by DeKalb Daddy
The truth about exorcism
Father Donnely: Exorcist
Part One: The Phone Interview
Dear reader, what follows are true accounts of the conversations that I had with one Father Donnely and of the events that I witnessed during my time with him.
My name is Matthew Brower. I am a feature writer for 'The Plains Banner', a midsized newspaper, with a readership of thirty-thousand, mostly rural, Midwestern, middle class, God fearing folk. On Wednesday, October sixteenth of this year, I was sitting at my desk at the paper, desperately trying to come up with a story idea for Halloween, something that would be interesting and fun to read. I had thought of spending a night in a cemetery or haunted house, but it seemed like everyone was doing stories like that. I wanted this piece to be different; intelligent and thought provoking. Time was running out. Then, as I poured through old copies of the paper, trying to get ideas, I came across a small blurb about a local Catholic priest who had been appointed as the exorcist for the archdiocese. I didn't know they still did that kind of thing,. I went to their website, but it didn't list any exorcists; I figured I'd call anyway. I spoke with a Father Adare, who told me that there was indeed an official exorcist, but he wasn't listed on the website because the Catholic Church likes to downplay that type of thing. "That makes no sense," I said over the phone. "They appoint an exorcist, then try to hide him. How's anyone supposed to get in touch with him?"
"Just like you are now," he replied. "They call." Father Adare gave me the number of a Father Donnely, who was the pastor at St. Michael's Parish.
I phoned the number for the rectory at St. Michael's; a woman answered the phone. After telling her who I was and what I wanted, she put me on hold. A few minutes later, a man answered the phone. "Hello, this is Father Donnely, may I help you?"
"Father Donnely, my name is Matthew Brower." I started to tell him about my story idea.
"Yes, Mrs. Kinkade told me. What would you like to know about exorcism?"
"Well, as I said, with Halloween coming up, I thought that it might be fun for my readers, if I wrote a piece on demons and exorcism. I spoke with a Father Adare at the bishop's office. He said that you're the archdiocesan exorcist and suggested I call you. I'm hoping you can tell me what an exorcism is really like."
"Do you subscribe to any religion?" he asked me.
"What? No, not really. I was born Presbyterian, but I haven't been to church since I was a kid, except for weddings and funerals."
"What do you believe about God, the angels, and Satan?" he continued.
"Honestly, I don't know about God, I don't give it much thought. I think angels and demons are metaphors that people use to explain the good and evil that exist in the world." I tried to keep the interview on track. "According to legend, demons can take over a person's body and then an exorcist, like yourself, is called in to expel them. I watched 'The Exorcist' and 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' and I've read a few books so I think I have a pretty good idea of what goes on. I mean, those movies are based on actual events, right? I'm hoping you can give me some more detail; maybe tell a few stories of actual exorcisms that you've performed."
"Yes, those movies are loosely based on real cases." He paused for a moment. "I think you should write about zombies and vampires or werewolves. Leave the demons alone. You see Mr. Brower; God is very real; angels are real; Satan is real; Heaven and hell are both real. Because you're not a believer, you could be putting yourself in danger."
"I don't understand how asking some questions could be dangerous," I said.
"I know," he answered. "That's the point. Look, I'll call the bishop and see what he says. I have to get his permission anyway. If he doesn't have a problem with it, then it's fine with me."
Later that evening, after eating supper and putting my two girls to bed, I sat down on the sofa with my wife and began searching the cable listings for a show that a friend from work, Carol, had recommended. She said there was a guy who performed real exorcisms on the air, in front of a live audience. My wife, Libby and I watched the show for about ten minutes before looking at each other and laughing.
"Shh," she scolded playfully, "You'll wake the girls."
"Oh my God, can you believe this? How could anyone fall for this? It's like professional wrestling." The exorcist on the screen confronted the possessed people and began arguing with them; putting a cross or bible on their head and demanding to know the name of the demon. The possessed person, wanting to appear to put up a good fight, growled on cue and of course, resisted giving up the demon's name for a respectable period of time. In the end, of course, the exorcist won the fight, everyone hugged and it appeared that a good time was had by all. "This is it? This is what's so dangerous that a priest has to get permission to talk about it? These people aren't even good actors."
"I'm pretty sure you'll be safe," Libby chuckled.
