A few blocks from my home is the spot where the most famous exorcism in American history took place, the one William Peter Blatty used as the basis for his novel The Exorcist. Most of “the rite” took place in the psychiatric ward of Alexian Brothers Hospital in 1949. The hospital no longer exists. (Cue ghostly music.) It was long ago destroyed by the malevolent forces of the Midwest Wrecking Company. However, if you go to the site and stand on what’s now a very black and ominous parking lot, you will not only be told to leave before police are summoned, you will notice a crack in the pavement that resists all attempts to seal it. A crack, legend has it, that extends all the way to Hell (Cue crazy demonic laughing).
When I’m not staring at cracks in parking lot pavements, I sometimes wonder if there hasn’t been a recent spike in Satanic meddling. How else might one explain the persistence of North Korea, the popularity of Two and a Half Men, and the three-hour Monday morning staff meeting, except, to quote Pope John Paul II, “the devil is still alive and active in the world“?
Now it’s official. According to a Catholic Church spokesman, exorcism requests have been unusually high for “the last five years or so.” Which makes me wonder what happened five years ago that got Mephistopheles so hot?
Church officials have a few theories. These include the Charismatic Renewal Movement, endless Hollywood treatments and, that universal scapegoat, the Internets. Add to that, increased immigration from “developing” countries where demonic possessions are as common as Kalashnikovs.
All of those explanations seem entirely plausible, as well as extremely boring. Besides, they are overlooking the obvious explanation.
Looking back, we find roughly five years have passed since Saddam Hussein moved into his new digs overlooking a certain Lake of Fire. It’s easy to imagine Saddam strolling through the gates of Hell, taking a look around and immediately barking orders.
SADDAM: What is it with you demons, lying around all day watching reruns of Two and a Half Men? Shouldn’t you be upstairs tormenting people? Hitler, Woodrow Wilson, how can you allow such sloth?
HITLER (shrugging): It’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins, isn’t it?
Do you have a better explanation?
EVER SINCE VATICAN II, the Church has been hoping the whole awkward idea of demonic possessions would go away, along with its various sex scandals, Rome’s concordat with Nazi Germany, and those weird nuns who want to be priests. But, since demonic possession seems here to stay — thanks to Hollywood schlockmeisters — some Church officials have opted to embrace the phenomenon. If nothing else, exorcising demons is a chance for priests to play the good guys for once.
Which is why the Catholic Church recently held a two-day exorcist seminar for 110 clergy at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. Appropriately enough, since the Marriott was the scene of the infamous Nightmare on Waterfront Street, during which I downed five fuzzy melon balls in less than two hours and spent the night projectile vomiting green bile all over my bed.
Religious experts may not know what this sudden rise in reported possessions means, but television producers sure as hell do. It means a great idea for a reality television show. So this spring the Discovery Network is launching a new show called “The Exorcist Files,” which stars Pope Benedict as a sexy, brooding, paranormal investigator who’s got a thing for his co-star Sister Eleanor, played by Gillian Anderson.
But the Catholic Church is opening up its secret files and making its usually guarded exorcists available for the show. After all, it’s TV. And, as anyone who’s seen the film To Die For knows, “you’re not really anybody in America unless you’re on TV… ’cause what’s the point of doing anything worthwhile if there’s nobody watching?”
I’ll definitely be watching. Demonic possession makes for great TV. I mean, battling the Germans or spinal cancer or a giant corrupt multinational corporation is one thing, but a reality TV show that pits heroic clergymen against the Prince of Darkness himself — it doesn’t get any more dramatic than that.