Catholic church accused of performing unlicensed exorcisms

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A priest must obtain a licence from a bishop to perform an exorcism. Photo / File

A South Island Catholic church has been accused by former clergy members of allegedly performing unlicensed exorcisms, some on young children.

An expert is also concerned about the potential for long-term harm to be caused to the participants.

According to a Newshub report tonight, some people who received exorcisms in the church were tied up by the neck and screamed at, while pleading for the rituals – which could last several hours – to stop. This would go on for several hours.

A leader at the church disputed the claims to Newshub and said the participants had agreed only the exorcist could decide when the exorcism would stop, and occasionally a safety harness would be used.


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Religious history expert at Massey University Professor Peter Lineham told the Herald that in the Catholic Church a priest is designated as the “exorcist” during an exorcism.

They must obtain a special licence from the bishop of their diocese each time before performing the exorcism, he explained.

Lineham said to obtain the licence, priests must rule out all other psychological or health factors first, which is often done by a registered psychiatrist.

Across New Zealand about six exorcisms are performed each year, Lineham said. According to Newshub’s report, however, the South Island church has performed seven this year alone.


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An exorcism is performed when a person is showing “behaviour that is thought to be attributable to the devil”, Lineham said.

“This would be as though the person could go into a separate state where they were reviling God and yet they were not doing it feelingly out of their own personality,” he said.

During the exorcism, there is a “great deal of Bible verses used”, Lineham explained.

“The essence of them is a series of exhortations and instructions speaking directly to the devil to stop oppressing or afflicting the person who’s regarded as demon-possessed.”

There was no specific modern text that said the person could be tied up, according to Lineham, but he said that would be “extremely out of line with the character of the modern service”.

Lineham said he had been told the Christchurch church had performed exorcisms on young children, which Newshub reported had left them “severely traumatised and believed they were possessed after an interaction with a priest”.

The church, in response to Newshub, said it had only performed “minor exorcisms” which included showering a child with holy water.

Archbishop Paul Martin, who was formerly Bishop of Christchurch, told Newshub the church had only two exorcisms approved.

Martin said they were aware of the issues and is managing them.

Lineham told the Herald he was concerned about the “potential extreme damage that could be done to a person” during an exorcism that was done without a licence.


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Rachel Maher is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. She has worked for the Herald since 2022.

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