The world is going to hell in a handbasket, so why shouldn't Roman Catholic bishops make sure that its ranks are prepared for a sudden onslaught of exorcisms? At a conference of American bishops in Baltimore, the rite is being debated because, as the NY Times reports, "There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists, but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil."

The conference's organizer, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., admitted "Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one. It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person." He added, "But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary. But we have to be prepared." (How rare? Out of around 400 annual requests, just two or three are deemed actually worthy of an exorcism.) Why the conference? Bishops need to give priests permission to perform exorcisms.

A professor of American Catholic history at Notre Dama, R. Scott Appleby, explained to the Times why the bishops are discussing exorcisms these days, "What they’re trying to do in restoring exorcisms is to strengthen and enhance what seems to be lost in the church, which is the sense that the church is not like any other institution. It is supernatural, and the key players in that are the hierarchy and the priests who can be given the faculties of exorcism. It’s a strategy for saying: ‘We are not the Federal Reserve, and we are not the World Council of Churches. We deal with angels and demons.'"

One of the attendees to the conference is an assistant to NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan. It's also suggested that the rise in Hispanic and African Catholics has sparked the interest, since those cultures may believe the supernatural more. Also, AP runs down exorcism's "deep roots in Christianity" ("Signs of demonic possession accepted by the church include violent reaction to holy water or anything holy, speaking in a language the possessed person doesn't know and abnormal displays of strength").