My May column for The Catholic Post features a local author, Father Mike Driscoll, and his popular new book Demons, Deliverance, and Discernment: Separating Fact from Fiction about the Spirit World. You can read my review of the book here. Following is a longer version of my Q&A with Fr. Driscoll in the print edition of The Catholic Post.
Fr. Driscoll is chaplain and director of pastoral care at OSF St. Elizabeth Hospital in Ottawa. He’s been a priest of the Peoria diocese since 1992, and a licensed clinical counselor since 2012 .
Q. How did you come to write a book about demons and exorcism?
I received a MA in Counseling from Bradley University in 2009. About that time, a friend of mine—a priest with a background in psychology—had been asked by his bishop to look into some cases of possible demonic possession.
We had several conversations about how to distinguish between possession and mental disorders. I then went to Regent University and received a PhD in Counselor Education & Supervision. It included more counseling courses, but also involved studying counselors: how and why they do what they do. I thought it would be interesting to look at exorcists in the same way.
Q. Your work in counseling and health care informed your work on this book. Has writing the book at all changed your work in counseling and health care ministry?
Actual cases of demonic possession are extremely rare. On the other hand, it is relatively common for people to struggle with problems that are a combination of both mental/emotional problems and spiritual problems that do not involve possession.
The hospital where I am chaplain (St. Elizabeth’s, Ottawa) has an inpatient mental health unit. so on daily basis I talk to people who are struggling with these problems. Writing the book and serving these people have reinforced for me the need to address both aspects, the mental/emotional and the spiritual. If we neglect either one, we are not helping as much as we could.
Q. What are two or three things the “average Catholic” should know about demons?
One thing people should know is that demonic possession is extremely rare. There is a good reason why the vast majority of us have never seen a person possessed by a demon: it rarely happens. As one exorcist said, it does not happen randomly; you don’t wake up one day and suddenly find yourself possessed. It comes from building a relationship with evil.
That leads to the second thing: we should be much more concerned about temptations, whether from the flesh, the world, or the devil. Going to hell for committing mortal sins and not repenting of them should be more frightening to us than possession.
Third and most important, remember God’s infinite love for us, and keep in mind that the things we need to do to get to heaven are not complicated. We must say our prayers, receive the Sacraments, practice the virtues, and avoid the occasions of sin.
Q. Who is your target audience for the book? Is there a type of person you’d really like to read the book, and what would you most want them to take away from the book?
The primary audience is adult Catholics. The wider audience would include Christians and others interested in the Catholic view of the topic of demon possession.
Certainly some teenagers could understand the book, and there is nothing inappropriate in it. The caution I would give to that age group is that some of them are already too interested in the subject, and I don’t want to inflame that. Of course, the same could be said of many adults!
There has been an inherent dilemma in writing this book and getting it published. On the one hand, I am glad that Catholic Answers thought it worth publishing. On the other hand, I don’t want to encourage people to spend too much time on this topic.
Make sure you next spiritual reading is a book about God’s love, or a saint, or the angels.
Q. You write in the book about the connections (and often, lack of connection) between mental illness and demon possession. How do non-Catholics or even Catholics misconstrue these, and how does your book help to clear up those misunderstandings?
Movies that claim to be based on true stories always have inaccuracies; there is always an element of sensationalism. One of the main goals of this book is to provide the actual Church teaching on devils, possession, and exorcism.
One Catholic told me he heard that most people in psychiatric hospital care are actually suffering from demonic attacks, rather than mental health problems. That’s nonsense.
While the devil tempts all of us, especially in our weak points, the people I visit every day in our mental health unit are struggling with real mental and emotional problems. To say these are just demonic attacks is wrong, just as wrong as saying physical problems are just demonic attacks.
Does the devil try to aggravate all of our problems? Of course. That is why we pray for God’s protection and strength and healing for all disorders, whether physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or any combination of those.
Having said that, I should mention that it is not unusual for people with serious mental disorders (such as schizophrenia) to tell me they hear devils, see devils, or dream about devils. This does not mean they are possessed, but it could really be the devil bothering them.
I have had therapists ask me about this. My guess is that demons torment people with serious mental problems because others won’t believe them. Others might think it is just the mental disorder, but it could be both metal and spiritual. It is important to address both struggles: we provide counseling and medication to help with the mental problems, and we must be sure to pray for them and encourage a good spiritual life in order to help with the spiritual struggles.
Q. You caution sincere Catholics against over-reliance on what you call “deliverance professionals.” Could you explain a little more about that, and what your concerns are in that area?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not define deliverance; there is no Church book or ritual on deliverance; and there is no official title or office of “deliverance minister.”
If a person says they are involved in deliverance, and they further explain that they listen to people’s spiritual struggles and then pray for them, that’s great. But some claim to have special deliverance abilities or gifts, special deliverance methods, and special deliverance prayers. I would stay away from that whole scene.
Some of the saints had great power in driving away demons, but they always tried to avoid attracting attention. I mistrust those who publicize their claims of spiritual gifts.
