Patrick Gower: The controversial practice that makes me ashamed to be Catholic

OPINION: It will come as a shock to many people that exorcisms are happening in New Zealand.

But exorcisms are definitely a thing here - and many are being done within the Catholic Church.

They are officially sanctioned by Catholic leaders as a ceremony to expel the devil.  

But as we revealed on Paddy Gower Has Issues, there are huge questions about whether these exorcisms are safe, appropriate and properly supervised. 

Our special investigation exposed alleged abuse of power by leaders at a chapel in Christchurch - The Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Former churchgoers turned whistleblowers and made worrying claims of behaviour by priests, including exorcisms, that is damaging and manipulative. 

And it also showed apparent inaction by those at the very top of the Catholic Church here.

The Catholic Church is one of our oldest and biggest institutions. 

There are 400,000 Catholics in New Zealand. 

I'm one of them. 

What we uncovered challenged my faith in the Catholic Church. 

We spoke to ordinary Kiwis who trusted the church, and feel that trust has been abused.

Official Catholic church figures given to us show that in the past five years, permissions were given for a total of 12 Catholic Church exorcisms in New Zealand. Two of those were for the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer,

In my opinion, what we found is frightening. 

And for me it goes like this: do we really think that exorcisms should be a thing in 2023? 

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If we do - because of religious freedom - then at the least, New Zealanders need to know that vulnerable people are not being manipulated and abused by people claiming to be casting out the devil. 

With everything we know about the Catholic Church's failure to protect people, and everything we know about similar failures in other churches - when people like we heard from tonight speak up, these institutions need to listen. 

Our show aims to find solutions, and the solution here is simple: the Catholic Church must listen to these people.

I was born and raised a Catholic, but I don't believe in any of this exorcism stuff. 

What we have revealed is embarrassing for me given it comes out of the faith I was born and raised in. It makes me ashamed to be a Catholic. 

But worse than my personal embarrassment, is the fact it is ruining people's lives. 

So I am calling out the Catholic Church: it must intervene in this exorcism controversy. 

In the words of Elizabeth, one of the brave whistleblowers on the show, "Bring it out into the light. The Devil works in the darkness."

What is an exorcism?

Exorcisms have been going on for as long as people have been following religions.

The idea of exorcism is simple. To turf out whatever evil spirit, demon or devil that is possessing someone.

It's been going on for as long as there has been religion. 

Most cultures throughout history have believed people can become possessed and have prayers and rituals to free them.

For Catholics, exorcism is an official ritual, and there are rules: the Church's exorcisms guidelines were updated in 1999 in a 90-page book, written entirely in Latin.

And the Vatican ran an exorcism course in 2018 for 250 priests from around the world. Here are some of the rules:

  • Only a proper priest can do an exorcism. 

  • He must have the permission of the local bishop.

  • Must be carried out in close cooperation with the bishop.   

  • And he must be sure, with "Moral Certitude" that the person is actually possessed by a demon, not simply physically or mentally ill.

  • Consent from the possessed should be gained. 

So what are the signs that someone is possessed by the devil rather than suffering from a mental illness? 

Priests are told to look out for things like:

  • Super strength.

  • Speaking in languages you don't know.

  • Strong aversion to holy water or churches.

  • Predicting the future.

And just how common is it? Well - exorcism looms much larger in popular culture than it actually happens. Movies from 1973's The Exorcist all the way to this year's The Pope's Exorcist, starring our own Russell Crowe, have increased our interest in exorcism and actually led to spikes in real exorcisms. 

Exorcisms are kept secret except when they go badly wrong. New Zealand has had a few high-profile tragic cases. 

In the year 2000, Joanna Lee died and the pastor of her Christian sect was convicted of murder.
And Janet Moses died in 2007 during a 'mākutu lifting' exorcism. Five people were found guilty of manslaughter. 

The Catholic Church says in the last five years, permissions were given for a total of 12 Catholic Church exorcisms here.

Six were in Auckland and Hamilton. Not all of those were actually carried out. 

And there were six approved in Christchurch. Two of those for the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer, the sect we looked into on Paddy Gower Has Issues. 

That's 12 times in the past five years when our Catholic leaders have agreed the devil has shown up inside a Kiwi believer, and needed to be swiftly gotten rid of.

Patrick Gower hosts Paddy Gower Has Issues - watch it on Three or ThreeNow.