Church of Scotland to address demon possession

The Church of Scotland is to recognise that exorcisms can be effective in delivering people from demonic possession.

The Kirk will stop short of creating an official rite of exorcism, or a set liturgy, however, believing that would “do more harm than good and create unwarranted publicity and demand” reports the Times.

Instead, ministers should use “prayer, blessing and the ministry of healing”.

The Church of Scotland was warned last year by mental health campaigners that a group set up to help people who believe they are possessed by demons could increase the stigma associated with psychiatric illness.

Richard Norris from the Scottish Association of Mental Health claimed that talking about demon possession conjured up "disturbing" and "medieval" images about mental health which would not be welcome to many.

The new recommendations for the Kirk have come in a report by the study group on deliverance, and will be debated at the Church’s General Assembly in Edinburgh in May.

The group, made up of ministers and psychiatrists reconvened for the first time in fifteen years to address concerns that not enough was being done to help members who felt “possessed”.

Called the 'Deliverance Group' it aimed to establish guidelines for ministers who encounter people who believe they are suffering from demonic possession.

The Church surveyed more than 1,000 parish ministers and hospital, mental health and prison chaplains. Nine out of ten prison chaplains had been approached for help by someone believing themselves to be possessed, compared with seven out of ten mental health chaplains and six out of ten parish ministers.

The group found that more than two thirds of Church of Scotland ministers “believe supernatural forces of evil exist today”.

The report says: “Some take the view that demons exist as an objective reality and can possess or influence people. Demons should be cast out by the power of Christ given to the Church.”

But it adds: “Others take the opposite view, namely that demons and Satan have no objective reality, and that those who believe themselves to be under supernatural power are deluded and should be referred to medical experts.”

The report recommends a “cautious approach” with regard to supernatural evil. It advises that even where someone approaches a minister believing themselves to be possessed, “it is seriously unlikely that will be the case”.

Exorcisms are carried out in the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church but are rare and only the Catholic Church has a specific rite. In the Catholic and Anglican churches, only authorised exorcists can perform them, and then only with the permission of the diocesan bishop.

Historically, the report says, evangelical churches regarded exorcists as “vulgar magicians” but the charismatic renewal movement led to a resurgence in the practice by leading charismatics, such as America’s John Wimber, who died in 1997.