In Italy, when the hosts (communion wafers) go missing, cops get as worried as the priests. In recent months, churches have reported a shortage of hosts and votives, and lower levels of holy water in the fonts. At the same time, police are finding candle wax, knives and other satanic paraphernalia left behind at burglaries. Last month in Perugia, police investigated four satanic-ritual break-ins, including one at the sealed scene of the 2007 murder of U.K. student Meredith Kercher.
Police have noticed such a sharp increase in satanic-ritual crimes that they've started bringing priests along to help decipher crime scenes. The Vatican's Squadra Anti Sette, or antisect police force, has been around since 2006, but in the past year its numbers have doubled. "Satanic sects are proliferating," says the Vatican's chief exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, who has trained nearly 300 priests to perform exorcisms in Italy. He says more than 8,000 Satanic cults now operate there, with a membership of nearly 700,000. The Italian police estimate that satanic-inspired homicides have doubled over the past decade. The rise in satanic cults mimics a larger trend. Recent surveys show an increasing number of Italians are turning to the occult, from fortune tellers to faith healers. Ironically, satanists are giving a boost to the church as a linchpin of public security: cops now often attend Vatican-sponsored seminars in order to profile criminals. "We invite the police to sit in on exorcism classes," says Father Pedro Barrajon, a professor of theology in Rome. "The priests know what to look for."