Prayers for deliverance

on 30 Jun, 2024
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Paris (France), article published in the magazine Études 2024/6 (June), pages 79 - 89 Éditions S.E.R., Sr. Anne Lécu.- In addition to prayers for healing, in recent years there has been a boom in so-called "deliverance" prayers and the attempt to justify them by developing a new concept, that of "bonding", which would be neither vice nor error. Originating in the Charismatic Renewal and especially in the Pentecostal world, these prayers have gradually been incorporated into the practice of many new communities and far beyond. However, they raise several questions, of which this article aims to draw up a non-exhaustive inventory.

It is undeniable that some of our contemporaries, no longer knowing which saint to turn to, consult many non-conventional therapists, therapists, magnetists and healers, in an attempt to solve physical, psychological or existential problems. Some of these pseudo-therapeutic practices endanger people's lives, even causing them to abandon their treatments and exercise forms of control over them. We can easily adopt the term "derapists"[1]. In this context, questions arise concerning requests for deliverance, healing [2], or even exorcism.

In this situation, what can we offer to people who are suffering, convinced that they are "prevented", "forced", in one way or another, to live their daily lives? Certainly, the confusion of those who come to the Church for help, in the name of the Gospel of Christ who healed and liberated men and women and brought them back into the social fabric from which they had been estranged, must be taken seriously. The appointment by the bishop of an exorcist in each diocese (an exorcist who is often accompanied by a team) partly responds to this demand. Incidentally, the French Bishops' Conference (CEF) published in 2017 a synthesis entitled Protectiion, délivrance, guérison [3] (PDG) [Protection, deliverance, healing] which proposes very simple forms of prayer, which can be organized in groups, to welcome people's requests and to comfort them. It is a broad, accessible pastoral approach which directs our gaze towards Christ the Saviour. This synthesis is very prudent in its formulations so as not to risk giving a demonic influence on what in most cases is a complex suffering, linked to a family, social and personal context. It is mainly a matter of offering God's blessing to these people and accompanying them in a process that can lead to intercession on their behalf, i.e. the anointing of the sick. In certain very special situations, recourse to the diocesan exorcist or his team may be necessary. The latter has received a mission from the bishop to say the prayers of exorcism which are truly exceptional.[4]

The challenge of such a pastoral is not to minimize what would be the diabolical influence, but to enable people not to be fascinated by this influence but to direct their gaze towards the dead and risen Christ, the only and only Savior, victor once and for all over evil and disgrace, as the canticle of the Apocalypse sings: "For the accuser of our brethren is cast down, he who accused them day and night before our God" (Rev.12, 10).

The rise of prayers for deliverance

However, as Jean-Baptiste Édart, promoter of the prayers of deliverance, points out, the appointment of exorcists in the dioceses is often accompanied by "another type of support for the multiplication of proposals for prayers of deliverance, not only within the communities of the Charismatic Renewal, but also in the ordinary pastoral care of the Church in France. [5] " Indeed, the Renewal supported another practice, coming from Pentecostalism, which is not afraid of naming "bonds" of diabolical origin to offer "deliverance" prayers accessible to people who are not the official exorcists of the dioceses. The aim of these deliverance prayers is to answer the question: "Why do we keep falling into the same mistakes, the same holes, the same sins? And to answer the insurmountable riddle formulated by St. Paul in the epistle to the Romans: "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for I have it in my power to will what is good, but not to perform it, for I do not do the good that I will, but I do the evil that I do not will. "(Romans 7:18-19). One of the main practitioners is Neal Lozano, author of the bestseller Délié, Guide pratique de deliverance [Unbound, A Practical Guide to Deliverance], in which he sets out a "model" closely followed by many in the Church [6]. One of the theorists of these prayers is Jean-Baptiste Golfier, canon of Lagrasse and author of a large volume: Tactiques du diable et délivrances, Dieu fait-il concourir les démons au salut des hommes?[7]  [Devil's Tactics and Deliverances, Does God make the demons collaborate for the salvation of men?] But it is especially in the text of the doctrinal commission of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCCR) [8]  that we find the doctrinal substratum of these ways of doing thing[9]s: There would be "entrance doors" to the devil that the prayer of deliverance can "close".».