Q. You write in the helpful appendix of prayers for protection against demons that “these are not imperative formulas that address demons directly. They are prayers asking God, his angels, and his saints to protect us against the attacks of evil spirits.” Why is that distinction important?
The generic definition of exorcism is words directed to devils. It is the opposite side of the coin of prayer, which is directed to God.
For example, in the extraordinary form of blessing water, the priest is directing prayers to God, but then the ritual has him say, “I cast out you, the devil and adversary of mankind, along with all your evil influence and cunning wickedness…” That is called a minor exorcism.
The only Church rituals in which demons are directly addressed are in the Rite of Exorcism, and the extraordinary form of Baptism and some blessings. Outside of a priest following a Church ritual, I don’t see any reason to address demons.
The prayers I have in the appendix are directed to God or the angels or saints, asking for their help and protection. When I hear people directing commands toward devils, saying things like, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to be gone!” it strikes me as overly dramatic, and maybe even prideful.
It’s just my opinion, but it seems more humble to ask God or the angels or saints for help. I think God will honor that humility, and the devil will hate it.
Q. Realizing the book is just being released, how has the early interest been from the publisher and others who have read it or are anticipating it?
I have been amazed at how much Catholic Answers has done to promote interest in it. They have arranged for me to be on a number of Catholic radio shows, which is something I have never done before.
I did the first on May 1, the Drew Mariani show—and it was great. People are definitely interested in this topic, as I am, but again, we all need to make sure that we don’t pay too much attention to demons. Jesus certainly did exorcisms, but the Gospel show him spending much more time teaching and healing.
We need to devote most of our spiritual energy toward prayer, the works of mercy, and spiritual reading that does not involve demons.
Q. You’ve written a fiction book called The Father Capranica Mysteries: Stories of the Strange and Supernatural along the lines of the Father Brown mysteries, but with a modern twist. Can you share about its unique perspective, and what inspired you to write that book?
I love G. K. Chesterton’s “Fr. Brown Mysteries,” based in England in the early 1900s. He was the first to write stories about a priest investigator.
In order to take breaks from writing the “Demons” book, I started writing stories about a priest who investigates mysteries. Unlike Fr. Brown, who usually solved murders and robberies, Fr. Capranica solves mysteries involving the supernatural: angels, demons, creatures from mythology and folklore.
I don’t like it when a movie is almost purely fictional, and has a line at the beginning saying “Based on a true story.” They should just make up the scary story and have fun with it, not try to pass it off as true! The Father Capranica Mysteries are definitely not based on true stories.
If you are wondering, Capranica is my mom’s maiden name; my grandfather was born and raised in the Abruzzi region in Italy.
Q. What is your next writing project?
I don’t know. I have written some thoughts on the topic of forgiveness. We all know how important it is to forgive, but it is also difficult. The more someone has been hurt, the more difficult it is to forgive the offender. But lack of forgiveness is bad for us, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.
I would like to write a book of spiritual practices and counseling suggestions on what to do on a daily basis to forgive others. Like other virtues, forgiveness is never finished.
Just as we have to be loving and faithful and patient every day, we also have to forgive every day.
People get frustrated because they want to forgive others, but the negative thoughts and emotional pain keep coming back. I reassure them that doesn’t mean they have failed to forgive. We just have to stay with it every day.
Q. You are a lifelong and winning long-time long-distance runner. I’ve read and reviewed numerous Catholic running memoirs, (including Alberto Salazar’s 14 Minutes; Sister Madonna Buder’s The Grace to Race, and Jeff Grabosky’s Running with God Across America) and I’m fascinated with the connection between running and spirituality. What is your perspective on that? Can you share how running is part of your faith life?
I think it is physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy for us to get outside and be physically active on a regular basis, if we can. Of course there are many reasons why some people cannot. God gives us different things we enjoy and that are good for us, so I think it shows gratitude to do those things.
In moderation, of course: I’m injured right now, from putting in more miles than I knew I should, training for the Starved Rock Marathon. Now I have to miss it! Maybe I’ll be ready for the Peoria marathon in the fall.
I won the Morton Pumpkin Festival 10K twice, and the Metamora Lincoln-Douglas 8 mile several times. I won the Wildlife Prairie Park 5k once. But I never won Steamboat, darn it!
I don’t know how many marathons I have run. I’ve run one or two, sometimes three, almost every year since the late 1970s. I’ve probably run about 60 or 70 of them, maybe 75.
To put it another way: when I ran my first marathon, Paul VI was the pope!
You might also be interested to know:
*my husband Joseph Piccione took the photo of Father Mike Driscoll above several years ago. I remembered seeing it among our digital photos, and searched for because I remember it being a really good one.
*I was glad to ask Fr. Driscoll the question about running, but I always feel a little intimidated because he’s such a speedy runner (as in, winning races or his age group a fair amount of the time). But he has always been gracious and encouraging about my “finishing is winning” approach to running.