Exorcism for fun and profit

The title of this story from the Agence France Presse (AFP), "Exorcism boom in Poland sees magazine launch" caught my eye, as a good headline should, and set my click finger twitching. "What was this?", I wondered. An explosion during an exorcism? Did the acolyte get too close with his burning taper to a gas line? Satan levitating magazines, tossing back issues of Our Sunday Visitor at a cowled cleric?

Alas, my imagination -- alight with images of Max von Sydow battling the forces of evil in the form of the National Catholic Reporter -- was a bit off. The AFP was reporting on the launch of Egzorcysta, the Polish word for "exorcist", a monthly Polish-language magazine devoted to exorcisms, demonology,  and related topics.

With its 62-page first issue including articles titled “New Age — the spiritual vacuum cleaner” and “Satan is real”, the Egzorcysta monthly with a print-run of 15,000 by the Polwen publishers is selling for 10 zloty (2.34 euros, 3.10 dollars) per copy.

Though not as colorful as I had hoped, the article nonetheless turned out to be well crafted with strong quotes from the magazine's principals outlining its editorial mission. It also looks into the phenomena of exorcisms.

The story beings with Fr. Aleksander Posacki, one of the magazine's founders, whom AFP describes as a "professor of philosophy, theology and leading demonologist and exorcist" explaining the niche his magazine will fill is related to the "rise in the number or exorcists from four to more than 120 over the course of 15 years in Poland ..."

Having identified his audience, Fr. Posacki explains why the market for exorcists has grown.

Ironically, he attributed the rise in demonic possessions in what remains one of Europe’s most devoutly Catholic nations partly to the switch from atheist communism to free market capitalism in 1989.

“It’s indirectly due to changes in the system: capitalism creates more opportunities to do business in the area of occultism. Fortune telling has even been categorised as employment for taxation,” Posacki told AFP.

“If people can make money out of it, naturally it grows and its spiritual harm grows too,” he said, hastening to add authentic exorcism is absolutely free of charge.

The article offers Fr. Posacki's views on the intersection of psychiatry and the demonic possession, and he and fellow exorcist Fr. Andrzej Grefkowicz offer accounts of exorcisms.

According to both exorcists, depictions of demonic possession in horror films are largely accurate. “It manifests itself in the form of screams, shouting, anger, rage – threats are common,” Posacki said. “Manifestation in the form or levitation is less common, but does occur and we must speak about it — I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” he added.

A fun little story -- yet I was troubled by its lack of curiosity and its underlying assumptions. Unlike the Huffington Post's treatment of this issue, the AFP does not play it for laughs. But is it too respectful, to earnest? An assumption behind this story is that exorcisms are a bona fide spiritual phenomena -- should AFP have been more circumspect? Even-handed? Would it have reported accounts of Sufis doing spiritual battles with Jinns from Pakistan, or occult practices from Zimbabwe in the same way?

The respectful tone of the story might well have led to the avoidance of hard questions. Fr. Posacki argues that the free market for spiritualists has led to the growth in demand for the services of Catholic exorcists. Might not the same question be put to Fr. Posaki? Is he making a quick buck out of exorcisms though the launch of this magazine?

And, if the rise in the number of exorcists is only "partly" due to a free market in fortune tellers, what are the other reasons for the jump from 4 to 120?

Let me say I am not denigrating Fr. Posacki with my questions. Rather I am asking why the reporter on this story did not press Fr. Posacki to address the issues of the business of exorcisms when Fr. Posacki raises this issue in his rationale for the magazine. Many of my posts at GetReligion deal with the ignorance or hostility a journalist brings to a religion story. But there are also times when a too respectful attitude, too deferential to an institution, individual or doctrine results in poor reporting. Tell me GetReligion readers, is this the case here?

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