As I lay in bed that night, I tried to think of ways to make exorcism scary. If I couldn't, I would take Father Donnely's suggestion and change my subject. The following day, when I arrived at the newspaper office, I found a note on my desk. Father Donnely had phoned and wanted me to return his call. As I thought about the cable show I had watched the night before, I smiled broadly. When I returned his call, he told me the bishop was on board with the idea, but reserved the right for final approval before printing. We agreed to meet the following Monday for lunch.
Part Two: The Second Interview
Father Donnely arrived at the newspaper promptly at noon, on Monday, October twenty-first. He was nothing like I imagined he would be. The website said that he was sixty-seven years old, so I was expecting one of those priests from a nineteen forties movie, like Barry Fitzgerald. This was no Barry. The priest in front of me was a mountain of a man, at least six feet four inches tall, with fiery red hair and sparkling green eyes. We rode in his car to a local diner a few blocks away from the 'Plains Banner'.
The priest folded his hands on the table and looked at me sternly. "After our conversation last Wednesday, I started to get a little worried about this interview. I'm afraid you'll reaffirm what many people already believe; that the devil is merely a legend and they have nothing to worry about. That's exactly what he wants," the priest continued. "Satan would like nothing better than for people to not believe in him. He wants to remain hidden, so that he can do his work, unseen in the shadows."
"I don't plan on making anything up. I'm only interested in presenting your story as honestly as I can," I reassured him.
"I'm glad to hear that." A waitress came over to take our order. "I'll have a cup of black coffee and one piece of plain, white bread," he said.
I motioned for the waitress to wait, then told him, "It's okay Father, I've got this. You can order some lunch."
"Just the coffee and bread please," he said. After she took my order and left, Father Donnely looked at me. "The coffee and bread, it's called a Black Fast. Before performing The Sacred Rite of Exorcism, the priest or deacon will take only bread and water, once a day, for three days. It helps to clear the mind and purify the soul."
"Sounds pretty extreme," I said, as I took down some notes about the fasting, on my computer tablet. I looked back up at Father. "Okay, how many exorcisms have you done?"
"In the seven years that I've been a sanctioned exorcist, I've had eleven confirmed cases. I've performed the sacred rite many times, but just on those eleven people."
After the waitress brought our lunch, I told Father Donnely about the television exorcist. "He has possessed people on all the time and always cures them before the show is over. Why have you had so few?"
"I've seen him." he said with a smile. "I'm not sure those people are really possessed; most are just lonely and looking for attention. Trust me, there are better ways to go about it. I get about three hundred requests a week from individuals or family members wanting me to perform an exorcism. The reality is, only one in a thousand cases requires the Sacred Rite."
"So much of that stuff can be faked; the growling, the spitting and all of that thrashing around. How can you tell which ones are the real deal?"
"No one in a ministry like mine works alone. I have a whole prayer team that supports me. A medical doctor, two psychologists, a psychiatrist, and another priest are part of that team. Before I even consider praying the rite, a person must undergo extensive medical and psychological testing. Usually, that's where we find the underlying cause of their suffering, like schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome, depression, and on and on. When we've exhausted all of the rational, scientific possibilities, we're left with things that simply can't be explained. For instance, a demon will have a strong, sometimes violent reaction to any sacred object. Yes, I know, any one can fake that. Well, how about a nineteen year old girl, who, while being restrained in a chair by two grown men, suddenly throws those men across the room like they were rag dolls? How can we explain that same girl speaking multiple languages fluently, including Latin and ancient Aramaic, or knowing where you were and what you did last night. Can she fake that?"
I took a drink of my coffee. "I'm assuming that you've seen all of these things?"
"Yes, two weeks ago, as a matter of fact. The girl's name is Hannah, and her physical condition is deteriorating. It's time to step things up," the priest said, as if thinking out loud.
"Wait, if she's so badly off, why didn't you get rid of the demon two weeks ago?"
"I performed an exorcism two weeks ago: I have prayed the rite for her over a dozen times. I feel like we're making progress."
"It doesn't sound like progress to me. It sounds like your 'rite' doesn't work."
"It works, Matthew. It always works. Sometimes it takes a while." He must have been able to see how confused I was, because he explained further. "Think of angels as being like an army. There are different ranks, or levels of authority within an army. Before their fall, demons were angels, so they also have different ranks. I've never encountered a case where a person has been possessed by only one demon. Usually there's a leader with several levels of demons beneath him. They leave the person in layers, the weaker ones falling off first. It's kind of like peeling an onion. That's why it can sometimes take weeks or even months to expel all of them."
