Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


Last night I went to an interesting talk on Exorcism in the modern world which was given at the Oxford Catholic Chaplaincy. It had been arranged by a  Portuguese acquaintance who introduced the speaker,  Fr José Antonio Fortea Cucurull from Spain. Fr Fortea is well known both as an exorcist and also as writer on the matter. There is more information about him here.


Fr José Antonio Fortea Cucurull


His talk was marked by its restraint and its thoughtful and prayerful character - that gave agreat sense of the seriousness with which he addressed the topic and also the reassurance he offered both to his hearers and, no doubt, to those to whom he actively ministers.

He began by explaining how he was introduced to the topic when his Bishop insisted on him studying the topic for his licenciate. Neither he nor his supervisor knew anything about the subject and so he travelled to see exorcists and where possible attend exorcisms. At that time there were no exorcists in Spanish dioceses, but when he had his own parish very gradually his case load built up as people cam to him.

He strssed the importance of distinguishing those suffering from psychological problems from those suffering from demonic possession. When he prayed initially with the former there were no physical reactions to indicate possession, but in perhaps 1 in 30 or maybe 1 in 200 cases there were physical signs at this prayer - trembling, stomach convultionss, spitting or vomiting - which did indicate a demonic presence.

He did cite one example which was not that of demonic possession but of a woman who was a compulsive gambler who after he prayed over here was released, and continues to be, from the addiction.

His basic guide to the issue is the record of Sacred Scripture, and following the ministry of Our Lord in such cases. He understands one function of demonuic possession to be as another means of revealing Divine power in the world in order to convert those for whom more mainstream paths of Faith and Reason do not work - it is in that sense providential matter.

Why some people come to suffer demonic possession is unclear, and has affected saints such as St Gemma. Possession is not the fault of the victim, and he had no belief in the power of witchcraft or cursing (perhaps more widespread as a concept in southern Europe than here these days?) There is for Fr Fortea no effective connection between magical rituals or fragments of hair or clothing and achieving harm for the possessor. There is no connection between material objects and the personality of the owner or a consequent action.

The whole question of demonic possession raises the issue of why there is evil in the world. Partly he saw the explanation in God's tolerance of the fallen angels and those we assume to be in Hell, who may not face literally endless suffering - that at the End of Time they too can be redeemed, thus yielding a still greater glory to God as Infinite, and Infinitely Good.

He stressed also that God's gift of human freedom, as exemplified by the story of the Prodigal son, meant that God continued to offer Grace to straying sinners, but that they had the freedom to keep on rejecting it. When they did turn back the Father was always coming towards them

In conclusion he said that the faithful should not fear attacks by the devil but live the Chrisstian life in an ordered way,and drew attention to the part played by Guardian angels in safeguarding their charges. He advised us all to cultivate our awareness of and friendship with them.


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