Catholic Church Attendance in Decline While Exorcisms and Exorcism Training Is on the Rise

Though Catholic Church attendance has been on the decline, there's been a recent increase in requests for exorcisms and an increase in priests being trained by the Vatican to perform this ritual.

An average of 39 percent of Catholics reported attending church in the previous week, which was down from an average of 45 percent between 2005 and 2008, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.

Exorcism is the religious or spiritual practice of evicting demons or other spiritual entities from a person believed to be possessed. This practice is not just rooted in Catholicism, but is an ancient part of the belief system of many religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism.

The Catholic Diocese says there are four main signs of the demonic:

  • Speaking languages otherwise unknown to the person
  • Demonstrating strength beyond the normal capacity of the person
  • Elevated perception and having knowledge about things they shouldn't
  • Resisting anything sacred

Father Vincent Lambert from Brookville, Indiana, said the final sign could cause a person to become violent and show manifestations.

"Manifestations are anything from eyes turning black, eyes rolling in the back of their head, foaming at the mouth or bodily contortions," he told WBNS.

Father Lambert was a priest for 14 years before he was trained and appointed to be an exorcist by the Diocese of Indianapolis in 2005. He tells people he got the job because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Lambert trained in Rome for three months with the Franciscan priest participating in 40 exorcisms.

In order to know if an exorcism needs to be performed, Catholic priests must follow certain protocols and need to ask a series of questions. They must take into consideration the person's mental health, medications being taken, other opinions from experts in the medical field and if the possessed person has "an obsession with evil."

"Exorcists are trained to be skeptics, I should be the last one to believe that a person is up against the forces of evil," Father Lambert said.

The month of October increases fascination with anything that heightens fear, he said, and anything related to evil or demonic things.

exorcism stock photo
"As faith is in decline, there may be more people who open themselves up to the reality of evil," Father Lambert said. Javi M. Bravo/Getty

"I think a lot of it has to do with Halloween, it's the programs on TV, they do kind of push it over the edge a bit," Lambert mused.

He also stressed the importance of leaving an exorcism up to a professional.

The Vatican recently opened up an exorcist training course to all faiths in May for the 14th Course on Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation, which took place at the Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum. It was the first time this training was open to non-Catholic faiths.

"The Catholic Church is most associated with exorcisms because of films like The Exorcist and The Rite, but we are not the only church that performs them. Expelling the devil goes back to the earliest origins of the Christian Church," said a spokesperson.