"A spiritual bond is very close to what traditional moral theology calls a "vice”; a habit of sin created by the repetition of a particular sin. It is extremely difficult to resist this strong tendency, as if the side of the divided will that pushes to sin is so strong that the other side cannot say anything" (ICCRS, p. 63). In other words, when sin is a free act, the link would be an inner difficulty, a kind of blockage that presents itself in the form of a structure of thought, emotion or behaviour that seems to dominate us, calling into question the traditional Catholic moral distinction between voluntary and involuntary acts. "In sin, the effect of the devil and demons, where they exist, remains external [to the will...]. In the case of the bond, the dominion of the forces of evil is more profound: it affects the will itself and is internal to it," explains Étienne Vetö [10]. In a way we give them access to our will.

The ICCRS Doctrinal Commission explains: "First there is a trauma, a wound, a psychological disorder, which opens a door or gives a foothold to the evil spirit (cf. Ephesians 4:27).

LThen there is the consent of the person, which will open the door or allow the infiltration. Consent means that the person has consented, at whatever level, to the demonic influence, even if not consciously" (p. 67). This form of giving the devil a foothold" is described as a "doorway": "The doors that have been opened to the devil are often related to wounds suffered by the person early in life. In response to painful events, the person internalises lies that come from the devil, the father of lies" (p. 107). (p. 107). There are three types of gateways: early life wounds and traumas, repeated sins and occult practices. "The wounds open the way to the spiritual bond, but the bond keeps the wound open and does not allow it to heal. [Liberation, healing and repentance cannot be separated, considering that it would be useless to renounce an evil spirit and expel it if the door of entry remains open". (p. 70). Neal Lozano, in Délié, writes more or less the same thing. According to him, the most obvious entry point for demons "is our response to trauma, to abuse by family or friends. When someone has been traumatised and hurt, he or she looks for a way out, a way to protect themselves in order to be safe. Whether it is denial, fear, hatred, shame or a combination of other responses, evil spirits want to exploit us through these responses, to exert their influence over us and hold us captive.[11]"

Like Neal Lozano, the ICCRS Doctrinal Commission does not hesitate to refer to psychological disorders as possible "gateways": "Mental illness can open a breach for demonisation, while evil spirits can reinforce emotional distress obsessive thoughts or behavioural patterns"(p. 71), while specifying that, in its wisdom, the Church distinguishes between affliction by evil spirits and mental illness: "The purpose of exorcism is to cast out demons or to free people from the clutches of demons, using the spiritual authority that Jesus entrusted to his Church. In the case of illnesses, especially mental illnesses, the treatment of which is a matter for medical science" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 1673).

This is precisely what neither Étienne Vetö, nor Neal Lozano, nor the Doctrinal Commission of the ICCRS do, although they quote the Code of Canon Law, which fortunately is more precise:

"1. No one may legitimately pronounce exorcisms on the possessed, unless he has obtained special and express permission from the local Ordinary. 2. This permission is to be granted by the local Ordinary only to a priest who is pious, learned, prudent, and of an integral life " (can. 1172, §§ 1-2). [12]

An open door to domination                    

These practices run the risk of creating a very problematic continuity between illness and possession, which can lead to strong domination. Jean-Baptiste Golfier writes: "Catholic exorcists and psychiatrists have realised that the devil sometimes hides behind real psychological pathologies, which he has produced or which he exploits opportunistically: we think we are dealing with a standard patient when in reality we are dealing with a demonic attack ... " [13]

According to liberation prayer theorists, the "bond" implies the consent of the bound person, even if only minimally. But this raises the question of the spiritual bonding of children before the age of reason. The ICCRS Doctrinal Commission, in which Étienne Vetö[14] participated, writes: "Any spiritual bond always implies an element of personal responsibility, an act of consent sufficient to give evil spirits the right to influence our will. The case of children who seem to have contracted a spiritual bond before the age of reason, i.e. before they can fully exercise their free will, stems from the profound influence that parents or other adults exert on the children entrusted to their care. Scripture speaks of God punishing the sins of parents on children up to the third or fourth generation (Exodus 20:5). This intergenerational influence is not to be understood as a guilt that the parents have passed on to the children, but as the consequences of their sins, including any spiritual connection" (p. 75).

