Exorcism growing among Catholics? San Francisco Weekly offers flawed investigation

Exorcism growing among Catholics? San Francisco Weekly offers flawed investigation

There are some publications that treat religion-news coverage like a trip to some mysterious planet where the inhabitants are incomprehensible. Such was the San Francisco Weekly’s recent take on a local exorcist. It was so crammed with mistakes, one wonders if anyone bothered editing or fact checking the piece.

The Weekly has had some decent religion stories in the past, but this was not one of them.

Which is a shame, because the issue of exorcism is wildly interesting, the stuff of movies and best-selling books. The reporter identifies himself as a lapsed Catholic non-believer, which makes it odd that the research would be so sloppy.

We begin:

Every Thursday evening, a few dozen people file into Immaculate Conception Chapel, a small Catholic church on the steep slope of Folsom Street on Bernal Hill's north face, carrying bottles of water, tubs of protein powder, small bottles of booze, watches, rosaries, and cell phones...
The people stir a few minutes past 7 p.m. when a tiny man wearing white robes -- a long rectangle of cloth with Vegas-worthy golden sparkles hanging around his neck -- appears from a door to the left of the altar. A few weeks shy of his 89th birthday, Father Guglielmo Lauriola walks slowly across the raised altar area to a waiting chair. Here he sits, facing away from his congregation in the style of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, to read from laminated card prayers and songs devoted to the Virgin Mary. Aside from Jesus on the cross, she is the principal figure of veneration here at the 104-year-old church.

So the scene is set. This priest conducts a Mass, after which, we're told "the show really starts."

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Washington Post leaves readers with a generic bishop, in Style story on 'Exorcism: Live!'

Washington Post leaves readers with a generic bishop, in Style story on 'Exorcism: Live!'

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.

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Devil's in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic 'black mass'

Devil's in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic 'black mass'

While most of her Godbeat colleagues were in Atlanta enjoying #RNA2014 this past weekend, The Oklahoman's longtime religion editor Carla Hinton remained in her home state of Oklahoma to cover a big news story.

If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you've seen our past posts on the national media attention leading up to Sunday's Satanic "black mass" in Oklahoma City.

For good background on the black mass, check out Tulsa World religion writer Bill Sherman's excellent interview with the Satanic organizer. Sherman produced a good story, too, on Monsignor Patrick Brankin, a Catholic exorcist who reports increasing demonic activity. From that story:

Bishop Edward J. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa said the practice of exorcism is gaining ground in the Catholic Church.

This summer the Vatican formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists, an organization of Catholic exorcists to which Brankin belongs. Exorcism conferences are held at the Vatican.

When Slattery arrived in Tulsa 20 years ago, he said, the diocese was getting about one call a year concerning demonic activity, and those callers were determined to have psychological problems, not demon possession.

“But in the last few years, we’re seeing more demonic activity,” he said, a trend he attributes to an increasingly secular society that has turned to Ouija boards, witchcraft, astrology, fortune telling and other occult practices that “open the door to the demonic.”

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Demon 'deliverance' in Big D: 'The Exorcists Next Door'

A burp or a yawn? Either might signal an exiting demon. So say Larry and Marion Pollard, the subjects of a 4,400-word D Magazine profile with the provocative title “The Exorcists Next Door.”

When Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher proclaimed the piece a must-read, we knew we needed to check it out.

The trees and rolling hills lend a warm, suburban vibe to Marion and Larry Pollard’s West Arlington neighborhood. Shouts of children from a nearby elementary school waft in on waves of heat as you step inside the foyer of their comfortable ranch home, where you’re surrounded by portraits of the grandkids—eight of them, ranging in age from 5 to 22.

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