I don't know about you, but the moment I heard about the "Exorcism: Live!" event on reality television, the very first thing I thought was this: There is no way on earth that a priest from a mainstream Catholic or Orthodox body agreed to take part in this pop-culture train wreck.
So, as I read through the Washington Post Style section take on this mass-media product, I was looking for one thing -- the name of the exorcist and the detailed identification of his church.
Surely, no one was going to write about this eve of Halloween production without giving readers that crucial detail? I mean, that would leave the religion-beat professionals at the Post pounding their heads on their desks. Right? Hold that thought.
First, what is the fuss all about?
Welcome to “Exorcism: Live!” airing at 9 p.m. Friday on Destination America, a cable channel owned by Discovery Communications. The two-hour telecast tasks a clergyman, a psychic and the team from the network’s “Ghost Asylum” series to go into the spooky suburban St. Louis home that inspired “The Exorcist” book and movie. Ghost hunters insist that the house is filled with a dark, sinister energy, and “Exorcism: Live!” is determined to cleanse it.
Now, I happen to like the book that is behind all of this, and its author is a fascinating man (click here for my "On Religion" interview with him). And don't get me wrong. The documentation for the original case behind all of this is pretty disturbing stuff. The question is what it has to do with reality television, and the ministry of an exorcist.
So here is some more information on the supposedly troubled setting for today's planned epic.
“The Exorcist,” William Blatty’s 1971 horror novel, was based on the real-life case of a Maryland teenager known as Roland Doe. In 1949, Doe became violently ill, screaming in languages he was never taught, and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Eventually, religious leaders decided that Doe was possessed by the Devil. Through exorcism rituals, a Catholic priest freed Doe of his demons. At the time, The Washington Post called it “perhaps one of the most remarkable experiences of its kind in recent religious history.”
Doe traveled between Maryland and St. Louis for exorcisms as doctors and members of the clergy examined him. He stayed with relatives in the house in St. Louis and underwent an exorcism on the second floor.
Now, to my main point.
All of that said, what do we know about the ecclesiastical authority behind the rite that legions of people will witness tonight? Here is what the Style team tells us:
Have chills yet? That’s what Destination America is counting on, even if they are of the campy variety. During the special, camera operators will squeeze into the small house with the team of paranormal experts, including psychic Chip Coffey and Bishop James Long. Six cameras throughout the house will allow viewers to watch footage online and use Twitter to alert the crew if something happens in another room.
That's that -- Bishop James Long.
With all of the dramatic set-up, readers (and viewers, I assume) are supposed to assume that this is a real, life, official Roman Catholic Bishop and trained exorcist.
Now, not to mock Long, but that simply isn't the case and I would imagine that Destination America knows that. But what about the Post team?
It isn't hard to find out who Long is and that he is a leader in one of the thousands -- OK, maybe hundreds is a safer statement -- of splinter churches that are connected to the very complicated and even twisted "Old Catholic" ecclesiastical tree. A few seconds with a mouse will do the trick. Or try Twitter, if you don't have the time for an Internet search to find him.
Some of these Old Catholic bodies are very conservative, some are very liberal. Some have real parishes. Some are small -- like count the members on a few hands small. Your local mailman (I used that image based on an experience in Colorado) may be a mail-order bishop in one of these bodies.
This is one of the times when a Wikipedia page really does capture the maze of information that surrounds a particular movement (or movements). Check this out.
So, isn't the identity of the exorcist a pretty basic piece of information to share with those who are reading a story about a live reality television show about an exorcism? Why not clarify his identity, and credentials, with one or two sentences?
One more thing: The mainstream Catholic authorities in St. Louis are not amused.