How is it possible to write and think that, on the one hand, spiritual bonding would imply consent when, on the other hand, it does not? Spiritual bonding implies consent, while, on the other hand, could a child before the age of reason enter into such a bond? Now, before the man born blind, Jesus makes it clear that "neither he nor his parents have sinned" (John 9:3). He rejects the transmission of a fault or a bond from one generation to another. One must read these texts to see how far they diverge from the content of the faith. This last passage is a direct door to the healing prayers of the family tree, even if they are formally forbidden by the Church. [15]

As for Jean-Baptiste Édart, he tries to analyse the "nature of the evil influence" induced by spiritual bonds and writes, inspired by Jean-Baptiste Golfier: "On the physical plane, the demon will act on man through his body by provoking the displacement of the chemical particles that regulate the internal functioning. He will therefore be able to act directly on the psychology inscribed in the chemical exchanges of our brain. It has therefore full latitude to provoke various moods, to activate (or deactivate) the memory and to cause all imaginable disorders thanks to its action on the various systems that regulate the functioning of our organism (hormones, neurotransmitters, etc.)[16].

[1] J.-B. Édart, art. cit, p. 84.

After the psycho-spiritual confusion, here we are in a form of spiritual-physical collusion, which resembles the scientistic naturalism of the 19th century phrenologists, who predicted the behaviour of the human body, based on the palpation of the shape of its skull. In this way they determined who was likely to become a thief or a criminal [17]. Scientistic naturalism confuses the order of nature and the order of freedom, postulating a cause-effect relationship between an organic lesion and a behavioural disorder. In this case, Jean-Baptiste Édart postulated a cause-effect link between a spiritual link and an organic lesion, making demonology a kind of science of nature, which completely forgets the ethical level, that of freedom of conscience and its own autonomy. The phrenologists of the 19th century confused the two levels, Jean-Baptiste Édart does the same.

We cannot short-circuit history and consider the exorcisms performed by Jesus in the Gospels without taking into account contemporary psychiatric data. It is not at all a question of denying any influence of the Evil One, but of placing him in his rightful place. Illness can put us in a state of vulnerability in which we have less strength to fight against our sinful tendencies. That is what the sacrament of the sick is all about: asking God for help. But let us not forget that the work of caregivers is also a gift from God.

On the other hand, when a person becomes convinced, because They may feel that they are victims of influences beyond their control, and this can be very distressing, even traumatic. Cardinal Leon-Joseph Suenens, one of the driving forces behind the growth of the Charismatic Renewal, can hardly be suspected of evil intent in relation to this movement, he was well aware of this when he wrote: "It is always serious to put someone in an inferiority complex facing himself. [18]"
 

A fascination with evil

First of all, we must call a spade a spade: the prayer of deliverance is a form of exorcism. Cardinal Suenens says it clearly. In the fourth Document de Malines, he warns against prayers of deliverance, a "watered-down term which, in reality, refers to an act of exorcism. [19]" William Storey, one of the founders of the Renewal in the United States, (he left at a very young age in the face of the excesses he saw setting in in the Renewal) wrote in 1975, "What the Charismatic Renewal does is much closer to what we would strictly call properly exorcism.[...] I think it is practised too freely, on too wide a scale and in too ambiguous a manner. And it is practised under the auspices of a literature which, in my opinion, is hysterical, on the one hand, and completely alien to the Catholic tradition, on the other [20]. Have we taken seriously enough the influence of neo-Pentecostalism on this type of prayer [21]?

NWe must not confuse concupiscence, which in a way characterises the vulnerability of the human will, in the words of Paul quoted above (Romans 7,15), with a direct influence of the devil. If the bond is due to the influence of an evil spirit, and I consent to it almost in spite of myself, is this not the very meaning of the sin that is disturbed? "This sin will no longer be my sin, but the work of another in me, from which I will have to free myself by a singular intervention that requires neither effort nor firm resolution, but only a readiness for an action of a magical nature [22]. Moreover, the promoters of this type of prayer do not hesitate to claim that it "works", without questioning at all the reality of the cause-effect relationship between people feeling better and the reality of the expulsion of an evil spirit [23]. 

But more fundamentally, what is left of man's responsibility? Is it not too easy to point to causes outside ourselves in order to avoid facing our own freedom? There is confusion between the evil suffered and the evil committed, between the voluntary and the involuntary. What is consent to a relationship that is not voluntary? What place should be given to the objective gravity of an act of sin and to the subject's knowledge of it? What meaning is left for asceticism and the patient effort of inner conversion? What is the place of truth? What is the place of spiritual combat? In Catholic theology, human nature is not intrinsically flawed or wounded and, as St. Thomas Aquinas reminded us, grace does not destroy nature, but completes and perfects it. The prayers of deliverance seem to suggest that anger and fear could be entry points for the devil.

