Exorcism madness

Everyone loves a good exorcism story!

Or at least a story about exorcists. Catholic News Service reported a few days ago that the U.S. Bishops Conference was holding a two-day meeting to train bishops and priests as potential exorcists. Then the NYPost picked it up and everyone picked it up.

The fascination with exorcists is easy to understand. Everyone remembers how scared they were when they first saw the movie (I know I do).

And, let’s face it, the notion of a priest expelling the devil from a human being can be hard to jive with our modern, high-tech, science-loving culture. Doesn’t Apple have an APP to rid one of the devil?

But the Catholic Church is quite serious about exorcisms, as the calling of this conference shows. 56 bishops and 66 priests were signed up for the conference, which was to take place Friday and Saturday. (I haven’t been able to find any coverage of the conference.)

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, told CNS that the 5 or 6 exorcists in the U.S. are in big demand. But full exorcisms are rare, he said, and not as dramatic as what Linda Blair went through.

He said: “We, because of Hollywood, have this kind of exaggerated sense of not only a very dramatic kind of possession, but also a very dramatic kind of exorcism. It ties in with our culture of quick fixes: You do it once and person is going to be liberated.”

Why do I have a feeling that some director out there is thinking “Hmmm, maybe it’s time for a remake. Maybe Miley Cyrus is looking for something to help her get past that whole Hannah Montana phase.”

Or, perhaps, there is a reality TV show out there. “Next on E: Get Me an Exorcist!”

Did you know that William O’Malley, a Jesuit and professor at Fordham Prep, played Father Dyer in the movie. “Shooting this film was like being a kid in the sandlot who gets invited to join the Yankees for a year,” he said a few years ago.

It’s Dolan vs. O’Brien (and 8 others) for Bishops Conference presidency

It will be a different kind of Election Day (or weekend) when the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference elects new officers Nov. 15-18.

The bishops will elect a new president and vice president from a slate of 10 candidates, including one Archbishop Timothy Dolan from New York and Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, the top guy in Baltimore who happens to hail from these parts.

O’Brien was once considered at top candidate to become archbishop of New York. Instead, he got Baltimore and a couple of other guys were named to NY. That’s him in White Plains in 2005, when he was still archbishop for the military services.

Now O’Brien and Dolan will square off head-to-head (sort of), along with some other big names, like the always interesting Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver.

It’s always struck me as odd that the Bishops Conference holds semi-public elections. I think it’s fair to say that the Catholic Church likes to keep its’ bishops in the best possible light. But after the elections are held, several candidates can’t help coming out as, well…losers.

Many other organizations, of course, happen to choose their leaders the same way.

You wonder what kind of politicking goes on.

How does it all work? According to a release: “Conference by-laws provide that the election of the president will take place first from among the list of 10 candidates. Following the election of the president with at least 50 percent of the vote, the vice president is elected from the remaining nine candidates. In either election, if a candidate fails to win over 50 percent of the vote, a second vote is taken. If a third vote is necessary, only two names appear on the ballot.”

The bishops will also elect chairmen of six committees. In each case, there are two nominees. So one will win and one…won’t.

In the race to head the committee on International Justice and Peace, O’Brien will face off against Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn.

The bishops will meet at the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott. Sessions.

Also at the bishops conference…

As I mentioned in my Tastykakes post earlier today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting in Baltimore (where the Catholic Church got its start in the U.S.).

The agenda has to do with more than sweet cream (and whatever else Tastykakes are made of).

Cardinal George of Chicago (right), the president of the Bishops posse, opened the gathering yesterday by wondering what life would be like without ordained priests, according to Catholic News Service. He considered the possibility of more authority resting with professors, political leaders and therapists — and didn’t like the picture.

Catholic BishopsOf course, “the church would be deprived of the Eucharist, and her worship would be centered only on the praise and thanksgiving,” he lamented.

Today, the bishops celebrated their influence in keeping health-care reform legislation “abortion neutral.”

“It was a good example of how we as a conference can work together to have a positive influence on legislation,” said Bishop William F. Murphy (left) of Rockville Centre (Long Island) in a report to fellow bishops.

At Cardinal George’s request, the bishops applauded in unison to show their support for Murphy’s statement, according to CNS.

George said the conference would “remain vigilant and involved throughout this entire process to assure that these essential provisions are maintained and included in the final legislation…We will work to persuade the Senate to follow the example of the House and include these critical safeguards in their version of health care reform legislation.”

Interestingly, the left-leaning/progressive National Catholic Reporter reported that George, in his opening address, talked about the need for Catholic colleges, publications and other organizations to more closely align themselves with the bishops’ leadership. He said that Catholic groups that do not do so are “sectarian, less than fully Catholic,” and talked about the bishops strengthening their relationship with Catholic universities and media.

NCR reports that George did not name specific Catholic media, colleges or  other organizations that he had in mind. But he said that “if any institution, including the media, calls itself Catholic,” it is the moral responsibility of a bishop to assure that it is Catholic.

There has been much talk in recent years, both from the Vatican and in the U.S., of Catholic colleges and universities strengthening their Catholic identities.

But how might the bishops reach out to independent Catholic media? NCR is probably itching to find out.

Also, the bishops affirmed today in a pastoral letter that  the church defines marriage as between one man and one woman — and that sex is meant for procreation.

(The bishop in the middle of the picture, by the way, is Archbishop George Niederauer, chair of the bishops’ communications committee.)

Photo: AP/Rob Carr

Authority on Catholic hierarchy to speak Monday in Briarcliff

It was the height of the clerical sex-abuse scandal.

June 2002. In Dallas. The nation’s Catholic bishops met to confront an impossibly ugly crisis.

There were many memorable moments and speeches. Among them was an address to the bishops by Notre Dame professor Scott Appleby.

I remember looking at the faces of the bishops as Appleby told them that they had lost the trust of the faithful. They were arrogant and isolated, he told them

Appleby told them that the nation’s young Catholics already ignored the church’s hierarchy.appleby31.jpg

“At this moment in American history, they are not comparing you to the apostles,” he said.

What a line. Cutting.

On Monday, Appleby will speak at 7:30 p.m. at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor, 1394 Pleasantville Road. It’s free and open to the public.

Appleby is a terrific writer and speaker. He currently runs the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame — although he remains a leading analyst on all things Catholic.

He will talk about “Adrift or awakened: Catholic leadership and authority after the abuse crisis.”

He’s bound to touch on the pope’s upcoming visit…