November 26, 2000

Mexican exorcists busy in land of witchcraft, pagan rituals

                  MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- The Rev. Alberto Juarez has seen a young
                  woman erupt in an angry man's voice and growl like a dog. Father Enrique
                  Maldonado tells of houses where locked doors flew open and objects moved

                  In these days of high technology and lunch-hour therapy sessions, many people
                  think of exorcism as a relic of the Middle Ages. But the ritual to drive away the
                  forces of evil is alive and well around the globe, perhaps no more so than in

                  In Mexico City, a metropolis of 20 million people, a steady procession of
                  anguished souls pass through the doors of Catholic parishes to seek out the eight
                  priests appointed by the archbishop to do battle with Satan.

                  Others who believe they are possessed consult Protestant ministers or the
                  country's wide assortment of faith healers, who employ an elaborate blend of
                  religious and pagan customs to cast out evil spirits.

                  Juarez has performed three exorcisms in the two years since he was named a
                  Catholic exorcist. One was on a young woman from the southern state of
                  Campeche, whose father, a psychiatrist, had been unable to explain her behavior
                  in any clinical terms.

                  "She said, 'Something is inside me, someone is doing something to me,"' Juarez
                  said. "She had an expression of profound sadness, a deep depression. ... But
                  when Satan entered her, she became completely different.

                  "I told her to get up, 'I want to greet you,' and she slapped me. Then she began
                  to speak in the very ugly voice of a man. It was frightening. I tried to hug her
                  and she began to growl like a dog."

                  Maldonado treated a woman in her 20s who spoke in languages she didn't know.

                  "And when I began to pray with her, she began to attack me," he said. "She spit
                  on the cross and went into shock when I blessed her with holy water."

                  A second client, a 19-year-old man who used Ouija boards on a regular basis
                  with his family, "started to emit a very foul odor, inexplicably," Maldonado said.
                  "The family also started to see objects move in the house, doors that were locked
                  with a key opening by themselves."

                  Mexico is full of people who believe they are possessed. Although it is an
                  overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation, Christianity here is interwoven with
                  centuries of pre-Hispanic rites of witchcraft, black magic and faith healing.

                  "Fortunetelling, consulting the dead, the spirits, astrology _ all of these are the
                  terrain of evil," Juarez said. "Magic is a breeding ground for the work of Satan."

                  Exorcists say the number of people seeking help has doubled and even tripled
                  recently and point to a series of factors:

                  The release of a new version of the 1973 movie "The Exorcist."

                  Reports that Pope John Paul II himself tried to exorcise the devil from a young
                  woman in Rome in September.

                  A highly publicized case of a botched, unauthorized exorcism in nearby Puebla
                  state, in which several women were seriously injured.

                  The exorcist's job is to distinguish between those obsessed with the belief that
                  dark forces are attacking them and what the church considers "true"

                  They also have to discount mental illness. Juarez is studying psychology, and
                  Maldonado already has a degree.

                  The Catholic Church recognizes several symptoms it considers to be true
                  possession: prolonged superhuman strength, speaking a language the person has
                  never learned, and knowing things they couldn't possibly know. The priests say
                  true possession accounts for under 2 percent of the cases they see.

                  The Rev. Daniel Gagnon, pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Mexico
                  City, said he has seen "entire families that are oppressed by evil forces."

                  "One family has been tormented for years and years with objects moving,
                  levitations, animals appearing and disappearing before their eyes," said Gagnon,
                  who is not an exorcist but has researched the matter extensively and has referred
                  many people to an authorized exorcist from a nearby parish.

                  "I don't think I would have had half the experiences in the States that I have had
                  here," Gagnon said. "Because of the pre-Hispanic culture, there are a lot of

                  Exorcists are appointed for each of the church's dioceses by their bishops.
                  Although there are no solid statistics for Mexico, there is approximately one
                  exorcist for each of the country's 83 dioceses, said the Rev. Francisco Javier
                  Gonzalez, executive secretary of Mexico's conference of bishops.

                  To drive away evil, exorcists use the crucifix, prayers and blessings. Maldonado
                  and Juarez said they take the person to a sacred, private place -- usually their
                  own church or chapel -- and with the aid of other faithful, recite a series of
                  prayers prescribed by the church.

                  The prayers denounce evil, order the devil to leave, and ask for liberation in the
                  name of Jesus Christ. The process has no defined duration, but can last up to an
                  hour, Juarez said.

                  "You must always have the crucifix in hand as well as the scriptures in order to
                  use the precise words of Christ," he said.

                  He said he employs five members of a parish Bible group to help during a
                  ceremony because sometimes the possessed person becomes violent "and
                  someone has to hold them."

                  But priests said violence is never directed at the possessed, as was the case in an
                  unauthorized July ceremony in Puebla state during which a young Sunday-school
                  teacher was critically burned with a candle.

                  Church spokesmen have said that the priest involved was not authorized to
                  perform exorcisms but that he was forced to attend the ceremony against his

                  "A priest approved by the bishop would never take part in this type of physical
                  harm," Maldonado said. "Why? Because we already have our own recourses:
                  prayer and getting closer to the Bible."

                  New exorcism guidelines issued by the Vatican last year urge exorcists not to
                  mistake psychiatric illness for satanic possession. But the guidelines also stress
                  the power of evil.

                  "I believe that we exorcist priests shouldn't be ingenuous, seeing Satan
                  everywhere, or skeptics either, to always deny the presence of Satan," Juarez
                  said. "It is evident that Satan is acting and acting terribly, more than one thinks."

                  In the Middle Ages, mental disorders were often misdiagnosed as diabolical
                  possessions. Now, the priests said, the opposite occurs.

                  "Psychology is where you begin ... but there's an area that science can't explain,"
                  Gagnon said. "I used to be very scientific, pragmatic. But I've changed my mind.
                  I have just seen too much."

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.