Speculation that Pope Francis performed an exorcism after Mass on Pentecost Sunday has been denied by the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Father Frederico Lombardi, SJ. According to Zenit News Agency, Fr. Lombardi clarified on Tuesday that the Holy Father did not perform an exorcism on the occasion. “The Holy Father did not intend to perform any exorcism. As he often does with the sick and suffering people who are presented to him, he simply intended to pray for the suffering person.”
After the Mass on Pentecost, Pope Francis greeted and blessed the sick. A priest presented a wheelchair bound man to the Holy Father, upon which the Holy Father laid hands on the man’s head. The young man seemed to be shaking and making a strange noise which prompted speculations that an exorcism was performed.
Local Italian religious news channel TV2000 broadcasted the video along with commentary from several exorcists who said that the Holy Father was undoubtedly performing either an exorcism or a prayer of liberation from demonic possession.
The church has a very precise ritual of exorcism which uses holy water and the crucifix. The rite of exorcism is not a sacrament. However, exorcism is part of the rite of Baptism. Therefore, every priest can perform an exorcism. By law, every diocese is required to have a trained Exorcist who can distinguish between the signs of demonic possession and mental or physical illness. Exorcism is used very rarely.
The prayerful practice of “laying on of hands” is part of several sacraments. Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Sacrament of the Sick all require the priest or bishop to prayerfully lay his hands on the person receiving the sacrament. In Confirmation the priest or bishop lays his hands on the confirmandi’s head calling him/her by the Saint’s name chosen by the person. The saint is a role model and prayer partner for the person’s pilgrimage on earth.
During the sacrament of Holy Orders the Bishop lays hands on the person being ordained (deacon, priest or bishop). Every bishop can trace his ordination to the Apostles. The Catholic Church is considered an Apostolic Church. Only priests who have been validly ordained can administer the sacraments of the church.
The Sacrament of the Sick can be done by a priest, deacon or bishop. Holy Water, blessed oil, and a crucifix are used and specific prayers are said during the rite. The priest, deacon or bishop prayerfully lays hands on the sick or suffering person to pray for him.
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit received at Confirmation is the gift of healing. Many of the saints were known for receiving this gift. St. Francis of Assisi was famous for his healing gifts. The Franciscans worked with the poor and sick. St. Francis ‘kissed the leper’. The church was renewed by his example. Pope Francis has chosen St. Francis of Assisi as his namesake. There is much suffering, sickness and evil in the world today. Perhaps Pope Francis will be used by the Holy Spirit in the same way; to be an instrument of healing and conversion.