“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” – (1 Peter 5:8).
“Who is going to believe you?” It is the devil’s taunt, according to exorcist, Father Gary Thomas. It is a message to silence sexual abuse victims. And we have learned that same message silenced or impeded the truth of the sexual scandal in the Church from getting out for so long.
Fr. Gary Thomas is the exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, California. His training in Rome was the subject of the 2010 book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio. Hollywood made it into a movie in 2011 starring Anthony Hopkins.
I recently interviewed Father Thomas for an article about horror movies, although he pointed out that The Rite is really about faith. Although there are horrific scenes in it, he explained that spiritual warfare between the devil and God is very real and it can get scary as it plays out through humanity. It seems that all conversations lead to Rome these days, and that is where ours eventually went — to the real-life horror story within the Church.
Catholics know that the devil seeks our destruction and is forever looking for openings to destroy God’s Church and harm souls. The sex abuse scandal reveals that he found hospitality among those who should have turned him out.
Icon of the Kingdom
“It’s only going to get worse,” Father Thomas said, “but as bad as it is, it has to come out. It is unacceptable.” According to him, the devil used his old standby threat to keep people silent: Who’s going to believe you? We know now that among those that spoke out despite that taunt, the devil’s agents did indeed show disbelief or apathy.
“Convincing people that no one will believe them is what Satan says when something is so outside the bounds of what is reasonable as to be unbelievable,” Father Thomas said. “Reading the accounts of what those children in Pennsylvania went through [as detailed in the Grand Jury Report] we wonder, how could this happen?” he asked. “It’s other-worldly—outside what people thought was possible — that’s what makes it demonic.”
In an article about becoming the solution, Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., founder and president of the Ruth Institute, pointed out that if abusers thought people would speak up and be listened to, they would not have gotten away with so much for so long. If people had listened to poor “James,” when he was abused at 11-years-old, the now 60-year-old man abused by Father Theodore McCarrick, would not have had to suffer in silence for decades. “James tried to tell his parents,” Morse wrote. “They did not believe him, against the word of a respected priest. James began getting into trouble, doing alcohol and drugs. The family thought Father McCarrick could straighten him out. They encouraged him to spend more time with their son.”
Father Thomas noted that sexual abuse involving children, both inside and outside of the Church, is especially heinous. “By sexually abusing children, Satan desires to destroy the icon of the kingdom of God. He wants to destroy the most innocent version of humanity, which is the child.”
The scandalous behavior, in his opinion, was clearly demonic. “With natural disasters, people die sometimes,” he said. “Even if there’s great destruction, we don’t consider that evil because it’s in the realm of the natural. When there’s a car accident, we don’t call it an act of evil. But when it’s outside the bounds of what is conceivable—like murder—we call it evil. ISIS is a satanically driven organization because they have a premediated will to kill as many as possible who don’t believe their way of life. Even drug cartels are demonic and often pray to Satan to curse their drugs and they refer to Satan as their father and pray to him. I’ve seen documentaries on this and attended workshops with government task forces and prayed over some of the cops because of what they are dealing with.”
Pray and Fast
For the sake of the Church, Father Thomas calls on all Catholics to pray and fast and to act wherever possible to root out evil. “It can’t just be the removal of a few,” Father Thomas said. “It has to be a complete reshaping of the paradigm of the way our Church governs; we need a complete cleaning up. We need a lay commission to set up an independent study. The bishops can’t do it; they don’t know how to do it.”
In his work as an exorcist, Father Thomas fasts and prays before confronting the devil. He pointed out that he does so in a reasonable way — not starving himself to the point of weakness — but makes it sacrificial to strengthen him to fight evil. “Prayer, fasting and the sacraments are efficacious,” Father Thomas said, “but it cannot be without the intentionality of action that comes out of prayer. We want prayer to change us and we are praying for a change in the whole Church, all the way up. And we are also praying for the victims who have gone through decades of terrible trauma.”
Father Thomas encouraged Catholics to be strong and be prepared to persevere. “We are in for a long storm,” he said. “The clouds are just starting. However, our primary concern must be the victims who have been violated and firmly and without doubt prevent new victimizations from taking place in the future. There can be no tolerance for sexual misconduct perpetrated by clergy or lay people within the Church now or ever again.”