As I continued taking notes on my tablet, I looked back at my first entry. "You said that you perform this Black Fast for three days before you perform an exorcism. What day is today?"
"Today is day three, Matthew. I need to be getting back to St. Michael's. My prayer team is waiting for me. What does your day look like?"
Part Three: The Encounter
I followed Father Donnely to St. Michael's in my car. When I pulled into the church parking lot, I saw about a dozen cars parked in a row by the side entrance of the church. There were at least that many people milling around the side door. Father approached me and said, "I'm going to hear confessions now. You're welcome to wait in the lobby."
"With all due respect, couldn't that wait until after the exorcism?"
"Demons are much more intelligent than humans. They can see all of our unconfessed sins and can use them to embarrass the people in the room. Once our sins are confessed, they are hidden by God and the devil can't see them. I shouldn't be long."
Father Donnely paused by a car that was parked in front of the church door. The man in the driver's seat rolled down his window and the two spoke briefly. Father looked past the driver at the figure of a young woman in the back seat. He smiled and waved to her, then lead the procession of people into the church. I decided to wait in the parking lot, since I guessed that the woman in the back seat could be the one who was possessed. I watched her for a while, trying not to be too obvious or rude, then began to think I was mistaken. She didn't look or act like a demon; she was pretty and sat quietly, staring out of the window. About twenty minutes later, Fr. Donnely emerged from the church, closely followed by a man and woman who were both athletic-looking and about my age. The two waited by the door. As Father approached the car, the three people that had been inside, got out. He motioned for me to come over to where they stood.
"Hannah," he said to to girl. "This is a friend of mine. He wants to know if he can observe today. Is that alright with you?"
"I guess." Her voice was soft and quiet.
"Do you remember what we discussed after our last time together, about the restraints? Have you given that any thought?"
"I'm afraid. The voices are telling me no."
"It's for your protection. You want all of this to be over, don't you? You want to get rid of the voices?"
She held her hands to her head. "They're yelling at me."
The priest pulled her close to himself and hugged her. "It's alright darlin'. It's going to be alright. Now, I want you to go with the Coopers," he said, motioning to the couple by the door.
As the young woman, her parents, and the Coopers disappeared into the church, Father Donnely turned toward me. "Now as for you, Matthew. There are some ground rules that you must agree to, before I can allow you inside."
"Wait," I interrupted. "You're going to do it here?" I took out my tablet and began typing some notes.
"Exorcisms are always performed on Holy Ground. It never hurts to have a little home-field advantage," he said smiling. "Now, you'll be sitting in a chair by the door; it's bolted to the floor. You mustn't move from the chair. At no time are you to talk to the demon. If it talks to you, ignore it. Don't make eye contact with it." He put his hand over the screen of the tablet, to get my attention. His eyes were piercing. "Matthew, this isn't television or the movies. This is reality. If at any time I feel that you are being directly attacked, I'm going to ask you to leave. Now, do you agree?"
"Yes," I replied. "I've got it."
"And your machine," he said, pointing to my tablet. "It stays in the car."
Part Four: The Rite
The door of the church opened onto a staircase. Looking up the stairs to the left, I could see the inside of the dimly lit church. I followed Father down the stairs on the right which emptied into a small community room. All of the ceiling lights were on, even though there was plenty of light coming through the windows on the west wall. The other walls were completely bare. Hannah was sitting in a chair in the center of the room, her wrists and ankles secured with leather restraints. To my right was a small altar that had been draped with a lace-trimmed cloth. On both ends of the altar were four lit candles. In the center was a large, golden object. The base of the object looked similar to a trophy. The top portion contained an empty, circular, glass enclosure. The gold surrounding the enclosure had been crafted to look like rays of light.
"This is your chair," he said, motioning to my left. I had thought he was joking about it being bolted to the floor, but sure enough, it was. As I took my seat, Father stepped just outside the doorway and called up the stairs. "We're ready."
An older man entered the room. He wore a purple sash that was draped over his shoulders and onto his chest. Without a word, he handed a similar sash to Father Donnely. After Father mumbled to himself, he put his sash on. The man handed him a small golden box. Both of the men stepped over to the altar, bent over and kissed the white cloth. Father opened the small, gold box, removed a paper thin, round, white object from it, then gently placed it inside the glass enclosure. Both men knelt in front of the altar, then, rising, turned toward Hannah. I know Catholics believe that the circular white object is the actual presence of Jesus Christ.
