An earnest and serious discussion of the phenomenon of demonic possession by an American Catholic concerned that humanity is losing the war against Satan and his hordes.
The author is well placed to write this book, being a practicing Catholic with theological training, having studied and interviewed many of the Church’s most prominent exorcists, and having himself experienced apparent brushes with the demonic. And the book gives a good overview of the whole process of how demons engage with humans, in some cases succeeding so far as to possess them and necessitating the services of an exorcist. Catholic exorcists are unanimous that the phenomenon is on the rise and that modern culture, with its weak and decaying connection with Christianity and its acceptance of Satanism and occultism, is a target-rich environment for demons.
For my own part, although I’ve never been a Catholic (my own spiritual training has been Buddhist), I have come to accept the reality of possession, including demonic possession, since it appears to be so well documented. For me the definitive text is Possession Demonical & Other by the German psychologist T. K. Oesterreich, published in 1921. Oesterreich made a detailed survey of the historical literature, documenting many case histories that appear to show beyond any doubt that possession is and always has been a definite thing. What’s astonishing is that Oesterreich himself does not appear to believe in demons or spiritual entities, but treats these amazing sets of symptoms as a psychological syndrome, albeit a strange and striking one.
Charles Fraune does not have any such hesitations. Demonic possession is documented right in the Bible, and a chief aspect of Jesus’ own ministry was the exorcism of demons—a power and ministry he also conferred on his disciples. Notwithstanding this fact, exorcism has come into what amounts to disrepute in the Catholic Church, with only a small number of experienced priests practicing it and a Church bureaucracy that has little use for it. With this book Fraune is trying to raise consciousness at the grassroots level, getting Catholics to take this issue seriously and to take the necessary steps to prevent falling into Satan’s clutches, which is a lot easier than people think.
For this reader, though, the Catholic focus of the book is a weakness. Like all works written from the standpoint of a particular faith, this one takes it for granted that Catholic dogma is the one and only Truth, and that other faiths are little more than demonic cults. But the Catholic Church is losing adherents, I think, partly because people are uncomfortable with the parochialism of this way of thinking. If demonic possession has occurred at all times and in all places, then presumably the Catholic Church is not the only answer; exorcists have been at work since the beginning of history.
The book becomes increasingly alarmist, warning of the dangers of astrology, yoga, and Harry Potter to open the door to demonic possession. Although I’m Canadian, I grew up aware of the “Communist threat” that was widely feared in the United States in the 1960s; Communists and their sympathizers were thought to be lurking in every organization and under every bed. Paranoia was the order of the day. This book is tinged with a similar paranoia. For although the author repeatedly stresses that demons can molest and possess us only to the degree that God permits, and that God remains in complete control of all their activities, nonetheless we should be afraid—very afraid. And only heartfelt practice of Catholicism—and avoidance of horror movies, New Age ideas, et cetera—can protect us from Satan.
This book is a useful and well-informed look at how demonic possession operates and how it is to be addressed from a Catholic perspective, but its intensely Catholic focus excludes the great majority of humanity and leaves us to our demonic fate.