Last week Pope Francis made several newsworthy remarks including expressing the Catholic church's very different positions on the subjects of creationism and exorcism.
Francis voiced his support for the practice of driving demons out of possessed individuals.
According to the Catholic Sun:
"Exorcists, assigned to that ministry by their bishops, demonstrate the love and care of the Church for ‘those who suffer because of the work of the devil,' Pope Francis said in a message to the International Association of Exorcists. The organization, which was recognized by the Congregation for Clergy in June, brought some 300 exorcists to Rome for a convention focused particularly on the impact of the occult and Satanism on modern men and women. In an Oct. 27 interview with Vatican Radio, Dr. Valter Cascioli, a psychiatrist and spokesman for the group, said the number of people who turn to the occult or are fascinated by Satanic cults and rituals ‘is constantly increasing and this worries us' because it appears to coincide with ‘an extraordinary increase in demonic activity.'"
The Vatican, which offers courses on exorcisms, issued official guidelines on exorcism in 1614, and revised them in 1999. The timing of the statement was not coincidental. In the days leading up to Halloween other Catholic exorcists also expressed concern about Satanic influences. Reported Australia's news.com.au:
"Exorcist Father Aldo Buonaiuto says his exorcists are receiving up to 40 calls for help a day in the lead-up to the pagan carnival. ‘Many say Halloween is a simple carnival, but in fact there is nothing innocent or fun about it - it is the antechamber to something much more dangerous,' he said. ‘There are always more evil rituals, animal sacrifices, desecrations of cemeteries and thefts of sacred bones at the time of the 31 October.'"
Many people wrongly associate Halloween with Satanism, and it should be noted that the predicted surge in evil rituals, animal sacrifices, cemetery desecration and other malicious deeds by Satanists doesn't seem to have materialized.
Evolution and Exorcism The pope's statement supporting the importance of exorcists came on the same day that he reaffirmed that Catholic teachings do not stand in opposition to evolution and the Big Bang. In statements made at an assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he said: "‘When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,' Francis told the gathering. God, Francis said, ‘created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.'"
The Catholic Church has long accepted that evolution by natural selection is a proven scientific fact and doesn't contradict Catholic doctrine. Pope Pius XII stated this in 1950, and Pope John Paul II reiterated the point in 1996. The wrinkle is, of course, that God created the universe and everything in it before evolution took over.
For many it may seem odd that the pope took a socially progressive stand endorsing evolution while on the same day seeming to take a step back into the Middle Ages by endorsing belief in demonic possession and exorcism.
Pope Francis can afford to distance himself and the church from creationists - especially young-Earth creationists who believe that the planet is only about 6,000 years old - but dismissing Satan is a whole other matter. To deny the existence of demonic possession would question the existence of the Devil, an important character in Catholic theology.
Belief in a literal Satan is widespread: According to a 2007 Baylor Religion Survey, over half of Americans "absolutely believe in Satan." In an interview last year in New York magazine, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia expressed his firm belief in a literal Satan: "I even believe in the Devil. ... Of course! Yeah, he's a real person. ... Every Catholic believes that. ... In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He's making pigs run off cliffs, he's possessing people and whatnot."
Tom Flynn, editor of the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry, told Discovery News: "Like every Christian religion, Catholicism needs a solution to the problem of evil: If God is all-good and all-loving, how can there be evil in the world? Satan solves that problem (more or less) by serving as God's adversary, the author of all the moral and physical evils that the faithful would prefer not to attribute to God. The whole drama of salvation is depicted as an epic battle between God and Satan. So Catholicism can't part with Satan in the way it can jettison something more genuinely incidental, like creationism. Satanism is baked into the Catholic worldview at too deep a level for that."
Catholicism, like all religions, is caught in a tug of war between tradition and progressiveness. One day creationism may be dead and buried, but the idea of evil and Satan are here to stay.