"You're right Matthew; that's what these fools believe." Startled, I turned my gaze toward Hannah, who was staring intently at me.
Then, turning her attention toward Father Donnely, she yelled, "Get that abomination out of here!"
For a moment, I felt as if all of the blood was drained out of my body. How in the hell did she know my name and what I was thinking? Ok, calm down, Father must have mentioned it to her.
"Get it out of here!" she screamed.
Father and the other man walked toward Hannah. "A Thiarna, déan trócaire," (Lord have mercy) said Father Donnely, in practiced Gaelic. "A Chríost, déan trócaire." (Christ have mercy) "A Thiarna, déan trócaire."
Hannah hissed at him, "Póg mo thóin sagart!" (Kiss my ass priest!)
A hundred thoughts were racing through my head. He could have taught her that phrase. After all, he did say he was afraid I would tell people that all of this wasn't real. They've had three days to rehearse all of this. Over the weekend, as part of my research, I had gone online and downloaded a copy of the Catholic Church's Rite of Exorcism. I didn't read every word of it, since it is rather long and boring, but it was written in English and no where in it did I see any Gaelic phrases, so I wondered if Father Donnely had added that part for my benefit.
At that moment, Hannah began to laugh loudly and then, looking directly at me, she winked and nodded her head. "It's all bullshit!" she sneered.
Father Donnely made the sign of the cross on himself, then went to every person in the room, including me, and traced a cross on their forehead with his thumb. Finally, he walked over to Hannah and did the same. She spit on him, which made me grin and suppress a laugh. I couldn't help it; it was just like the television show, only more elaborate. The other man handed him a small silver bucket that had a silver wand in it. Father pulled the wand, which was dripping with water, from the bucket and used it to throw water onto everyone in the room. A few drops landed on my hair and cheeks; I wiped them off with my hand. When he sprinkled Hannah, she shook her head violently, clenched her teeth and growled, as if in pain, but said nothing. He knelt as he began praying from the black book that he held. He read the long litany of saints, the onlookers responding to each invocation. They prayed deliverance prayers, the Our Father and several Psalms. During all of it, Hannah growled and squirmed in her seat, but said nothing, her eyes closed and her teeth still clenched. Only when Father Donnely rose to his feet and began the prayers addressed directly at the demon, did things really begin to happen.
"I command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are, along with all your minions now attacking this servant of God, by the mysteries of the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, by the coming of our Lord for judgment, that you tell me by some sign your name, and the day and hour of your departure.." continued the priest. As he finished saying this, the lights in the room went out. There was still plenty of light coming through the windows and my chair was only about fifteen feet away from Hannah, so my view was not hindered. I still wasn't buying any of this. Anyone could have flipped a breaker switch. Nothing was happening here that couldn't be explained.
"You command nothing!" screamed Hannah. As I watched this scene, I noticed that her mouth was closed and her lips never moved. The voice, which sounded distinctly male, seemed to come from around Hannah, rather than from inside her. Maybe she was a practiced ventriloquist, or there was some kind of intercom system; I didn't know.
As Father continued the prayers, he periodically traced a cross, with his thumb on himself and then on Hannah. Occasionally, he would sprinkle her with the Holy Water. Each time he did so, she screamed loudly, her lips still pursed tightly closed.
When the actual exorcism prayers began, Father placed the end of his purple stole on Hannah's neck. "I cast you out, unclean spirit, along with every Satanic power of the enemy, every spectre from hell, and all your fell companions; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Begone and stay far from this creature of God, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.."
I was expecting another violent reaction from Hannah, but she said nothing. Instead, she threw her head back and slowly began to rise into the air, chair and all. Of course there had to be an explanation, I just couldn't figure it out. I leaned forward in my chair to get a better look. There were no wires or cables attached to her or her chair, that I could see, and the open area under the chair revealed no mechanical devices. I sat there, watching in amazement.
"It is God Himself who commands you; the majestic Christ who commands you. God the Father commands you; God the Son commands you; God the Holy Spirit commands you.." As he prayed this part, periodically tracing the sign of the cross on her, Hannah and her chair returned to the floor. The whole ceremony lasted about half an hour. Just when I thought we were finished, Father started the whole thing over from the beginning.
