Dr. Edward Peters 

To work for the proper implementation of canon law is to play an extraordinarily

constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ. Pope John Paul II







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1917 Code


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5 jan 2013

Review of Thomas Allen, Possessed: the true story of an exorcism (1993, 2000) 332 pp.

Edward Peters, Review of T. Allen, Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism, in Southern Cross (23 sep 1993) 34.



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A 50-minute DVD documentary by Henninger Media Development, entitled "In the Grip of Evil" (1997) is based on Allen's book. It contains, among other things, excellent interviews with Allen and Fr. Halloran, sj, the seminarian who assisted the exorcist in 1949

For many Catholics, the phrase "St. Louis Jesuits'' conjurs up images of ecclesiastical yuppies strumming the chords of those pleasant religious folk songs which permeate today's liturgy. But for Thomas Allen and the Mannheim family (a pseudonym), the St. Louis Jesuits were a small group of highly educated, highly devout, but most of all spiritually practical men from an earlier generation that, between First Communion catechisms and lectures on Christian political philosophy, did nightly battle with an Adversary who terrorized 14­year-old Robbie Mannheim in the spring of 1949.


Possessed is the true story of the exorcism that, altered out of deference for the actual victim (though with Hollywood's inevitable slant toward snaz), became the 1973 box-office hit "The Exorcist." The real story needed no snazzing up, though, and in fact, Catholics could well experience some vicarious pride in the original.


Robbie's family was not Catholic when his crisis erupted but, on the advice of their own ministers, they turned to those "Catholic priests (who) know something about this." Allen succeeds in presenting an objective and very readable account of a terrifying ordeal notwithstanding a few slips along the way.


For example, Allen mistakenly refers to the dogma by which Catholics must believe in the existence of evil. Actually, while Catholics must believe that the devil is real, belief in the existence of evil is something different. Evil is the absence of good and, like a hole in the ground or a tear in a cloth, it can be recognized only by lack of some­thing else around it. But besides morbid curiosity, is there another excuse for reading "Possessed"?


I think there might be.


It comes to us as a warning: Robbie and some members of his family dabbled in the occult. It seems to me that was the unlatched door through which entered the Thief. Ouija boards, "wall-rapping" stories, playing at spiritualism, maybe it all seemed like innocent fun to Robbie in the late 1940s. But today, Tarot cards, palmistry, and crystals have gone from living room games to the megabucks of television's psychic hot-lines. "There is a basic theological hypothesis about evil," writes Allen, "don't go near it." Good advice.


 Rev. Joseph Boland, SJ, who assisted in the exorcism and who would probably have replaced the lead exorcist if the latter had been even more seriously stricken (both physically and emotionally) than he was, was semi-retired by the time I attended St. Louis University in the 1970s. He was not given to telling tales or religious rumoring. But as we sat talking late one night after his dormitory Mass, he told me of St. Michael the Archangel's fiery appearance in the College Church. Fr. Boland was there, he saw it, and he was at once frightened and fortified by it. Incredibly, there are those unfortunate enough never to have heard the advice about avoiding evil. There are others pitiable enough not to heed it.


While the regular channels of grace and strength (prayer, fasting, confession, Eucharist) must always be employed, it is a consolation to know that we who are threatened with powers greater than our own, are also protected by powers (and thrones and dominions, seraphim and cherubim) far greater still.+++