St Paul’s Cathedral

DEMONS IN THE MELBOURNE HEARTLAND, THE FAITHFUL AND THE ACADEMIC

A family under siege, a girl possessed, a terrified single parent, a world-weary priest and things that go bump in the night. A story we all know and have seen countless times. With this literature so ingrained in our culture does the phrase there is truth in fiction hold weight.

When the leader of the Catholic church declares a war against demonic forces, you really have no choice other than to question what is really going on behind the scenes, but more so in our own city. What lies beneath the veil?
 Pop culture has been exploring that very question since the writers could scribe and campfire stories inspired the thrill of horror. Exorcisms and the mystery around the practice have always held the imagination of the public, when a Pope, the leader of just over one billion Catholics in the 21st century revives the practice in order to fight the demonic threat, the imagination instantly gives rise to flights of fancy.

That’s exactly what Pope Francis did in 2014.

In our own back yard, however, in a small church just off the 86-tram route in the suburb of Thornbury Pastor Maurice Chapman and the Oracle Ministry can answer that very question, every Friday night.
 The Oracle Ministry also called The Full Gospel Church and its Pastor performs what they call a Deliverance ceremony, what occurs during one these ceremonies is eerily close to what your imagination would conjure up.

While there was no flickering of the lights, head spinning or any paranormal occurrences made popular by the classic film The Exorcist and its kin, what took place, however, could be described as deeply unsettling
 .
 A perturbed woman cautious in her steps was escorted to the front of the hall by her zealous companion eager to help. The woman a born-again Christian she said with a love of gambling and sex, in need of salvation hoping, wishing the Pastor would guide her away from temptation and deliver her from evil.

The Pastor, a stoic middle-aged man placed his hand on the newest member of his flock, leaning forward his spoke softly to her, his words meant only for her. What came next was her first step towards freedom from the spirits that had haunted her.

Asking for help from his congregation, the hands of the faithful were raised as if to pass on their strength and faith, as the Pastor expelled the sins that had embedded themselves in the woman. Or at the very least attempted to do so.

There was no head spinning or changing of the face or growling like a deranged animal, what took that place was a Pastor determined to free the woman, while she needed help standing up while belching for the duration of Chapman’s onslaught.

The burping he said were the demons leaving her body however she had a long way to go. She walked back to her seat exhausted and broken. She had won that battle, but the war for her very soul was not yet over.

She was told she’s required to come back, to fully reclaim her freedom from the sinister forces that sought to subdue her. 
 The Pastor’s flock, however, acted like this was normal.

Denis Hart the Archbishop of Melbourne declined an interview however he did give this statement when asked about the practices of performing an exorcism and how often that occurred.

“A priest does need delegation from the Bishop to exorcize. They are very rare.”

When asked if there was anyway a Pastor or priest could perform an exorcism without the permission of the Church Archbishop Hart replied with this statement

“In each diocese, the Bishop has to authorize any person who does an exorcism because it is a very serious spiritual work which requires holiness and wisdom.”

Since this is the case, a curious question arises. How can Pastor Maurice Chapman perform a deliverance ceremony without asking permission?

Professor Sarah Ferber an academic who specializes in early modern European religion and contemporary bioethics. And has written several books on the topic including Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France, declined an interview but provided faqs and links to other resources to assist.

In those documents, she describes exorcisms as a cosmic battle between good and evil, for the soul of an individual. An exorcism seeks God’s aid in delivering a person from the clutches of the devil or demons. Those documents may also hold the key as to why Pastor Chapman was able to do what he did without direct permission from a Bishop or the Archbishop. 
 In the texts provided By Professor Ferber under the headline of “WHAT IS AN EXORCIST” came a potential answer.

“Within mainstream churches, there are strict rules about who may and may not carry out exorcisms.”

This is something Archbishop Hart was adamant about a rule that could not be broken, However, the Professor continued on
 “Theologically speaking, the biblical-sanctioned capacity to cast out demons in the name of Jesus, might be available to anyone.”
 Which is exactly what Maurice had done, during the deliverance ceremony he had not invoked the name of God but Jesus.

“Out in the name of Jesus, out in the name of Jesus, out, out.”

Those words were spoken again and again by Chapman. Like the Professor had described not God himself but Jesus.
 The actions of Maurice during that night and Ferber’s writings aligned more and more
 Continuing her description of what is an exorcist she goes on to say

“That is one of the reasons why the practice seems to be so popular: many people are neither clerics nor part of a larger institutional church set store by their ministry of exorcism or deliverance.”

This last paragraph is the explanation as to why Chapman can lead the Oracle ministry and perform these deliverance and healing ceremonies without church approval. 
 The Professor’s work goes as far to support the Chapman in his claim that the woman he had helped that night needed to come back and continue her path to salvation, repenting her sins and continue having exorcisms until she was fully healed and saved.

“In Christian Tradition, the devil is capable of deception and disguise. Thus, exorcisms, theologically speaking, can never be presumed to be definitive.”

“Some Christian groups envisage individual demons as controlling distinct behaviours, often aligned to the seven deadly sins (such as lust, gluttony or sloth).”

A woman, a born again Christian, with a gambling habit and a passion for sex, would be a prime target for possession and would need more than a single exorcism.
 The main argument of critics and sceptics is that an exorcism or deliverance is nothing more than a placebo and some akin to psychotherapy or a mild form of suggestion, albeit a convincing one.

In her papers, the Professor addresses this notion as well in regard to Psychotherapy she had this to say;

“Superficially, it might be, but exorcism is always about getting rid of perceived evil, not about curing illness, people who undergo exorcism sometimes report that they feel better as a result of the rite. In general, this would only arise if the person were already an active believer in the tradition in which the exorcism took place.”

A woman whose faith has wavered at least once before and escorted by a friend defies traditional notions of a true believer

When it comes to placebos Ferber writes;
 “No person carries out an exorcism in the belief that it is merely a placebo for a physical or psychological problem. It is a battle between God and the Devil. The work of the exorcist is to enact this battle on the behalf of God. If there are any worldly benefits to the afflicted, these are secondary to the spiritual aims of the rite.”

Whether or not there is a war being waged for our very souls or not, the belief is there and people, pastors, archbishops all act on what they believe, the sceptics will continue to be sceptics

As the Russian playwright and writer Anton Chekov said;
 “Man is what he believes.”