We are the public. And we scrutinize. And it is necessary. But sometimes our keen eyes take us too far, deep into the depths of conspiracy theory.
That is what has happened with Pope Francis and the rumors of his obsession with Satan and with the art of exorcism.
Last Sunday, after conducting his weekly Mass in St. Peter’s Square, the head of the Roman Catholic Church reportedly took aside a young man, placed his hands on his subject’s forehead, and exorcised the devil from the inflicted soul. Italian media caught the act on tape and jumped quickly to theories and conclusions. But here is all they actually saw: a man of faith who reached out to another man of faith through prayer to help the sick through his suffering.
An exorcism, for clarification, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the act of expelling (an evil spirit) by adjuration.”
Now, I don’t need to see the Hollywood-ized images of green vomit and spinning heads to believe I’m seeing an exorcism. I know that the art isn’t the fetishized act that we fear and love at the same time. But I also understand that claims from "experts" who criticize the Pope’s "frequent invocation of the devil" in his religious rhetoric, in his words that stem from a faith obsessed with sin and with the dichotomy between good and evil, aren’t going to make me believe any more strongly that what I saw in that video was an exorcism. In fact, it’s going to make me think that these "experts" are probably acting with the same intentions they blame the Catholic Church for acting upon: using the image of the devil to increase viewership.
Reverend Robert Gahl, a theologian at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University, admits, “the devil's influence and presence in the world seems to fluctuate in quantity inversely proportionate to the presence of Christian faith.” In other words, more satanic rhetoric means more churchgoers.
Catholics believe in a faith that condemns them and later absolves them of their naturally sinful natures. It is a religion deeply seeded in fear and rejection. You can’t go through a Christian text without stumbling upon the word “devil,” so while to say Pope Francis is obsessed with Satan might be true, so is saying that all of Catholicism is equally obsessed. To extend your critique to the point of labeling the pope’s actions as exorcisms if he says they are not is unfair and unnecessary. And to evoke fear for the purpose of popularity is wrong (even though, let’s be honest, it’s a classic church and media tactic).