Demons, Deliverance, Discernment : Separating Fact from Fiction about the Spirit World is a recently released book by Fr. Mike Driscol which is published by Catholic Answers Press.
This book takes a different focus then other books I have read on the subject. Often even when there is a serious look at the subject there can be more sensationalist elements. Not surprising since elements such as those fictionalized in The Exorcist are a draw for many. I found the treatment of the subject in The Rite to be rather balanced, but its main focus was just on exorcism and the training of a priest as an exorcist.
One of the points regarding exorcism that I have heard stressed multiple times in Catholic circles is that the Exorcist has to be the greatest skeptic. That every possible cause must be investigated first and that many seemingly apparent cases may well have a psychological or material foundation. This is a focus of this book as Fr. Driscol is a counselor and has a doctorate in the area. He did his doctoral dissertation on the area of possession and exorcism and came to do many interviews with exorcists concerning this. The Church has long made such distinctions throughout history and he points out that even in the Rite of Exorcism published in 1614 distinguished between demon possession and psychological disorders.
The books first chapters investigate possession and exorcism in cultures through the ages and then their history in scripture. This is built on with information on the theology of Demonology and the various classification used as to levels of Demonic attack from temptation, oppression, up to possession. As discernment is a major focus of this there is much information regarding how these diagnosis are made. I actually found this whole process of discernment to be quite fascinating regarding how much rooted in a psychological problem can be taken for possession. The authors review of such discernment is totally in agreement with what the Church officially teaches regarding this. He is also very careful to identify these areas with his own opinions.
I really found his chapter on two approaches to exorcism as a classification of Exorcists to be very informative. He classifies two basic styles in what he calls narrow approach and wide approach exorcists. These are his own classifications which he developed after all the interviews he made with Exorcists. I won’t go into the details of these classification, but again I found the distinctions made to be useful. He has some skepticism to wide approach exorcists which from the little I know I am inclined to agree with.
One aspect of this book not normally seen is a look at deliverance ministries. While I was aware of this growing trend in Protestantism, I did not realize how much it had come into Catholic circles. This is an area of “ministry” that is not officially sanctioned by the Church for the laity and so it is an area with little oversight. He offers plenty of caveats regarding this along with what would be the actual role for the laity here.
Along the way I found plenty of questions addressed that either I had previously wondered about or that I had just never considered. Really so much about this subject is shaped more from Hollywood then from the Church’s careful teaching on the subject.
Overall I found this to be a very useful book on the subject that makes necessary distinctions. That while there are actual possessions and other forms of Demonic attacks, that is much to learn about other causes of such traits. Also while this book does not concentrate on the more sensationalist aspects of actual exorcisms, there are stories peppered throughout regarding such phenomenon.
The first appendix includes prayers for protection and the second appendix includes advice for pastors and ministers.
Recently due to the much publicized “Charlie Charlie Challenge”, he posted on the subject and provided a good counterbalance to this practice.