Straight Answers By Fr. William Saunders
I was watching the movie "The Exorcist" with some of my friends. Can the devil really possess someone?
Does the Church really do exorcisms? I heard that the movie is based on a real story. Is that true? - An eighth grade student in Annandale.
Last week, Straight Answers addressed the issues of diabolical possession and exorcism. Concerning both the book and the movie versions, The Exorcist was based on a true account
of diabolical possession. One must remember that the book and especially the movie have certain sensational, "hollywoodesque" elements which are purely fictional.
The true story began in January 1949 and involved a 13-year-old boy named Robbie who lived with his parents and grandmother in Mt. Rainier, Maryland. Robbie was very close to his aunt who visited the family frequently from St. Louis, Missouri. She was a medium and attempted to
communicate with the spirit world. Not only did she spark Robbie's interest in this practice, she also taught him how to use the Ouija board.
Strange phenomena began happening on Jan. 10, 1949. The family heard scratching on the walls; however, exterminators found no evidence of pests of any kind. Objects moved by
themselves: a table would turn over, a chair would move across the room, a vase would fly through the air, and a picture of Christ would shake. At night, Robbie felt scratching in his bed,
and he suffered nightmares frequently.
After the aunt died suddenly on Jan. 26, Robbie continued to use the Ouija board to communicate with her and others. The strange phenomena also continued. Moreover, Robbie's disposition changed - he become unsettled, agitated, and angry.
In February, his parents took Robbie to visit their Lutheran minister, Rev. Schulze. Being interested in parapsychology, he thought perhaps a poltergeist was tormenting the family. Pastor Schulze
allowed Robbie to move into his house for observation for a couple of days. The minister witnessed chairs and other objects moving by themselves. After he saw the bed shake, he moved
the mattress to the floor, where it glided along by itself. Pastor Schulze became suspicious of the presence of evil.
Upon Pastor Schulze's recommendation, the family took Robbie to the Mental Hygiene Clinic of the University of Maryland for testing. After two rounds of testing, nothing abnormal
was discovered. Pastor Schulze then advised the family to contact the local Catholic priest.
Robbie and his parents visited Father Hughes of St. James Catholic Church in Mt. Rainier. While interviewing Robbie, Father Hughes saw the telephone and other objects
in his office move by themselves. Robbie also cast obscene and blasphemous remarks at him in a strange, diabolical voice. The room became eerily frigid. Father Hughes was convinced that Robbie was possessed. After reviewing the facts of the case and the medical evidence, Cardinal O'Boyle
authorized an exorcism.
Robbie was admitted to Georgetown hospital, where Father Hughes began the ritual of exorcism. The boy became violent, with spitting and projectile vomiting. He cast
obscenities and blasphemies at Father Hughes. Although restrained to the bed, Robbie broke loose and wrenched out a metal spring with which he slashed Father Hughes from his left shoulder to wrist. The wound required over 100 stitches to close it. Robbie seemed calm after this attack, not remembering the ordeal. He was then released and sent home.
The strange phenomena soon resumed at their home. One night, when Robbie was changing for bed, he screamed. A bloody word had been scratched on his chest, Louis. His mother asked if this meant, "St. Louis," and another bloody word appeared, yes.
Almost immediately, the family journeyed to visit their cousin in St. Louis, Missouri. The same strange phenomena began to happen. The cousin, a student at St. Louis University, talked
with one of her priest professors, Father Bishop, S.J., about the situation. Father Bishop then contacted one of his close friends, Father Bowdern, S.J., pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church.
The two priests and a young Jesuit scholastic went to interview Robbie on March 9, 1949. They noticed bloody zig-zig scratches on his chest. They heard scraping sounds. They saw a large
bookcase move and turn around by itself and a stool move across the floor. Robbie's bed would shake as he lay on it.
He hurled obscenities and blasphemies at them. The priests knew they were confronting evil.
They petitioned Cardinal Ritter for permission to perform an exorcism. After reviewing all of the evidence including medical and psychiatric exams, he granted permission on March 16.
As the priests began the Rite of Exorcism, Robbie became violent.
He made howling and growling noises. The bed shook up and down. On his chest appeared bloody scratches with the words hell and devil, and even an image of Satan. Robbie spit at the
priests as he hurled obscenities and blasphemies, with intermittent fiendish laughter.
