Real-life exorcist's job not quite like in the movies
GREENWOOD, Ind. -- As soon as the prayer began, the woman's body slowly started rising out of the chair.
Priests had been summoned to her house to perform the rite of exorcism and were convinced the woman was under the possession of evil. The Rev. Vince Lampert watched closely, thinking his eyes must be tricking him. But the body did seem to be rising.
Lampert was taken aback. But his mentor and fellow exorcist calmly pushed the woman back down into the chair and continued praying.
"I always tell people that if I didn't see it with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it," he told the Daily Journal.
Since that time, Lampert has witnessed other bizarre and unusual behavior attributed to demonic possession. The pastor at SS. Francis and Clare Roman Catholic Church in the Center Grove area is the official exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and during the past seven years, he has dealt with spiritually infested houses and buildings, people speaking in unworldly languages and shows of extreme strength and fits of violence.
But his job is nothing like the portrayal in the movies. Few of the exorcisms he's performed would fit into a horror movie. His job is more about bringing people back to God and strengthening faith than fighting demons.
"That's why I do it, to debunk the myths that are out there," he said. "People always want to hear stories about floating and people spitting up pea soup. But the topic isn't meant to scare or terrify people. Ultimately, it's not about evil. It's about getting people to see the face of God in their lives."
On a bookshelf in his office, Lampert keeps the "Rite of Exorcism." The book is next to dozens of other official church publications that he uses in his role as a priest. The red-bound leather book is inscribed with the gold-leaf Latin phrase "De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdaml," or "Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications."
Inside it are the words that he uses to expel evil from people and places. A series of prayers, Gospel readings and callings to the saints are included in the rite.
"I cast you out, unclean spirit, along with every Satanic power of the enemy, every spectre from hell, and all your fell companions; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," one line reads.
Exorcism is simply a request made to God. Anyone can perform a simple ceremony, called a supplicating exorcism, to ask God to dispel a demon. But the more rigorous imperative exorcism involves the official rite sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church.
"Evil does exist in the world, and the devil does exist. Sometimes, evil enters a person's life in a way that really disrupts that person's relationship with God," said Greg Otolski, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Demonic influence on people presents itself in ways that would seem familiar to horror movie fans. Lampert has seen people growl like animals, foam at the mouth and had their eyes roll back in their heads. They cringe at the sight of the Bible or a crucifix.
He's seen a person's jaw drop and twist in a way that normally wouldn't be possible, the face contorted in a horrific mask.
One of his first exorcisms involved an elderly Italian woman who weighed maybe 100 pounds. When Lampert and another priest started their prayers, she jumped out of the tall-back, leather chair she had been sitting in and tossed it at them.
When people hear that he's an exorcist, they assume he's dealing with people physically possessed by evil. But Lampert said that full-blown exorcisms involving possession are very rare; he'll perform maybe one each year. Most of his cases involve less-intense types of demonic activity, such as the infestation of evil in a place or location.
Sometimes, he'll have people who are overwhelmed by thoughts of evil. Other times, a person will be convinced that demonic activity is attacking them physically.
"One of the big things today is, people think that evil isn't a reality, that the devil isn't real," Otolski said. "You see it in the movies, but not that it can really exist. But it can have very real effect on people's lives."
Demons can enter people through a variety of ways. They might be involved in the occult, such as a satanic cult. Other times, they can be immersed in a life of sin. Some of his exorcisms come from people being under a curse, Lambert said.
But a vast majority of cases come from broken family relationships. Having a stable family is key to keeping evil from taking root in a person, Lampert said.
"I don't have any magic tricks in my bag. It's helping people to establish for the first time, or to re-establish, a relationship with God in their lives. Ultimately, it's God who delivers people from evil," he said.
Lampert was selected to be exorcist in 2005 by the archbishop at the time, Daniel M. Buechlein. Papal creed gives bishops the power to conduct exorcisms in the Catholic Church, but that responsibility may be passed down to individual priests with the bishop's blessing.
The existing exorcist for the archdiocese recently had passed away, and Buechlein was looking for a replacement. He asked Lampert after a meeting for a favor.
