Did the Devil Make Him Do It?

Did the Devil Make Him Do It?

Satan gets too much credit

Marc and I saw “The Rite” last weekend. Curiosity and dread surfaced as we bought our tickets. Curiosity, because this movie was based on the experience of an actual exorcist priest, Fr. Gary Thomas, in Matt Baglio’s book “The Rite” (the audiobook is available here). Dread, because I don’t like watching the havoc Satan and his minions can effect. I was disturbed by the way the movie presented  the young seminarian and the aging exorcist’s struggle between doubt and faith.  It suggested “Unless you believe in the devil, you won’t have the conviction you need to believe in God.”  Really?  

It  alarmed me that there was no evidence of  personal or spiritual resources to support the exorcist or those who train for the ministry.  Where was the devotion to prayer? Where was the sacramentally-based life? Where was the Body of Christ? The Eucharist? The community of faith? I found myself in tears as I witnessed the suffering and isolation of  the onscreen characters. I know it is just a movie but I couldn’t help wondering about the real-life priests that are exorcists. 

Is “The Rite” real?

Consulting local priests, I asked “Are the scenes in ‘The Rite’ real? How does the Church see demonic possession? What resources are available for those who suffer?” I was told “Yes,” the torment and manifestations of possession are true but happen rarely. When they do occur,  the exorcist can call upon the Catholic Church’s history of experience, dating back to its earliest days (cf. CCC 1673). There are proscribed prayers  and rituals to assist the appointed priest. These have been updated  in 1999 and again in 2004. There are also personal and ecclesial requirements (c. 1172) for  those who would serve in the ministry of exorcism.  For example, only a priest (with permission of his bishop) may perform a formal exorcism rite. Monsignor Luca in the movie is a fictional character with some detail taken from the life of a current exorcist in Rome,  Fr. Carmine De Fillipis. Actually,  he is  a Franciscan Capuchin. I was so relieved to find out that Fr. De Fillipis has never required an exorcism rite. His priesthood and ministry are well positioned within his order and in accordance with the Catholic Church.

Romans  8,  38-39

At last, I can celebrate “The Rite’s” last scene. The character Michael, now a priest, is seated and ready to hear the confession of an ordinary parishioner.  The movie  conveys how this sacrament of Reconciliation makes Jesus’ victory over Satan a  personal source of hope.  Even with the most challenging tests of faith we can hold fast to the blessed assurance given in Romans 8: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.



About the Author

Sharon Tomko Greenberg is the executive administrative assistant at Franciscan Media. She and her husband are active catechists in their parish RCIA program and on the presenting team of the Cana II program for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Family Life Office.
  • MLPG

    Thanks for putting this film in perspective. Most of us don’t have to worry about being possessed by Satan. Rather, its Satan’s subtle influences that derail us. As you note, it is our sacraments, our faith community, our prayer life (mostly absent from the film) that make the real differnce in the battle against the temptation to sin. And, of course, Jesus (“I am the way, the truth and the life …”). I liked the film (questionable theology aside) because it portrayed the Catholic church generally positively, fighting evil, and it depicted our clergy (in the two lead characters) as human, thoughtful, searching and caring.

  • Dan Kroger

    I don’t go to movies, but there is enough flap about this one that I might go one of these days.

    In the Philippines I met popular belief in various spirits that went with the traditional rural cultures. Those beliefs are still around, I am sure. The beliefs concern evil spirits and dwarf like creatures that reside in trees and sometimes move into houses. When asked I would bless a house or an area where people thought that there were evil spirits. Some “spiritists” and faith healers claim special powers over such evil spirits. I never saw or heard of anyone being possessed by any devil, though epileptic seizures were often mistaken to be cases of possession. I once observed one of these spiritists praying over a man dying of rabbis. The fellow had memorized the Dies Irae from the old Requiem Mass and was reciting it. He claimed he was driving out the demon. I anointed the poor fellow and he seemed to calm down, then he died. Go figure.

    • Sharon Tomko Greenber

      Thank you for your relating your experience in the Philippines. I do appreciate that contact with the spiritual world isn’t confined to what we identify as American or Roman Catholic. I do think St. Paul had a wider perspective on the range of spirits that interact with the natural world. It is what informed his words in Romans 8. Amazing how in your story the spiritiest’s tool for praying over the dying was the Dies Irae. How wonderful you were there as well to anoint and bless the dying man!

  • Judyz

    We did an interview with Matt Baglio, the writer of the book, on our radio program called, American Catholic Radio, as well as talked to a Bishop who attended the meeting about training exorcists in the Catholic Church. You should take a listen.

    And you’re right about the sacraments being key. I read the book also and that comes across very strongly. Here’s our program about exorcism: http://www.franciscanmedia.org/sections/acr/program.aspx?id=1312.

    • Sharon Tomko Greenberg

      Thank you Judy for directing my interest. I did not have the benefit of Matt Baglio’s book before I started my blog. I have since downloaded it and found it very different than I had expected. I have not finished it but I do appreciate how it is rooted in Catholic understanding and tradition. Thank you for the link. I will listen to it.

  • Sharon Tomko Greenberg

    Yes, I liked the human qualities portrayed along side the vocation to priesthood. So often our priests are either put up on a pedestal or held in suspicion just because they are priests. Fr. Lucas and Michael were characterized as men with a particular gift and calling to employ that gift. Would that all of us were so appreciative of our place in God’s Will and the role other’s play in our salvation.