For his own safety and for the family's welfare, Robbie was then transferred to the Alexian Brothers Hospital and placed in the psychiatric ward. Father Bowdern, continued to
perform the exorcism. With the family's consent, Robbie was baptized a Catholic. When Father Bowdern tried to give him First Holy Communion, Robbie five times spit out the
Sacred Host; they then paused to say the Rosary, and Robbie finally received the Holy Eucharist.
On April 18, Easter Monday, the exorcism came to a climax.
As Father Bowdern continued the ritual, the demon recognized the presence of St. Michael the Archangel, and was expelled from Robbie. A sound like a gunshot was heard throughout
the hospital. After this whole ordeal, Robbie remembered nothing of the diabolical phenomena, except the vision of St. Michael. Certainly, this story is frightening, but is
So to answer the reader's original questions, yes, the devil really can possess someone, and yes, the Church really does exorcisms. Be on guard! Stay away from anything dealing with the occult, including Ouija boards. Use the weapons of the holy arsenal that protect us from evil: pray, attend Mass,
receive Holy Communion, live by the commandments and the teachings of the Church, and confess sins frequently. If we rely on this holy arsenal for God's graces, we have no
need to fear: the love of God will always triumph over evil.
Fr. Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria
From www.spiritdaily.com Michael Brown:
Although the famous movie and the popular media didn't describe it, the famous case
behind The Exorcist was finally won when a statue of the Archangel Michael
was placed next to the bed of the possessed boy (in real life it was a
male named Rob) and pleas were made for the great angel to take the case before
the throne of God.
While in the movie evil seems to win, terrorizing an exorcist, in real life
the priests were plenty awed but stuck it out and with the intervention of Michael
the great nemesis of Satan (Revelation 12:7) -- freed the boy
from the horrid grip of full-blown satanic possession.
This was not a standard demonic infestation.
It was the highest order of possession and was traced back to the boy's aunt, a
spiritualist who had introduced him to the Ouija board, the "game" in
which people try to communicate with the dead (but in actuality are often
talking to demons.)
Whatever was at the root, it began during the winter of 1949 in a Washington, D.C.
suburb called Cottage City when strange noises, including a scratching in the
wall, joined a shaking of the wall
behind a picture of Jesus. Soon the boy's bed was shaking and there were
other strange furniture movements, eerie cold spots, and the inexplicable tossing
about of objects. At the first the boy's family took the matter to a minister at St. Stephen's
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Washington, but when the minister sensed an actual
diabolical presence he recommended that the parents seek help in the Catholic Church,
which had formal procedures for exorcism.
After initial attempts at delivering the boy at Georgetown University Hospital
(where, indeed, the case seemed too much for a young priest), the matter shifted
to St. Louis, where a priest named William S. Bowdern from St. Francis Xavier Church headed a team that watched aghast as bloody red marks materialized on the boy -- marks that spelled words like "hell"
and a vial of holy water flew and hit a dresser.
At one point a crucifix with relics moved from under the boy's pillow to the
foot of the bed and a relic of Saint Margaret Mary, the mystic who saw the Sacred Heart of Jesus, vanished.
There was spitting. There was "fiendish" laughter. There was a guttural voice that
spoke with great hate from the beleaguered 13-year-old boy.
After weeks attempting to free him, the priests decided to baptize the boy, and
on the way Rob struggled madly to take control of the steering wheel and crash the car.
It was a clear indication of how the sacraments were hated by forces of evil.
Finally Rob was baptized, but the next day, when the priests tried to give him holy
Communion, the boy refused it, spitting it out for two hours -- until a Rosary was said.
The exorcism took six weeks to accomplish, and the climax came at the Alexian Brothers
Hospital in St. Louis. There on Holy Thursday a small statue of Michael was placed on a bed
stand next to the boy, and the following Monday -- Easter Monday -- as the priest
prayed for the angel's intervention - as prayer intensified, with near desperation
the boy's voice suddenly changed into a clear, commanding, and dignified voice
from heaven. "Satan, I am St. Michael," said the voice that now came from the boy, "and I command you Satan to the leave the body in the name of Dominus (the Lord).
Now. Now. Now!"