¿In the end, we would be moved by only two principles: thoughts of God or thoughts of the Evil One. But this is to forget the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and the whole Tradition of the Church, that thoughts can be good, bad or neutral. Anger at injustice is not a bad thought as long as it does not degenerate into an act of revenge. Human emotions are not bad emotions. In our lives there is the mark of finitude, what Isabelle Le Bourgeois calls the "irreparable", with which we have to live, a kind of scar that reminds us of the torment of living, but which should not be confused with any fault or bond. Human maturity grows when, little by little, a person learns to "live with the irreparable [24]". Finally, let us not forget critical thinking is a gift from God!

One thing is clear: the prayer of liberation par excellence is the end of the Lord's Prayer ("Deliver us from evil"). It is accessible to all and for all. It is up to all Christians to give it its full force. We should also remember the role of the sacrament of reconciliation, which brings about the conversion of the sinner and inner liberation.

As for the more concrete requests of people who feel imprisoned by ties or who seek God's protection, the first response is to listen attentively and to offer them God's blessing. A beautiful blessing helps us to understand that the Lord's love is primordial, that it accompanies us in all our trials, mysteriously. It is a question of turning our gaze towards Christ. And if it seems necessary, the collection Protection, Deliverance, Healing offers a framework for ecclesial celebrations, relevant and sober, as the Catholic Church has always been in this area.

Finally, when we come to think that a person's problems are the responsibility of the exorcist, it must be strongly emphasised that this area is under the exclusive authority of the bishop and his delegated exorcist.

The Jezebel Syndrome

AAt the beginning of the book of Revelation, seven letters are sent to seven churches and each one, according to his age or circumstance, can receive one of them for himself or for his community. In the fourth letter, the middle one, written to the church of Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29), the community seems to have many qualities. It practises love and faith, and shows dedication and constancy. And its works "multiply". But in the midst of it all, there is a woman who calls herself a "prophetess": Jezebel, who seems fascinated by the mystery of Evil.

 
Jezebel "leads astray", "seduces" (planaô) the servants of God by inciting them to idolatry. The central question of this letter is that of the Spirit. In this Church, a spirit other than that of Christ, a spirit of knowledge, a spirit and power that disguises itself as Christ, imitates or imitates him. This is indeed one of the resources of all forms of abuse: though it may not appear at all abusive from the outside, seduction fundamentally deceives the person caught in its nets. In the Church of Thyatira, the "multiplication" of good works can mask Jezebel's influence. The danger would be to endure it, to tolerate it. But this influence is poisonous: Jezebel is fascinated by a doctrine that claims to "know the depths of Satan".
 
We can see in this fascination something of the Gnostic currents which claim to "explain" inexplicable evil, but also those currents in our Church which - while claiming to combat it - flirt with esotericism by engaging in techniques of "deliverance" or "protection" against the forces of evil, even going so far as to designate people as "possessed" or "bound".
 

But the text of Revelation insists that there is no special knowledge required by Christ except that of his word: "I lay no other burden upon you”. Let us always remember that Jesus never called anyone possessed. It is others who say so. On the other hand, some religious people do not hesitate to say of John the Baptist that he "has a demon" (Matthew 11:18) or that he "has a demon".(Matthew 11: 18) or of Jesus that it is through Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that he drives out demons (Matthew 12: 24).Evil may fascinate us, but it is useless to seek explanations for its mystery. We will always come up against this enigma to which Jesus gave no other answer than to share the human misfortune, the suffering of evil, its degradation and humiliation. This threat takes on new colours according to the times and the moments. Hence the importance of this recommendation, which is repeated like a refrain: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches."


