On Thursday, Pope Francis welcomed the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who battle demon possessions. The distinction means that the group and its work are now officially recognized by canon law.
That's right: While the current pope might be progressive about everything from celibacy among the clergy to extending sacraments to children with same-sex parents, he is actually quite old-school when it comes to demonic possessions and the influence of Satan. And though exorcisms live in popular culture as the stuff of horror movies, the practice lives on in the greater Catholic community — and the pope just helped to make it more legitimate.
Exorcist-in-chief? Since taking office last year, Pope Francis has not been shy about the topic of Satan. While his predecessors and the greater Catholic clergy have usually discussed the devil in allegorical terms, the current pontiff believes in the personification of the devil and has warned his congregation to be more vigilant of its influence.
And his actions have matched his words. The Catholic rumor mill went into overdrive last year when Pope Francis seemingly performed an exorcism himself, laying his hands on a wheelchair-bound man who claimed he was possessed by demons. After the pope prayed for him, the man heaved, shook and slump in his wheelchair, leading many to claim that it was a successful exorcism.
"The pope is also the Bishop of Rome, and like any bishop he is also an exorcist," said Father Gabriele Amorth, the head of the International Association of Exorcists, at the time. "We live in an age in which God has been forgotten. And wherever God is not present, the Devil reigns."