Is the Devil Gaining a Foothold in Rome?

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ROME, Italy - In this predominantly Catholic nation, the devil is gaining a foothold.

"There is a greater openness towards the devil," says Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's Chief Exorcist.

In fact, Rome has been called the most satanized city in Italy.

"Satanism and the occult are in fashion," declares Father Pedro Barrajón, a Catholic priest who serves in Rome.

Devil's Diabolical Influence 

There are an estimated 800 satanic cults operating in the country, with more than 600,000 followers. And according to Silvano Lilli, an evangelical pastor in Rome, their numbers are growing.

"The devil's diabolical influence is growing in so many areas of our society," says Lilli."He needs to be driven out."

Leading the battle to drive the devil out of Italy is 82-year-old Father Gabriele Amorth.

"This is the room where I do my exorcisms," says Father Amorth pointing to a small room.

Devil vs. The Vatican

Not too far from the Vatican, Father Amorth uses the practice of exorcism to drive out the devil from possessed souls.

"If a person is not violent I let them sit in this armchair, and I do the exorcism here. If they are violent I lay them down and if necessary I also tie them down," says Father Amorth.

Amorth is the Vatican's Chief Exorcist and the driving force behind the Catholic Church's renewed campaign against the devil.

He shows us where he works but refuses to let us tape him confronting Satan.

"I also use oil, it's the oil used for mass, the same used in a baptism and I've seen that it works," exclaims Father Amorth.

Exorcism 101

Amorth says "exorcism is God's true miracle" to confronting the devil and his handmaidens.

"Medicine and science have cases they can't solve but which are instead solved by exorcism," he added.

The devil's growing influence has even gotten the attention of the Vatican. Last year it started offering courses to its bishops on exorcisms.

Pedro Barrajón, a professor of theology, is teaching some of the exorcism classes.

"Our bishops need to know how to confront the devil," says professor Barrajón. "They need to know how an exorcism is conducted and how to help set people free from the influence of the devil."

Beasts of Satan

Italians got a taste of the devil's influence a couple of years ago when two teenagers were stabbed, bludgeoned, and buried alive here in the woods northwest Milan.

Members of a heavy metal band named the Beasts of Satan were convicted in the double murder. One of the victims was allegedly killed because she resembled the Virgin Mary.

"Despite the fact that the presence of the satanic world is fairly widespread we only knew of rituals where animals were slaughtered," said Enzo Molinaro, a detective with the Italian police. "As to rituals involving human sacrifice this was the first case."

Forsaking Priests for Magicians

Since then, Italian authorities have been grappling with a string of murders linked to devil worship. The Vatican now has priests working alongside law enforcement officers to tackle a wave of satanic crimes.

"We invite the police to sit-in on the exorcism classes so that they can understand the spiritual and theological dimensions of this phenomenon," said Barrajón, who is also an ordained Catholic bishop.

Many Italians are forsaking priests for magicians, fortunetellers and faith healers. It's A multi-billion dollar industry that employs thousands of practitioners like Sensitive Mariano.

Sensitive Mariano, who's real name is Salvatore, claims he received the powers of healing and prophecy as a child.

Today he performs an exorcism on Esperanza, a troubled housewife whose life was falling apart until she saw Mariano on TV.

"In the name of Saint Benedict, any form of evil should leave the mind of this woman," exclaims Mariano as he places a crucifix over Esperanza's forehead. Preserve Esperanza! Come out from this woman."

Freelancers Not Welcome

But the Catholic Church insists that such freelancers are not welcome.

"They are crooks; they are not exorcists," claims Father Amorth. "It's possible to pray to God to free a person - but proclaiming themselves exorcists, they are cheating people."

But Marco Dimiti says that the Catholic Church's portrayal of Satan is part of the problem.

To many Italians, Dimitri represents the devil. He heads the Children of Satan, a group that reportedly has more than one-thousand members.

"We don't have a cult of devil worship, that would be absurd because the cult of the devil would be the cult of evil - but for us, good and evil are subjective to each individual," says Dimitri.

In 1996, Dimitri was accused of raping a 2-year old boy and a teenage girl in satanic rituals. He was jailed for 14 months before being exonerated by the Italian courts.

"True Satanism puts man at the center of the universe - and is a noble expression," Dimitri said. "I want to say to Father Amorth what I say to all exorcists. Leave people in peace!"

Father Amorth is a busy man these days. He says that every week he sees up to fifty people who claim to be possessed by the devil.

"I see a very strong presence of the devil because men are following him," Father Amort said.

Can You Tell the Real Thing?

He has helped train some 300 priests in exorcism. The key says Father Barrajón is to train the priests how to differentiate between psychiatric problems and satanic possession.

"This is the key but I can tell you that those who perform exorcisms, they just have this sense, they just know," he said. "Sometimes they look for signs like if the person is afraid of the cross or baptismal water or pictures of Christ. They shake a lot or start screaming and they may poses extraordinary strength. The priests know what to look for."

Barrajón encourages Italians to pray more often, attend church and be aware of an enemy that is very real.

"The actions of the devil are not just limited to here in Italy- his evil spirit is roaming the earth, tempting people," he said. "We are trying to educate the society and families about the dangers of his influence."

(Originally aired and published April 21, 2008)

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