It’s not a job you will find advertised in the classifieds: assistant to an exorcist. Alongside being a wife and mother, it’s a job Kathleen Beckman does in the Church’s ministry of exorcism and deliverance. Her other work for the Church includes spreading the Gospel message through Catholic radio and TV, completing a course at the Association of International Exorcists at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University in Rome, and co-founding the Foundation of Prayer for Priests, a ministry of prayer and sacrifice for the holiness and protection of clergy.
In her fourth best-selling book, A Family Guide to Spiritual Warfare, Beckman explains that demons wage war against families because families are vital to God’s plan of salvation. “This stark reality requires that your family members become well-trained spiritual warriors who actively secure your home and fight to keep it off-limits to demonic activity,” she explains in the book. She shares personal experiences and also shows families how to “clean up” and protect their households using an arsenal of the Church’s spiritual weapons.
Beckman spoke with the Register about what it is like to assist an exorcist.
How did you end up working in the deliverance ministry?
Msgr. John Esseff [co-founder of the Pope Leo XIII Institute] encouraged me to imitate Mother Mary by assisting priests in this ministry; he helped me to discern the calling. I simply responded to the invitation to serve at the institute and on the diocesan exorcist’s team.
What do you do exactly?
I served on-site at Mundelein Seminary for the Pope Leo XIII Institute for six years as case-study facilitator for clergy students and serve offsite on the advisory board now. For my diocese I’ve served on the exorcist’s team for 13 years. We have one priest who is the appointed exorcist and another priest who leads the minor exorcisms.
Our team of laymen and women serves both priests and is present at all major and minor rites of exorcism. We are intercessors responding to the priest’s prayers and litanies of the rite; we also arrange the logistics of the place and assist the person receiving the ministry. At times, we must restrain a person from harming himself or herself and/or the priest or the Blessed Sacrament that is always present. As administrator, I also accompany the person before, during and after they receive ministry and keep files in order.
What sort of things do people seek out an exorcist for?
My training included observing difficult cases with exorcists in America, but also in Europe, since I was a student at the Association of International Exorcists’ course in Rome. There are various reasons that people seek out an exorcist, but the most prominent, in my experience, include 1) religious syncretism; 2) New Age practices, magic, sorcery, alternative healing methods; 3) untreated, chronic porn, sex and drug addictions; 4) curses by occult practitioners or generational; 5) sexual, emotional or physical abuse in the family; 6) pact with the devil for money or fame.
Distinctions are important in the ministry of liberation from evil: oppression (demonic attacks from without, such as in the Book of Job), obsession (demonic attacks from within, such as chronic thoughts of self-harm or harm to others), and possession (a demon has taken over a portion of a person’s body by invitation of the person’s will). These categories are considered extraordinary demonic activity and often require the assistance of the priest for minor or major exorcisms.
What is the average age of people seeking help?
For my book A Family Guide to Spiritual Warfare, I polled exorcist friends on both coasts. They reported an average age is 20 to 50 years. In my diocese the age averages between 18 and 40 years.
Are they referred for a psychiatric assessment?
A psychiatric evaluation is a valuable tool for the discernment of spirits and for the healing of the whole person. Each local ordinary decides on a protocol to fit his resources within his jurisdiction. Many dioceses require a psychiatric evaluation for all major rites of exorcism. For minor exorcisms, a mental-health evaluation may be optional. I advise the petitioners that the Church cares about the healing of the whole person; we can’t compartmentalize. The Catholic Medical Association is a good resource for Catholic mental-health consultations.
What are the most common ways that you see the devil getting into people’s lives?
1) For Catholics, often they have ceased the sacraments and prayer; 2) religious syncretism, bringing into Catholicism pagan rituals and cultural superstitions, as if they could exist together; 3) irregular marriages (cohabitation); spouses or children addicted to drugs, alcohol, porn; occult games, music, literature and media; 4) unhealed wounds from unrepented sin, serial abortions, serial marital infidelity, occult practices, physical and emotional abuse in the home or workplace.
