils. “God works through the prayers of the priest,” he said. “You have to keep in mind the devil is a creature of God like you and I. He is preternatural – above our nature – but not supernatural like God. His intelligence is superior to ours.”
Some indications of demonic possession include negative reactions to a crucifix or to holy water, but most of all to the name of Jesus.
Other indications conclude speaking in a language the person has never been taught, grumblings and groanings, extreme physical violence, abnormal physical strength, blasphemous language, “calling the exorcist or priest all kinds of names, some not very complimentary either,” he said.