Christchurch Bishop Michael Gielen has suspended permissions for exorcisms in his diocese until further notice.
The bishop, who was in Portugal attending World Youth Day with the New Zealand pilgrims, made this move after a Newshub programme which focused predominantly on the Congregation of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer.
Among the concerns reported were that many more exorcisms were performed than had been allowed by episcopal authority. The extreme nature of the rituals involved in some cases was also reported. CathNews NZ reported that the standard medical and psychological evaluations required before performing an exorcism were “notably absent”. A leader of the congregation reportedly denied wrongdoing.
The religious society, also known as the Transalpine Redemptorists, first came to Christchurch in 2007.
But then-Bishop Barry Jones told NZ Catholic in 2014 that this was “in irregular and divisive circumstances”, without canonical invitation, and with the group not being in communion with the Holy See at that time. But, with the encouragement of Bishop Jones, the Transalpine Redemptorists were subsequently reconciled with Rome, and were given canonical recognition by the Bishop of Aberdeen in Scotland. Bishop Jones welcomed them to Christchurch. They have worked as chaplains to the community devoted to worship according to the liturgical books published prior to the reform of the Second Vatican Council.
NZ Catholic understands that Bishop Gielen has let it be known that the concerns expressed in the programme by former members are being taken seriously, and that some steps are being taken to address them.
Bishop Gielen has also indicated that current practices in this area in his diocese will be reviewed when he returns to Aotearoa New Zealand.
Assurances were also given by the bishop as to the standard of safeguarding that he had witnessed in Christchurch diocese.
In the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch weekly notices for August 6, it was stated that Bishop Gielen has directed that completion of a Safeguarding in the Catholic Church Aotearoa New Zealand course, starting at Christ the King Parish Centre on September 12, is a requirement for “all priests and religious in active ministry, as well as those in Church leadership roles in the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch as promulgated by the NZCBC”.
The course was written by the National Office for Professional Standards in partnership with Te Kupenga – Catholic Theological College.
This “Kickstart Day” is facilitated by an external tutor provided by Te Kupenga-Catholic Theological College. On the day, a large portion of the course will be completed.
Completion of the course is online at “your own place and space in a more self-directed approach supported by a tutor. Expectation of completion for all those who attend this day is end of October, 2023”.
Writing on the CathNews NZ website on July 31, Palmerston North priest Fr Joseph Grayland stated that there is a distinction between “a ‘simple form’ of exorcism, such as the one performed in the Rite of Baptism or when blessing ourselves with holy water, and the more elaborate ‘major’ or solemn form used in sacramental exorcisms . . . ”.
Fr Grayland stated, as “a point of teaching”, that “the major or solemn form of exorcism is only performed by a priest who has the explicit permission of the bishop”.
“No ordinary priest is permitted to perform the solemn form of exorcism.”
“The priest chosen for this sacramental must be judged against external criteria before being permitted to perform a solemn or major exorcism. The priest must proceed with caution, follow the strict rule laid down by the Church, and be in regular contact with the diocesan bishop.”
Fr Grayland added that “the ritual for this sacramental is found in the Rituale Romanum”.
“The rite is used to protect a person or object against the power of evil or withdraw the power of evil from a person.
“The solemn rite of exorcism must not take place where there is a physical or psychological illness. These illnesses are to be treated through medical science . . .”
NZ Catholic understands that a priest who performs an unauthorised exorcism could lose his faculties to function publicly as a priest.
The American bishops’ conference website states that, “Only after a thorough examination including medical, psychological, and psychiatric testing, might the person be referred to the exorcist for a final determination regarding demonic possession“.