After Sunday mass at the Vatican, Pope Francis is seen in a recent video shaking hands with several people in wheelchairs and laying his hand on their heads as he spoke with each briefly. But one man in particular received special attention and has some speculating the pope might have performed a quick exorcism.
The video taken by the TV2000, a channel that carries Roman Catholic programming in Italy, shows the man taking the pope's hand and kissing it. Another man who appears to be a priest leans forward and explains something to the pope, at which point Pope Francis places both of his hands on the man's head.
(Image: YouTube screenshot)
The man soon appears to become agitated, breaths heavily, twitches slightly and sinks a bit lower in his wheelchair.
Here's a look at the video which has been posted to YouTube (Note: the voice over is in Italian and we're not sure what they're saying. We assume that the sound effects were added to the footage as well):
The television station of the Italian bishops' conference reported Monday that it had surveyed exorcists, who agreed there was "no doubt" that Francis either performed an exorcism or a prayer to free the man from the devil.
The Vatican was more cautious. In a statement Tuesday, it said Francis "didn't intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone who was suffering who was presented to him." This statement isn't an outright denial that an exorcism might have happened.
Italian newspapers noted that the late Pope John Paul II performed an exorcism in 1982 -- near the same spot where Francis prayed over the young disabled man Sunday.
Only a priest authorized by a bishop can perform an exorcism, and canon law specifies that the exorcist must be "endowed with piety, knowledge, prudence and integrity of life."
While belief in the devil is consistent with church teaching, the Holy See does urge prudence, particularly to ensure that the afflicted person isn't merely psychologically ill.
The Rev. Giulio Maspero, a Rome-based systematic theologian who has witnessed or participated in more than a dozen exorcisms, says he's fairly certain that Francis' prayer on Sunday was either a full-fledged exorcism or a more simple prayer to "liberate" the young man from demonic possession.
He noted that the placement of the pope's hands on the man's head was the "typical position" for an exorcist to use.
"When you witness something like that - for me it was shocking - I could feel the power of prayer," he said in a phone interview, speaking of his own previous experiences.
Sunday also happened to be the Pentacost, when the faithful believe Jesus' apostles received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and Maspero noted the symbolism.
"The Holy Spirit is connected to the exorcism because ... it is the manifestation of how God is present among us and in our world," he said.
Late Tuesday, the director of TV2000 went on the air to apologize for the earlier report.
"I don't want to attribute to him a gesture that he didn't intend to perform," said the director, Dino Boffo.
Pope Francis has spoken and written frequently about Satan and evil in the world.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio spoke about the devil in our midst. In the book "Heaven and Earth," Bergoglio devoted the second chapter to "The Devil" and said in no uncertain terms that he believes in the devil and that Satan's fruits are "destruction, division, hatred and calumny."
"Perhaps its greatest success in these times has been to make us think that it doesn't exist, that everything can be traced to a purely human plan," he wrote.
In his very first homily as pope on March 14, Francis warned cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel the day after he was elected that "he who doesn't pray to the Lord prays to the devil."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(H/T: Drudge Report)
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