Buechlein told Lampert that he was the perfect candidate -- he believed in the reality of evil and is smart enough to know that not everyone who comes to you will be possessed by the forces of evil.
At the time, he was one of only 12 exorcists in the U.S. Now, more than 36 practice throughout the country.
While on sabbatical in Rome, Lampert learned from an exorcist about the rite. He compared it to a doctor's residency program, where he followed the priest for three months. During that time, he took part in 40 exorcisms.
"It was an eye-opening experience to see firsthand people who were up against the forces of evil and seeking the help of the church," he said.
When approaching a potential exorcism, Lampert first needs to determine whether a person is seriously afflicted by demonic possession or if mental illness is the cause of the odd behavior.
When someone contacts Lampert about exorcism, he meets with them first to talk and figure out what ways evil might have entered their lives. The evil may have been directly invited, such as a person dabbling in the occult and reaching out to the devil. Others may have been seeing a psychic or playing with a Ouija board, that was simply for fun, that served as a portal for evil.
He also works with counselors and therapists that he's collaborated with in the past to go over situations and see if a mental health issue is the root of the problem.
Catholic Charities, an Indianapolis service organization, provides licensed and trained therapists to whom Lampert goes for help.
"The overall goal of the church is to provide the person with the help they truly need, as opposed to what they think they need. Most people who come to me have already self-diagnosed themselves as already being possessed," Lampert said. "The church could be doing more harm by labeling someone as possessed if that prevents them from getting the mental health assistance they need."
Schizophrenia can cause a person to have hallucinations, paranoia and violent outbursts that can be mistaken for demonic possession. Tourette's syndrome forces unexplained movements and screams. People with extreme narcissism or low self-esteem may act like they've been taken over by evil to bring attention to themselves.
While mental health disorders can be treated with medication, those whose causes stem from lack of faith are aided by spiritual help.
"When faith is strong in our lives and the world around us, evil is kept at bay. It is when faith becomes weak in us and becomes less relevant in the world that evil has the upper hand," Lampert said.
Many people come to Lampert directly; others are recommended by the archdiocese office in Indianapolis. Because of the sensational nature of exorcism, most exorcists prefer to keep their identities secret.
Lampert chose not to do that.
"I thought, 'If you don't know who to ask, how can you get help?'" he said.
Each week, Lampert estimates he spends 60 percent of his time on the ministry of exorcism. Most of that is done consulting with people from all over the archdiocese to determine if exorcism is the best solution for a person's problems.
Lampert scoffs at some of the superstitious ceremonies people practice when they think evil has infested their lives. Burning sage or sprinkling salt around their house won't do anything; praying more to God is the only solution.
"I jokingly tell people, if someone comes to them and says they're possessed, and I tell them to go and pray, they seem surprised," Lampert said. "But if I told them to go out at the next full moon and swing a dead cat around your head and howl at the moon, they're on board. If you tell them to do the extreme, they'll do it.
"Ultimately, people will need the ongoing need of their faith community, whether they're Catholic or any other faith tradition. If they've really been having evil in their lives, they need the support of other people," Lampert said. "So it's important to me to integrate them into whatever church community they can belong to."
Because he has openly revealed himself as an exorcist, Lampert is regularly approached to give talks, appear in programs and speak about what he does.
His requests come from universities wanting him to share his experiences to television shows specializing in the paranormal. As Halloween approaches, the questions pick up considerably. Lampert will give a talk at Seton Hall University in New Jersey on Halloween night, as well as at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Newman Center earlier in the month.
By presenting the information to new people and students, Lampert helps people understand the realities of spiritual life, said the Rev. Robert Matya, director of the Newman Center.
Lampert understands that some people find the continued practice of exorcism to be an embarrassment to modern religion. He has repeatedly encountered doubt from Catholics and people of other faiths about the validity of the rite.
But his experience and his studies make it clear that evil exists in the world. The clash between God and Satan is a constant theme in the Bible, and the reason that Jesus Christ was sent to the world in human form as the savior.
"When we no longer accept the reality of evil, we no longer have the need for a savior. We must realize that Jesus Christ is so much more than some excellent teacher of values among many others who have come to us throughout history," he said.
. "We need to understand Jesus Christ for who he truly is -- the Son of God."