(Photo courtesy of: The Boston Pilot) “Father Jason Giombetti spoke to UMass Lowell about the dangers of possession.”
On Nov. 8, 2023, the Catholic Student Union hosted an “Evening with an Exorcist” with guest speaker Father Jason Giombetti of the Archdiocese of Boston. The presentation gave a unique comprehensive look at the spiritual world from the perspective of the Catholic faith. Topics covered included the biblical and traditional basis of angels, demons, possessions and finally exorcisms. While the Devil and demons are often derided as myths, or literary devices by secular standards, they are routinely discussed and acknowledged by the modern Catholic church, including Pope Francis.
The presentation began with Fr. Giombetti’s own personal experience with the supernatural. This led him towards the priesthood, where he learned about the spiritual world, including demons. In the Christian tradition, demons are angels who have rebelled against God, and, as punishment, were cast out of heaven and now live on earth. Since they are spiritual creatures, and the spiritual world is invisible, they have no physical bodies. Instead, they act on the world through other means.
The two broad categories of demonic activity are ordinary and extraordinary activity. Ordinary activity includes temptation and sin, which regular people face on a daily basis. Extraordinary activity includes demonic oppression (constant attacks), diabolical obsession (a rapid onset mental attack), diabolical infestation (demonic activity related to places or objects) and demonic possession. Demonic possession is the most serious of all the types of possession in terms of its physical effects. It includes partial or total loss of consciousness, and unexplainable behavior.
Fr. Giombetti emphasized that while exorcisms still occur in the modern day, they are rare for everyday people. Rather than a single climactic showdown, Fr. Giombetti described exorcisms as often a slow process of healing, involving multiple treatment of blessings and specific prayers. “What an exorcism looks like is not like what you see in the movies, it is not this great big fight back and forth.”
Although possessions are rare, Fr. Giombetti cautioned that it is still important not to actively invite these kinds of forces into one’s life. Fr. Giombetti advised against certain spiritual objects, like dreamcatchers (when not used as merely decoration) or burning sage. These objects have been typical hallmarks across his many visits to different homes where possession or other unexplained events have occurred. He was also deeply critical of tarot cards and Ouija boards. While the objects themselves are harmless, he says the issue lies in their usage, asking questions and inviting answers from these undesirable sources.
Long before someone is visited by a priest like Fr. Giombetti, several steps are taken to ensure causes other than alleged possession are ruled out. “They get a medical record, the person has to go see a physician, the person has to go see a psychologist. There are [also] psychologists who work with the
Catholic Church who are trained to spot the difference between mental illness and spiritual illness, [such as] possession,” says Fr. Giombetti.
Throughout the presentation Fr. Giombetti gave anecdotes about exorcism cases he has been assigned to around the Boston area. The stories ranged from mild to outrageous. Mild examples included unknown banging, an abnormal drop in temperature, or a feeling of being grabbed. These kinds of cases are resolved after repeated blessings and prayers throughout the affected areas. Other stories were far more shocking, almost defying belief. He recounted a story of a Needham woman who called another priest of the Archdiocese of Boston after her cat began speaking. Animal possessions, which also have their roots in the Bible, are another vector of demonic possession.
Fr. Giombetti also answered several commonly asked questions regarding spiritual phenomena. His answers included the fact that exorcism is painless for the person (although painful for the demon), and that victims often feel a sense of peace and relief after having gone through the process of exorcism. The best long-term course of action post-exorcism, according to Fr. Giombetti, is simply to begin or continue to lead a Christian life.
As a final takeaway, Fr. Giombetti wanted to impress upon the audience two salient points. The first is that the Catholic Church is always willing to help, saying, “A lot of people suffer unnecessarily for a long time because they are afraid to reach out to us… so you’re not going to find in me somebody who thinks you’re crazy.” The second point is the fact that while these incidents are serious, they are still very rare, saying,“Please do not see the Devil under every rock. He is not under every rock. Don’t walk away from [this talk] thinking you’re possessed, we would know if you were.”