When Father Donnely again got to the part where he commanded the demon to say it's name, Hannah's mouth opened farther than I thought possible. A loud voice from inside her called out, "Greed! My name is Greed!." Immediately, Hannah lowered her head and her body relaxed, as if asleep. The lights in the room came back on. Father stood silently in front of her chair for a few moments, then closed the book, handed it to his assistant, and walked over to me.
"That's it for today." he said. "I'll meet you outside. I'm going to stay here for a bit and talk to her parents while the doctor checks her out."
"That's fine. I need to get some notes down."
"I hope you'll stay for supper. Mrs. Kinkade promised to make a big meal."
"Yes, thank you; I'll just give my wife a call."
Part Four: The Final Discussion
After we finished eating, Father Donnely invited me into his study. "Can I get you a brandy?"
"That would be great," I replied as I opened my tablet. "Is it over; is the spirit gone?"
"A spirit is gone, but I don't think it's over. We'll have to wait and see."
"That whole thing with her floating in the air..."
"I've never had that happen before. It's a distraction to draw everyone's attention away from the prayers." Then he chuckled. "Not bad for a metaphor. I guess we should have had you two switch chairs."
That made me smile too. Then I continued, "When you asked for it's name, it said 'greed'. I don't get it, that's not a name."
"They do that sometimes; cry out the name of a vice or one of the seven deadly sins."
"So where did it go, back to hell?" I asked, continuing my typing.
"I don't know. It was commanded to go before the Cross of Christ; He decides what to do with it. Let me ask you a question. Do you know what you're going to write in your paper?"
"I'm still working it out in my head. When it's finished I'll hand it over to Father Adare so your bishop can edit it."
Father Donnely smiled softly, obviously exhausted. "No worries there Matthew. I've known Bishop Cousins for many years, long before he was a bishop. He's not into censorship. I'm sure he just wants to make sure that you write the truth about what you saw and heard. Don't make things up and it'll be fine"
"That's just it. I'm not sure what I saw."
"Then write that."
We talked for about forty-five minutes, then Father suppressed a loud yawn. I decided to wrap things up. "One more question Father, then I need to get going. Why Hannah? What did she ever do to deserve this?"
"That's one of the things that we always try to determine during the initial examination. Hannah was born and raised Catholic. About four years ago, she and her friends started seeing a psychic, playing with tarot cards and using a ouija board."
"That's nonsense," I interrupted. "Lots of people do that and never get possessed."
"Matthew, please let me finish. You're right, people do those things every day and nothing happens. Hannah told us that she started to believe in these things and trust in what they told her. She put her faith in them, instead of in God. You've heard the expression; 'Nature abhors a void' ? Well, when we push God out of our lives, we create a void and something has to take His place. Satan saw an opening and took it."
"So why doesn't that happen to everyone?"
"Think of possession as DefCon One. There are other forms of demonic activity that aren't full blown possession. There's attachment, where a spirit or demon attaches themselves to an object or to a place. Then, obsession, the torturing of a person's mind with voices or violent thoughts. And, oppression, where the demon physically attacks the patient. These events are far more common and occasionally, but rarely, lead to possession. Usually, prayers of deliverance can take care of those situations." He stood up and set his glass on the fireplace mantle. "I need to say goodnight---have to be up early for mass. Do you have what you need for your story?"
"Yes," I said, shaking his hand. "I believe I do."
During the drive home, I tried to sort out the day's events. Frankly, I wasn't sure what had happened. There seemed to be only two possibilities. The first being that an old man had enlisted the help of a teenage girl, her parents and twelve others, including a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, two psychologists, and another priest, to pull off an elaborate ruse for my benefit. He could have told the girl my name in advance, taught her a short Gaelic phrase, had her learn to talk and scream with her mouth closed or have some electronic way of producing the voice, had someone else backstage turn out the lights, and devise an ingenious way of lifting the girl and her chair into the air without being detected. The other possibility was that it was all real. Hannah was possessed by an evil demon; millions of years old; bent on her destruction.
And so, dear readers, there you have it. I leave it to you to decide the truth of these events. I have faithfully set down for you the true facts of my conversations with Father Donnely and the events that took place just two weeks ago at St. Michael's Catholic Church. As I write this, Father is again undertaking The Black Fast, and has agreed to allow me to witness what he hopes, will be Hannah's last exorcism.
I wish all of you a Happy Halloween!
Matthew Brower October 26, 2013