Burnout does not discriminate across professions, according to a new survey of Catholic exorcists who say they feel overworked and under-supported.
A survey of 120 Italian exorcists by the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, a Vatican-approved university in Rome, found that they were overwhelmed by a growing number of "possessed" people. Researcher Giuseppe Frau said that some exorcists were seeing 30 to 50 cases a day, according to The Times of London.
There are 290 exorcists in Italy, the study said.
Exorcists told researchers that they experienced little support from bishops while attempting to free Catholics from professed demonic possession. They also appealed for more aid from psychologists to help them sift between the genuinely "possessed" and the mentally ill.
One priest, Father Giuseppe Bernardi, sought help from psychologists over a hysterical young woman who jumped over pews, assaulted monks and insulted them in several languages including Latin, according to The Times. The woman's father said she suffered from a psychiatric problem, but her mother believed she was possessed.
Bernardi said he reached out to psychologists on his own, without support from the church. He ultimately sided with the mother and performed a nine-hour exorcism on the woman in December, which was reported as successful.
Participants in the Vatican university survey claimed that satanic possession could be distinguished by signs including vomiting, unusual physical strength and a sudden capacity to speak ancient languages such as Latin, Hebrew or Aramaic.
The Times also reported that exorcists were frustrated over having to conduct exorcisms on people who tested positive for COVID-19. In April 2020, Italian archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano called on his fellow clergy to perform a "mass exorcism" to quell Satan's "frenzy" during the COVID-19 pandemic. Vigano opposed shutting down church services to slow the spread of the virus.
Pope Francis has endorsed the practice of exorcism and formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists in 2014, the Associated Press reported. More recently, he said during a devotion in 2021 that "Christ's entire ministry is a struggle against the evil one in its many manifestations: healing from illnesses, exorcisms of the possessed, forgiveness of sins."
In 2018, Sicilian priest Benigno Palilla claimed the demand for exorcist-trained priests had tripled in recent years, with requests for exorcisms in Italy allegedly reaching 500,000 per year. Palilla expressed concern over inexperienced priests or "self-taught" exorcists making errors in the practice. The explosive demand for exorcisms has even created a market online.
Newsweek reached out to the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum for comment.