This past Friday brought sad tidings, the news of the passing of yet another person of note in a year when there seems to have been a great preponderance of last breaths drawn by those who have shaped our culture and world.
And yet this passing will likely be noted by few in the world outside the Catholic Church. While unfortunate, it’s sadder that many even within the Church will take little note of the fact that this giant is no longer with us. He was a man and, more important still, a loyal follower of Christ, going wherever it was that conscience and the Magisterium told him to go.
That man is Fr. Gabriel Amorth, who left this life at age 91 in Rome, where he had spent the last 30 years as diocesan exorcist. His work as an exorcist was not inconsiderable. What’s more, one could make a very strong case that there are as many exorcists in the Church today because of him. (There are still not enough. Each diocese is supposed to have one, but many do not.)
He made exorcism respectable again after too many wanted to relegate it – not to mention belief in the devil and in the existence of objective evil – to the ash heap as an embarrassing relic of the past. Indeed Fr. Amorth believed the “greatest victory” of the devil is to persuade us that he does not exist. Thus he fought against this.
This isn’t to say he saw Beelzebub in every corner.
According to Dr. Robert Moynihan’s moving obituary, in various interviews Fr. Amorth said he had carried out more than 50,000 exorcisms over the years, some taking just a few minutes, others taking many hours of prayer.
“Amorth also said that he had only been faced with about 100 cases of real demonic possession in all those tens of thousands of cases [emphasis added]. Most of the cases, he said, were either ‘disturbances’ caused by the devil or simple mental illnesses.”
Most exorcists would agree. Still, possession is real, and this writer knows several trustworthy souls who have been present at exorcisms and who say one gives up the notion of demons as fairy tales of figments of imagination very quickly.
Amorth understood this as well if not better than anyone. He stuck out in the crowd because he was willing to stand for his conviction that real evil exists and must be vigorously fought. And he did this at a time when many who shared his convictions did not share his willingness to stand for them, too easily cowed into silence by those who founds such notions to be an embarrassment.
For making this stand without hesitation, without embarrassment, he was a man. If you’ll pardon the expressions, a man’s man—a man in a world filled with many males who are mostly boys, no matter what their age.
He was reputed to be a good exorcist, but that is not why his death is a loss for the Church. There are other good exorcists who will carry the torch and continue fighting for the necessity of this rite and sacramental.
The real loss lies in this.
The gospel, the fullness of the Church’s teachings, and the things for which the Church has always stood are never popular, but these things are increasingly less so, and standing up for them comes with ever greater risks.
Especially when the opposition comes from within the Church herself, even the ranks of the upper hierarchy, taking a stance is something many men are reluctant, if not completely afraid, to do. It doesn’t matter that not budging on matters of principle, on issues of right and wrong is the proper course to follow. They fear the intimidating force before them, and they cower.
So it has always been. Adam shivered before Satan in the Garden. Men have deserted battle camps and frontline positions since the first days of war. The apostles forsook their Lord in his hour of need.
Thus when you have that rare man who won’t turn heel and run, who will stand firm on that line in the sand when an enemy presents itself, it is noteworthy. We admire such men. We value such men. We need such men.
And now the world has one less. More importantly, there is one less such stalwart where he is needed most: in the Church. We need men who fear nothing except God standing up against the deconstructionists and dissenters who claim that all that happened prior to 1965 in the Church was an embarrassment. We need people to fall on their knees before the Eucharist when even some priests tell us it’s just a symbol. We need those who will proudly brandish their rosaries when some would have us believe that Marian devotion and the Rosary are merely remnants of an archaic, outmoded past. We need the faithful resisting the notion that moral issues are simply “a matter of conscience.”
Such a man was Fr. Gabriel Amorth. We thank God and him for his service. We lament his passing. We trust in the Holy Spirit to raise up strong men in his mould. We pray that many such men present themselves soon. We need them. They have big shoes to fill.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!