Through Christ’s salvific life and death on the cross, Satan lost the battle between good and evil.
Yet sin still exists and Satan hasn’t stopped seeking the ruin of souls.
Father Gary Thomas is keenly aware of this.
For six years he’s served as the Diocese of San Jose’s official exorcist.
The Vatican-certified exorcist’s experiences during his training in Rome were the subject of the 2009 book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” by Matt Baglio. The 2011 film “The Rite,” starring actor Anthony Hopkins, was based on this book.
“My priesthood has changed because of it,” Father Thomas said about becoming an exorcist. “I see everything I do now through the optic in which there is a cosmic battle going on.”
The Sacred Heart Parish pastor from Saratoga, Calif., will visit the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley Nov. 27 to make a presentation about the reality of evil and his work as an exorcist.
The following is the Denver Catholic Register’s Nov. 2 interview with Father Thomas.
Register: There are many skeptics who don’t believe in demonic possessions, much less that there’s a evil who seeks people’s souls. What would you say to them and what is the Church’s teaching on this?
Father Thomas: I would say to skeptics, ‘Come and see (my presentation).’ The Church’s teaching is found scripturally when Jesus cast out demons. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear. The Church has had an authoritative rite since the year 1614. Satan is alive, in and out of season.
Register: You’ve said you believe there’s been a rise in demonic possession in the modern day. Why do you believe this?
Father Thomas: I think one of the reasons is because paganism is a lot more rampant and a part of our American culture than it was 30 to 40 years ago. What I mean by paganism is practices of the new age, practices of the occult—those are all against the first commandment.
Like when someone goes to a medium to get answers, a palm reader or séance, or uses a Ouija board or practices Wicca. Those are all idolatry.
Register: In your work, you’ve dealt with various kinds of possessions. Sometimes it’s diabolical and sometimes it’s psychological. Can you talk about these differences?
Father Thomas: Possession is a very narrow definition in this milieu. It means when a demon has taken full control over the body of a human being. Those are rare. The technical words are ‘oppression’ and ‘obsession.’ That’s what most exorcists use. I like to use ‘demonic attachment.’ There is a demon attached but it doesn’t prevent the person from functioning.
When I was in Rome and taking this course and observing an exorcism with a priest who was my mentor, there were many people who came and looked completely normal until holy water was poured on them. They would start yelling, they would start feeling a sense of being burned, they would start rolling their eyes, they would maybe flop on the floor and curl up like a snake.
Register: How do you determine if someone is actually possessed?
Father Thomas: I don’t make these decisions in a vacuum. I have a medical doctor, a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist whom I consult with. They are at my disposal. You have to rule out the natural before you assume the preternatural. This refers to the angelic realm or spirit world. The last thing an exorcist does is a formal exorcism. You can pray with people, which I do often, and those are minor exorcisms. But the solemn rite is only used when all other means of deliverance have failed. It’s very complicated and you don’t make these judgments rashly. The discernment can take six months to a year.
Register: How many exorcisms have you performed?
Father Thomas: I’ve performed about 60 on 10 people in six years. That’s an approximate.
Register: What’s involved in an exorcism?
Father Thomas: There’s a litany of saints, a Scripture reading, prayers directed at Satan and the demons, and the demons are directly addressed. Then you can intersperse those prayers with Hail Marys and Our Fathers. Holy water and a crucifix are used. I never do these alone. I’ve always got a team with me. I usually have at least one or several priests with me.
Register: Tell me about one person you performed an exorcism on.
Father Thomas: A man who came to me had been exposed in utero to witchcraft through both of his parents. When this man was 2, he was sexually abused by a half-brother and a neighbor. That’s when the demon entered. He didn’t begin manifestation (showing signs of demonic attachment) until he was 35. In his case, he started manifesting on the Easter Vigil in his diocese a year ago. They brought him to me because they went to three priests in the healing ministry and they couldn’t help. The demons attached to him are incredibly violent. I have five men that restrain him when we do these exorcisms because otherwise there would be harm done to people. We have him lie flat on the floor in the church. We always have the Blessed Sacrament exposed and we have relics, which are very powerful. We just continue praying those prayers until the demon has been delivered. This man is a lot better than he was.
Register: Is there a danger to yourself and others when performing exorcisms?
Father Thomas: There can be. I’ve had demons attack me physically. They tend to attack me more emotionally. I’ve never experienced any physical injuries but (the demons) try. What has become much more heightened in my life is a sense of loneliness since I’ve been involved in this.
Register: Have exorcisms changed your understanding of evil?
Father Thomas: Absolutely. My priesthood has changed because of it. Every time I celebrate a sacrament it’s an invitation for the people gathered to celebrate the presence of Christ, knowing … that until his second and final return we will continue to weather the effects and influences of sin, and to a deeper degree, at times, personified and un-personified evil. Not all evil is personified. What I deal with is personified evil.
Register: What else would you add about exorcisms?
Father Thomas: Exorcisms are a healing ministry. It’s not meant to be a ministry of drama or a ministry of magic. In Jesus’ public life, he has two primary jobs: he taught and he healed. One of the exercises of his healing ministry was the expulsion of demons. That’s really clear in the Gospels, especially Matthew and Mark. It’s a healing ministry and it’s not meant to enthrall or tantalize, entertain or scare. I always say to people at the end of my talks not to be afraid, but to be vigilant and be aware.