At that precise moment what sounded like a loud gunshot was heard throughout the
hospital. The boy sat up, had a vision of the archangel, and announced with near
befuddlement but certainly terrific relief that the evil force was "gone."
At the same time, priests at St. Francis Xavier Church saw a light illuminate the
sanctuary from the dome high over the altar and in the light a vision of Michael.
(This entire series of events is documented by the video, In the Grip of Evil, that we are
making available (at www.spiritdaily.com) although we always recommend prayer, Bible reading, and
for Catholics the use of holy water before reviewing any material that involves evil spirits).
An interview with the priest involved in the case behind The
We tracked down Father Walter H. Halloran, a Jesuit who assisted in the famous excorcism that
served as the model for the blockbuster movie, The Exorcist. Now living in San Diego, where he is
assistant pastor at St. Martin of Tours Church, Father Halloran still vividly remembers the case,
which took place in 1949 and involved a young boy named Rob (not a girl) from the Washington-
Baltimore area, with the final exorcism conducted in St. Louis, where the boy had relatives. Father Halloran assisted the main exorcist, Father William S. Bowdern of St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Louis. Father Halloran says the boy was 11. Others say 13. But everyone agrees
on one thing: it was hair-raising. Here's our short talk:
SD: Father, how many times were you present in the exorcism
Fr. Halloran: I suppose every night for three weeks.
SD: Did you have any insight into the origin of the problem?
Fr. H: In a way he was a victim to the frame of mind of the aunt (who was into spiritualism).
SD: What happened at the end? We're told the Archangel Michael manifested.
Fr. H: I was taken off five days before the conclusion, but from what I understand there was a very loud sound, a boom -- sort of like a sonic boom -- and then the boy opened his eyes and said St. Michael came and that it was over. At the same time this took place there were about six or seven priests over in the college church saying their office and there was a huge boom over there and the whole church was completely lit up. Father Bowdern, who was doing the exorcism, and the boy were at the
rectory. There was a very, very bright light that lit up the whole church.
SD: What was the most striking physical phenomena that you witnessed yourself during the exorcisms?
Fr. H: I think the markings on the boy's body. I didn't think there was any way they could have
been self-induced, the marks, the scratches, the words, the numbers and that sort of thing that appeared
in blood red]. When the evil spirit took over the child, there seemed to be nothing he could do about
it. There were a couple of times when something very dangerous might have happened and he had
no recollection whatsoever of anything that took place when he was in one of these sieges. And that
affected me, the power that someone or something has over someone.
SD: Did you see anything fly across the room or furniture move?
Fr. H: Yeah. The first night I was there I was kneeling at the bed on which the boy was lying and the bed
started going up and down and then I just about got hit with a holy water bottle that was sitting on the
dresser and came flying across the room and just
missed me by an inch or two.
SD: How high was the bed going?
Fr. H: Oh, I'd say eight inches.
SD: Was there any particular prayer that the evil spirit seemed to react to the most?
Fr. H: Yes. It was more elements or words or phrases in each prayer. Whenever the Blessed Mother's name
would be invoked or mentioned, the child would get very, very agitated and when Our Lord's name -
Christ, Our Lord, or Jesus --when that was said, and the same thing with Michael the Archangel. And then
he'd become very, very agitated with holy water. With some of the prayers you sprinkle the person
with holy water and he'd become wild, physically wild, flying around and that sort of thing.
SD: Flailing around with his hands, that sort of thing?
Fr. H: Yeah.
SD: Did you see the 'Exorcist' movie?
Fr. H: I saw it right after it came out. I went with Father Bowdern and I thought it was a typical
Hollywood, glitzy thing, real bizarre, trying to bring people to be fearful or to scream. I was
disappointed with it. I thought it was a mess. And Father Bowdern did too. He gave sort of a running
negative commentary throughout the whole movie. I thought the two of us were going to be thrown out
of the theatre.
SD: So there was no neck craning around?
Fr. H: No. It was just ridiculous, and the gross one where the little girl is ing with a
crucifix. It just didn't happen, that's all, and the huge amount of green vomit: Nonsense.
SD: There was some spitting, though, wasn't there?
Fr. H: Yeah, there was spitting, and when I think back on it, it amazes me, his accuracy. He'd spit
right in your eye from about eight feet away.