[1] A neologism coined by Guy Rouquet, see his appearance in the Senate in 2012 (at www.senat.fr).
In February 2024, the bill "aiming to reinforce the combat against sectarian aberrations and improve support for victims" was adopted by the Assembly, including a new article in the penal code (article 223-1-2) aiming to sanction false therapists who incite individuals to stop their treatment, particularly "when the person is placed or maintained in a state of psychological or physical subjection" (see www.assemblee-nationale.fr). This legislation should be taken very seriously, as it could well affect certain practices of prayer for deliverance and healing prayers.
[2] See Anne Lécu, "Les prières pour obtenir la guérison", Études, no. 4283, June 2021, pp. 81-90.
[3] Service National de la Pastorale liturgique et sacramentelle (SNPLS), Protection, délivrance, guérison, célébration et prière, Desclée- Mame, 2017.
[4] See, for example, Henri Gesmier, L'exorcisme...au quotidien, Cerf, 2021.
[5] Jean-Baptiste Édart, "Le lien démoniaque", Ecce Corpus, 2021, 4, p. 72.
[6] Neal Lozano, Délié, Guide pratique de délivrance, Éditions des Béatitudes, 2014. In this text the author proposes a model in five stages or keys: "1. Repentance and faith; 2. Forgiveness; 3. Renunciation of the work of our enemies; 4. These keys will open the door to abundant life and close the doors through which evil spirits can enter your life." (p. 62).
[7] Jean-Baptiste Golfier, Tactiques du diable et délivrances, Dieu fait-il concourir les démons au salut des hommes ? Artège - Lethielleux, " Sed contra ", 2017
[8] The ICCRS (International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Service) was the main coordination and service structure of the Charismatic Renewal, it has now been replaced in 2019 by Charis International (see www.charis.international/fr/). 
[9] ICCRS doctrinal commission, Le ministère de délivrance, Éditions des Béatitudes, 2017.
[10] Lecture of 24 April 2018 in Tigery, transcribed in Étienne Vetö, " La signification théologique des liens spirituels et de la délivrance", in Pierre-Louis Tulasne, Magali Raoul and Blandine Lagrut (dir.), Tu as rompu mes liens, Cerf, 2019, pp. 118-119 (at www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4V1KexgW20).
[11] N. Lozano, op. cit., p. 49.
[12] On 29 September 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, responded to ordinary people who asked what he thought of prayers intended to obtain deliverance from the influence of demons. His answer was explicit, and no one in this dicastery has since retracted it. Only canon 1172 counts (see www.vatican.va).
[13] J.-B. Golfier, op. cit. p. 349.
[14] In 2017, this committee consisted of the following members: Dr Mary Healy (United States,Wojciech Nowacki (Poland), Archbishop Kevin McDonald (United Kingdom), John Duiker (Australia), FatherDuiker (Australia), Father Étienne Vetö (France), Father George Kumblumoottil (India) and Father André Luiz Rodrigues da Silva (Brazil).
[15] In 2007, the French Bishops' Conference published a note warning against practices of "healing family roots through the Eucharist".
[16] J.-B. Édart, art. cit., p. 84.
[17] Cf. Marc Renneville, Crime et folie, Deux siècles d'enquêtes médicales et judiciaires, [Crimen y locura, Dos siglos de investigaciones médicas] Fayard, 2003.
[18] Léon-Joseph Suenens, " Renouveau et puissances des ténèbres " [Renewal and the Power of Darkness], Les cahiers du Renouveau, [The Notebooks of Renewal]. Les documents de Malines ", no. 4, 1982, p. 186
[19] L.-J. Suenens, "Renouveau et puissances des ténèbres" (1982), L'Esprit saint souffle vital de l'Église, tome III, Oppem-Meise, Éditions de l'association Fiat, 2001, p. 171 (available at ww.stucom.nl/document/0233fr.pdf).
[20] At the heart of Pentecostal doctrine, exorcism refers to healing rituals often called "deliverance services". In them, misfortune and suffering are interpreted as the result of misfortune and suffering are interpreted as the result of the transgression of divine norms; there is thus a real link of cause and effect between illness and suffering.
[21] Jean-René Bouchet, " Aperçus théologiques " [Theological perceptions], Le Renouveau charismatique interpellé [Charismatic renewal questioned], Feunouveau, 1976, p. 43.
[22] Jean-René Bouchet, " Aperçus théologiques " [Theological perceptions], Le Renouveau charismatique interpellé [Charismatic renewal questioned], Feunouveau, 1976, p. 43.
[23] "To be listened to with sympathy is already a step towards healing. The fruits of peace and joy cannot be denied, but there is still some way to go before we reach the conclusion that the demons have been released". There is still a margin. Cardinal Suenens adds: "Fear any marginalisation, any esotericism, any gnosis that pastors without a mandate may believe they can accredit in the name of their experience".L.-J. Suenens, "Renouveau et puissances des ténèbres" (1982), L'Esprit saint souffle vital de l'Église, tome III, Oppem-Meise, Éditions de l'association Fiat, 2001, pp. 180 and 194.
[24] Isabelle Le Bourgeois, Vivre avec l'irréparé, Albin Michel, 2024.