The Antichrist - An example
 

Casting out the Devil!


 

 

Robbie Mannheim led the life of an ordinary American 14-year old boy until his Aunt Harriet died. Devastated, the boy tried to contact her using a Ouija Board - he and his aunt had spent hours trying to contact the dead when she was alive. Soon after, strange noises were heard in Robbie's house. Later, it became more frightening as the boy took on a demonic personality, swore continuously and developed spontaneous body cuts.

His parents went to a doctor and a psychiatrist for answers, but they diagnosed Robbie healthy in body and mind. Frantic, the parents were convinced their child was possessed by the Devil. And so was a priest when he attempted to rid the boy of the spirit by conducting an exorcism in a local hospital. As the priest chanted 'deliver us from evil' the boy wriggled his hand free from restraining straps and, with a loosened bedspring, lashed out. The priest needed more than 100 stitches for the wound that ran the length of his arm.

 

 

This was just a part of a four month ordeal suffered from January to April 1949 by a boy whose real name remains a sworn secret. His family lived in Mount Rainier, a suburb of Washington DC. News of the boy's exorcism was printed in the Washington Post on 20 August 1949, after a leaked story appeared in The Catholic Review. The story inspired William Peter Blatty, then a student at Georgetown University, to write his blockbuster novel The Exorcist.
Blatty approached Father William Bowdern, one of the priests involved in the exorcism. But the priest had promised to protect the family and refused to give any details of the case.

However, Bowdern had kept a diary during the exorcism, and a copy of it ended up in the hands of writer Thomas Allen in 1986. It had come via Father Walter Halloran, another priest who had helped in Robbie's exorcism.
Allen read how a team of Jesuit priests had performed a series of exorcisms - praying and sprinkling the boy with holy water over a one-month period at a relative's home and at the Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. Robbie's possession occurred at night - he would thrash wildly, and swear and spit at the priests - and lasted until sunrise. The cuts that appeared on the boy's chest grew more sinister. Looking like scratches mad by thorns, the words HELL and SPITE appeared in blood.

 

The priests prayed almost continuously in Latin. They believed this would summon up Christ who would confront the Devil. On Easter Monday 1949 - after 24 nights - Robbie recovered. He opened his eyes and said, 'He's Gone.'
Medical experts who have looked at Robbie's case suggest that he could have been suffering from one or more of the following psychological conditions:

 

  • Automatism - acting in a mechanical or involuntary manner, a feature of some forms of schizophrenia.

     

  • Gilles de la Tourette's Syndrome - a personality disorder, in which victims scream uncontrollably, grunt, twitch and involuntarily use foul language.

     

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - this features frequent bouts of anxiety with little relevance to actual events, or recurrent strong urges to perform unnecessary or irrelevant acts.

    The doctors who examined Robbie had found no evidence of any of these symptoms.
    Allen tracked down Robbie, now a married man in his 50s with his own children. Allen's conclusion was that Robbie was 'an innocent victim of horror... of a strange, incomprehensible event, whose cultural and psychological roots are deeper than Christianity's.'
    Christianity in this century has a divided attitude to exorcism. On the one hand it has sought to distance itself from the practice by working closely with psychiatrists and doctors, and commissioning reports to shed light on the phenomenon. On the other hand, the Catholic church has covered up the practice in a cloak of silence, despite the fact that Pope John Paul II reportedly exorcised a young woman in 1982.
    Father Gabriele Amorth is one of the few exorcists prepared to discuss his work. The Rome-based priest claims to have carried out 50,000 exorcisms, but thinks that only 84 were genuine possessions. He says the tell-signs include a person becoming unnaturally strong, xenolalia (speaking in a foreign language that he or she does not know) and revelling secret facts about people.

     

    A report on exorcism was compiled for the Church of England in 1972 by a commission that included Catholic representatives and a consultant psychiatrist. Although the report aimed to debunk possession, it endorsed the exorcism of places, saying that, 'Demonic interference... is common on desecrated sites... as well as in connection with séances.'
    Exorcisms of people, however, were 'extremely dubious'. According to the report, those who think they are possessed should see a doctor, and call in a priest only as a last resort.
    Canon Dominic Walker from Brighton, co-ordinates the Christian Exorcism Study Group. He is an experienced advisor on exorcism, but can only personally recall seven genuine cases during his time as a priest. 'Normally, all that is required is counselling and prayer.' He believes some clerics can plant the idea of demonic possession in the minds of those who come to them.

    Such was the case with Michael Taylor of Ossett, Yorkshire. On 6 October 1974, Taylor murdered his wife ripping her face off with his bare hands. Taylor happily married, had undergone an all-night exorcism. Father Peter Vincent, of St. Thomas's Gawber, near Barnsley, conducted the exorcism, helped by a Methodist minister and his wife. They exorcised Taylor of 40 demons except one - murder.

     

    Taylor was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. Taylor escaped prison, the judge, Mr. Justice Caufield ordering him to be detained in hospital. His lawyer blamed 'a group... who fed neuroses to a neurotic and in a few days he was a homicidal maniac.

    In January 1995, a 43-year-old Canadian woman, Ana Maria Canhoto, forced her two-year-old granddaughter to drink water. Canhoto believed the child was possessed by the Devil and by drinking water, the child would be rid of the spirit. During the exorcism, the little girl choked on her own vomit. Canhoto was sentenced to two years in prison for her granddaughter's murder.

    Recognizing such dangers, some religions are moving away from ritual exorcism towards substitute services of deliverance and blessing. At the same time, the increasingly popular Pentecostal and fundamentalist churches attract cast congregations to their 'healing' services, which 'guarantee' instant deliverance from the Devil.
    Critics maintain that such services attract those who only want to draw attention to themselves. Similar arguments may be used to explain individual cases, but they cannot account for the testimonies of rational people who have witnessed more frightening, seemingly inexplicable, events during an exorcism.
    According to Thomas Allen, Father Bowdern's diary of the 1949 case lists nine Jesuit Priests who witnessed Robbie being possessed. Allen also discovered a Church report on the exorcism that was signed by 48 witnesses.

     

    Despite this wealth of evidence, the Church retains an impenetrable silence on the Mannheim case. Halloran, the priest who passed the diary to Allen, recalled a conversation with Bowdern. 'They will never way whether it was or it wasn't a genuine exorcism.' Bowdern said, but, you and I know it. We were there.'


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