SD: I understand at one point you saved the boy's life. He was ready to go over a cliff, wasn't he?
Fr. H: Yeah. I took him out to the retreat house in St. Louis, a very pretty place, to get out of the
hospital and get some fresh air, and he didn't know anything about the Stations of the Cross and so I
asked if he wanted to learn and he's says, oh sure. He was an affable little kid. Not many 11-year-old
would say they were interested in finding out about the Stations of the Cross, but he was. And I explained
what each one signified and we got to the 12th station and I said, this commemorates Christ dying on the
cross and with that he took off and ran toward the edge of a bluff that dropped down about 150, 200 feet
down to the tracks and I hollered at him and nothing happened so I ran and for once in my life I made a
SD: Did you have any manifestation afterward, or was that the end of it? Did you come under demonic
Fr. H: No, I never did.
SD: Did you fast during that whole thing?
Fr. H: On and off I did.
SD: Bread and water?
Fr. H: No, things like just taking a cup of coffee
and a piece of toast and skipping a meal and at that time we were still practicing abstinenence during Lent.
SD: Did Father Bowdern fast?
Fr. H: He did quite a bit, and sometimes he would go off because he was getting worn out the
exorcism lasted six weeks].
SD: How old were you?
Fr. H: About 28.
SD: Anything else that sticks out in your mind when you think back about Rob?
Fr. H: Well, when they baptized him -- it was a conditional baptism, because he had been baptized
a Lutheran as a baby -- when they went through the ceremony again, on the way down to the church
from his uncle's home, he kept grabbing the steering wheel of the car. He had the car up on the boulevard
and some close calls of hitting or being hit by other cars. Then when they were giving him first Holy
Communion, and I was present for this, he really fought that, he was flailing around and he'd open his
mouth and then as soon as Father Bowdern came close with a Host, he'd swing at him. And I was supposed to be holding him all this time. But he'd relax and I'd relax a little bit and then he'd get an arm free and the voice would keep yelling, "No! He will not receive" or -- and his eyes were closed! -- he'd take a swing at Father Bowdern in the groin and say, "How's that for a nutcracker?" And then it must have been 15 or 20 minutes of this carrying on and he relaxed and received Holy Communion.
SD: Did you fear for your life.
Fr. H: No, not really. But I wondered why me, what purpose I was there for. There was one time he asked
us to stop and took his pajama top off and he was covered with these marks, scratches, and he said they hurt.
It was Holy Thursday and I was telling him about Holy Thursday and he started writhing around in pain and he said, look, I can't stand this. He seemed more affected; when I said things like "the Blessed Sacrament" or mentioned the ordination of priests and things like that.
SD: What a confirmation of the power of our faith, and the powers that struggle with each other on this earth.
Fr. H: Yes. That's what affected me most, and I guess that's why I was so disappointed with the movies.
SD: Do you think it was Satan or a demon?
Fr. H: During the rite when it was asked its name the only answer I can remember that was given was "legion," which reminds us of the swineherd running into the lake.
The boy eventually married and settled back on the East Coast
attending Loyola High School in Baltimore. Father Bowdern died
thirty years after the exorcism, in 1983. Meanwhile the
re-released last fall, became one of the most famous of all time.
Father Halloran is featured in the video In the Grip of Evil, an excellent docu-drama and one that, like anything dealing with evil, should be preceded with prayer, Bible reading, and holy water.
+ + + +
Top exorcist expresses belief in Medjugorje and says he has kept the Pope informed since 1981:
“I think that the apparitions are authentic. Young and old come to Medjugorje and return changed, enlightened. Young people are becoming believers. Medjugorje has the highest number of confessions. People are fascinated by the miracles that occur. I think that those who go to Medjugorje get what they need there, in terms of belief. Those who go there receive a clear signal” says Fr. Gabriele Amorth.
“There is another reason why I believe in the apparitions. People from within the Church, we should be much more cautious about these things. But after a pilgrimage, after visiting the site, they so believe in Medjugorje, they are so enthusiastic and loud about what you find in Medjugorje that my optimism and faith truly surpass expectations.”
“Medjugorje is therefore a very positive, strong phenomenon. In today’s world there is no such place like Medjugorje when it comes to religious enlightenment of the people and practice of their religion” he says.
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