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Words can signify real things, or be used symbolically, that is, to stand for something other than what they literally signify. In the history of language, we have seen words slip from one usage to the other as cultures change and prevalent ideas about what constitutes reality change with them.
For most people today, satan is symbolic. Rather than denoting a personal being, the name is used to describe someone or something of which we strongly disapprove on ethical grounds. The prince of darkness has become a metaphor: he is no longer an angelic intelligence who preferred to rule in hell than serve in Heaven.
So when the Vatican’s chief exorcist, Father Gabriel Amorth, says of the Vatican hierarchy that there are “Cardinals who do not believe in Jesus and bishops who are linked to the demon,” his statement is as likely to evoke smiles as raise alarms. But Father Amorth does not speak of satan symbolically, nor of the demonic metaphorically.
He has been an exorcist for 25 years and involved in more than 70,000 cases of possession. He is a serious man of vast experience. He knows satan. He, more than anyone in Rome, should be credited with a capacity to recognize manifestations of the demonic.
Father Amorth recently published Memoirs of an Exorcist and was subsequently interviewed by Marco Tosatti, a journalist for the newspaper La Repubblica. Father Amorth affirmed without qualification that the pedophilia and homosexual scandals among the Catholic clergy are proof of Pope Paul VI’s startling pronouncement that “the smoke of satan has entered the Church.” Father Amorth said, “The devil is at work inside the Vatican.”
His words were dismissed as unfounded by another exorcist in Rome, Father Jose Antonio Fortea Curcurull, who insists that some Cardinals may be more pious than others, but that all are good men with the interest of the Church at heart. On what does Father Curcurull base his claims? We are not told. He says that Father Amorth has gone beyond what the evidence justifies. But what evidence has Father Curcurull presented for his criticism of Father Amorth and his denial of demonic influence in the Curia?
Father Amorth may not have provided factual data. How could he? But certainly he has credibility. And in the matter of demonic possession and influence, he seems unlikely to speak irresponsibly, especially when indicting members of the hierarchy he serves. Father Amorth’s statements merit serious consideration, not cavalier dismissal.
Another spoke of “diabolical disorientation” in the Church: Sister Lucy, the last of the Fatima seers. Like Father Amorth, she was not given to speak of satan symbolically. She said that the Blessed Mother told her that satan was in the mood for a final battle, and that is what we are witnessing. Who would be a richer target for satan than a Cardinal or bishop in the Vatican? And how can we explain the disintegration of discipline among the clergy and the never-ending scandals if those who are in charge are more or less pious, as Father Curcurull asserts?
We must credit Father Amorth and Sister Lucy and Pope Paul VI with the starkly realistic and terribly frightening appreciation of what is happening to our Church: the smoke of satan has entered into the holy places.