Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

An exorcism? No, a blessing. You'd think reporters would know the difference.

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 21, 2013

As you watch, a priest places his hands on a man’s head and prays silently for a few seconds. What did you just witness?

A blessing, right? That wasn’t a tough question. Pretty basic, for anyone with even a passing knowledge of Catholic practices.

But that’s not how reporters interpreted a gesture by Pope Francis on Pentecost Sunday. The Holy Father blessed a man in a wheelchair (to be fair, I should add that the man reacted dramatically) and suddenly reporters began saying that the Pope had performed an exorcism.

You might think that reporters covering the Vatican would recognize a simple blessing when they saw one. But then of course a papal blessing is not a headline story, and a papal exorcism is.

An AP report amps up the sensational aspect of the story by mentioning that Pope Francis is “obsessed” with the devil. OK, let’s explore that idea:

You’re listening to a Christian preacher. He mentions the devil. Are you surprised? He mentions the devil again. Would you say that qualifies as an obsession?

It’s true that Pope Francis mentions the devil often enough to show that he’s quite aware of Satan’s existence. But again, if you have even a passing familiarity with Catholic thought, you shouldn’t find that surprising.

Sometimes one has the impression that secular reporters, when they cover Catholic affairs, fancy themselves as expert guides, introducing their readers to the arcane practices of an obscure cult. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that what they view as extraordinary gestures and statements—blessings, admonitions about the devil’s lures—many millions of people see as everyday routines.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: virgy5944 - Jul. 12, 2013 6:39 PM ET USA

    I would say that the news reporters are obsessed with finding sensation in all the wrong places.

  • Posted by: bedfordts9416 - May. 21, 2013 8:58 PM ET USA

    It is relevant that Fr Amorth, the exorcist, had already dealt with this man earlier in the week and said demons were present in the man at the time. Unless Fr. Lombardi from the press office knows exactly what the Pope said or intended, no one knows because he couldn't be heard by those standing near.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - May. 21, 2013 4:58 PM ET USA

    Here is a novel idea: How about giving the job of covering the Vatican to a Catholic, a real one? It isn't so unusual to find ex-players commenting on different sports, the thinking being that they just may know a bit more about the sport than the average Joe, so why not apply that kind of common sense to religion? Oh, of course, I should have thought of that! What real Catholic would be able to tell the world about the pope's obsessions? He might not even notice them. Horrors!

  • Posted by: Defender - May. 21, 2013 10:33 AM ET USA

    Maybe the reporters were just confused by the "spirit of Vatican II"? After all, with the exception of the pope, the devil is mentioned by priests only rarely or perhaps they thought they were seeing a Protestant healing service that they may have seen on television?