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
1152 x 864
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.
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
political philosophy, did nightly battle with an Adversary who terrorized 14year-old
Robbie Mannheim in the spring of 1949.
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
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
terrifying ordeal notwithstanding a few slips along
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
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
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.+++