ROME — Andrés Cárdenas sat in the back of the auditorium, opened his folder and took careful notes as a Catholic cardinal with decades of experience casting demons out of possessed bodies gave a master class on how to yell at the devil, rid Muslims of black magic and purge Satan on your cellphone.
Father Cárdenas, a Colombian priest, wrote vigorously as the 89-year-old instructor, Ernest Simoni, explained that although exorcisms — what he called “a spiritual scientific instrument” — can be practiced on Muslims, “they stayed Muslims after.”
Cardinal Simoni, who is Albanian, also said that fasting sometimes helped the possessed, but that often you had to play hardball with Beelzebub by saying things like “shut up, Satan.”
After jotting it all down, Father Cárdenas, 36, explained he had come to Rome to learn about exorcisms “because it is a gift” he wanted to share with his parishioners back in El Espinal. He was one of 300 Roman Catholics — mostly clerics but also lay men and women furnished with authorization letters from their bishops — to attend the 13th annual, weeklong “Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation” course that organizers hoped would recruit and train armies of potential exorcists to confront spreading demonic forces.
Participants paid about $372 (simultaneous translation was $309 extra) to attend the sessions, which were sponsored by conservative Catholic groups and held at the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum, run by the conservative Legionaries of Christ religious order.
The would-be exorcists blamed the internet and atheism for what they see as a spike in evil, but the urgency evident in the course also seemed to have something to do with a growing conservative view that the church has gone astray under Pope Francis, and that end times had drawn nigh.
The pope recently had conservative heads spinning when he was quoted, incorrectly according to the Vatican, by an Italian reporter with credibility issues as not believing in hell. “Beyond what is tolerable,” the American cardinal Raymond Burke, a leader of the conservative resistance to Francis, said at the time.
In fact, the pope often speaks about the devil. In this month’s apostolic exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad, he wrote that while in biblical times, “epilepsy, for example, could easily be confused with demonic possession,” the faithful should not conclude “that all the cases related in the Gospel had to do with psychological disorders and hence that the devil does not exist or is not at work.”
Father Cárdenas had no doubts about the pope’s belief in the devil. Neither did Cardinal Simoni, who has encountered evil firsthand, surviving decades in prisons and work camps for practicing his faith under the Albanian Communist regime of Enver Hoxha.