Are there things people can do on their own so that they don’t truly need an exorcist?
People can protect themselves by living a sacramental life: receiving the Blessed Sacrament as often as possible and going to confession on a regular basis. These sacraments are much more powerful than the Rite of Exorcism, which is a sacramental, not a sacrament. The Rosary is a powerful weapon against the devil. We witness demonic screams (“Stop those beads! They torment us!”) during exorcisms.
Sacramental life offers tremendous protection. Daily prayer is necessary for the discernment of spirits. The armor of God in Ephesians 6 is necessary protection.
What happens during a deliverance?
It is a liturgical rite prayed only by the mandated diocesan exorcist with permission of his bishop for a person who is possessed by a demon. The exorcist is assisted by his lay team of men and woman who witness, intercede and protect the petitioner, the priest and the Blessed Sacrament from violent demonic manifestations that often occur.
Minor exorcism consists of deliverance prayers, such as the Pope Leo XIII prayer (for clergy only, with permission of the local ordinary). Otherwise, every priest can pray minor exorcism prayers for a person seeking liberation from evil spirits in categories that do not include possession.
In the families, baptismal authority, spousal authority and parental authority are in place so that, within the family, deliverance prayers can be prayed by those in authority. I explain this in my book.
Can you share examples of the devil possessing or oppressing people?
In my book there is an “appendix” of real cases that I have witnessed. Here is a sampling:
1) A young man was possessed after his parents (practicing Satanists) consecrated him to Satan while he was in the womb. Mother Mary helped to liberate him after several exorcisms.
2) A Catholic grandmother was demonically obsessed after joining a prayer group that posed as a Catholic Rosary group, but the leaders where practicing witches who secretly placed a curse upon the grandmother who had naively allowed them to prick her finger for a blood covenant.
3) A severe porn addiction caused a high-school student to manifest like a snake and with a guttural voice scream, “I need the porn; I can’t live without the porn.”
4) An elderly, post-operative priest was oppressed by evil spirits who mocked his priesthood and taunted him: “We will take you to hell for wasting your life, you no-good priest!”
5) An exhausted medical student was demonically obsessed after one occasion of illegally injecting herself with propofol to help her sleep. The demon immediately manifested, saying, “You are mine and will never be free of this drug.” She quickly became addicted, had to stop her residency to attend rehab, and was liberated after a minor exorcism.
However, not all who receive exorcisms are liberated. Some people refuse to do the hard work of building a spiritual life and staying in relationship with Jesus Christ, so they quit the process.
How do you protect yourself and your family?
I love the Lord Jesus Christ and have been a daily communicant for more than 30 years, and a daily adorer of the Blessed Sacrament for the same time. I pray the Rosary often throughout the day because I love to reflect on the mysteries.
I have a holy priest spiritual director who assists me regularly, and a confessor, so that I can receive that sacrament often. I follow the St. Ignatius rules for discernment of spirits and the nightly examen. It’s important that these are not done to check off boxes, but out of love for God and souls.
As for the family, I believe they receive far more blessing than spiritual attacks. We discuss the spiritual battle as needed and can tell when a family member is suffering some oppression, and we pray for one another. Young children can be vulnerable to demonic retaliation, so some exorcists prefer their team members be of a mature age.
Do you ever feel any backlash personally?
Over the many years I’ve assisted with exorcisms there are only a few occasions in which I felt personal retaliation that may be attributed to demonic attacks. 1) I have been pushed down twice with minor injuries. 2) I have been verbally attacked by a demon speaking through the possessed person once. 3) Just prior to an exorcism I may have a sudden onset of physical infirmities that disappear when the prayers start.
Never have I experienced fear during exorcisms. Rather, I am in awe of the power of Jesus Christ working through the priest; in awe of the efficacy of sacramentals like the rosary, holy water, blessed salt, relics — these torment demons, who loudly protest and yell vulgarities against the sacramentals, the Scriptures and crucifix.
We witness the power of faith in the very real battle for the salvation of souls, Christ’s victory over evil spirits.