March 5, 2021

Priest shares wisdom gained from exorcism ministry in new book

(Photo of Father Vincent Lampert by Sean Gallagher)

(Photo of Father Vincent Lampert by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

BROOKVILLE—Father Vincent Lampert travels to the ends of the Earth in his ministry fighting the devil as an exorcist.

From South Africa to Alaska and points in between, the pastor of St. Michael Parish in Brookville and St. Peter Parish in Franklin County has carried out this ministry since 2005.

When Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein appointed him to this ministry 16 years ago, there were only 12 priests in the U.S. who were exorcists. Today, there are 125.

Now one of the senior exorcists in the U.S., Father Lampert is often called upon to mentor priests newly appointed to the ministry, or sometimes to perform exorcisms in far flung locales.

In 2019, he traveled to Alaska to help a newly appointed exorcist with a special case.

“We were in an Eskimo village about 300 miles west of Anchorage,” Father Lampert recalled. “A small, little village. And there we were in the church doing an exorcism.”

Father Lampert shared some of his experiences as an exorcist and the spiritual lessons he’s gained in his book Exorcism: The Battle against Satan and His Demons, published last fall by Emmaus Road Publishing.

In that book, Father Lampert likens exorcists to medical specialists who travel and consult far and wide to help people with their specialized knowledge.

He also emphasized in the book and in a recent interview with The Criterion that Catholics, with the help of their parish priests (whom he says are like general practitioners), can fend off the devil through their ordinary life of faith.

“Ultimately, it’s the very normal aspects of our faith that protect us from evil: going to Mass, celebrating the sacraments, praying, reading Scripture,” Father Lampert said. “It’s the ordinary aspects of our faith that will protect us from the evil one.”

‘The focus should be on the power of God’

Father Lampert was appointed to serve as the archdiocese’s exorcist after the death of his predecessor, Msgr. John Ryan. That priest was discreet in his ministry, not speaking about it publicly.

Because of that, and because there were so few exorcists in the U.S. in 2005, Father Lampert was in a bind. How would he learn about this ministry?

“There was nobody I could turn to,” he recalled. “The knowledge of Msgr. Ryan had died with him.”

So, while on a sabbatical in Rome soon after being appointed as exorcist, Father Lampert was mentored by a Franciscan priest there who had been trained as an exorcist by Passionist Father Candido Amantini, the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome for decades.

“The Church says the best way to become an exorcist is the apprenticeship model,” Father Lampert said.

Observing his mentor perform exorcisms, though, was shocking at times, as Father Lampert recalls in his book. The mentor priest never flinched, even when an afflicted person started levitating in one incident.

“As the demon laughed hysterically and began to levitate, the priest put his hand on the person’s head and pushed the manifesting demon back into the chair, all the while never pausing with the exorcism prayer of the Church,” Father Lampert wrote. “I must say at that moment I thought, ‘What has my bishop gotten me into?’ ”

Years later and with much experience under his belt, Father Lampert isn’t taken aback by the manifestation of demons, taking it all in stride.

“I’m not interested in seeing the theatrics of the devil,” he said. “The focus should be on the power of God and what God is doing in the lives of people who are afflicted.”

Debunking devilish myths

Cover of Exorcism: The Battle against Satan and His DemonsFather Lampert is happy to see the growth in the ministry of exorcists in the U.S. He credits the increase in part to attention drawn to it by St. John Paul II, retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

“If the Church isn’t prepared to help people who turn to her and who believe that they’re dealing with demonic influence, then they’ll turn elsewhere,” Father Lampert said. “And where they turn elsewhere may not necessarily bring them the help that they need. It may actually fracture and break them even further.”

He also sees the growth related in part to the openness of him and other exorcists to speaking about their ministry, which Father Lampert has done around the world. He views these speaking opportunities as a chance to help focus his listeners’ attention on what’s most important.

“More people today are fascinated by the devil than they are with the power of God,” Father Lampert said. “We should never believe that God and the devil are on the same playing field. The devil is still a creature.

“Very intellectual. Superior to us, you could say, intellectually. But still a creature. We should never put a creature on the same level as the Creator.”

He also wants to “debunk a lot of the myths that surround the devil.”

“The more that you shroud something in secrecy, the more you give it a life of its own,” he said. “To me, being public about the ministry is pulling back the curtain on who the devil is.”

Bishop Jeffrey S. Grob, an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Chicago, was appointed exorcist for his archdiocese in 2006, a year after Father Lampert took up the ministry. He and Father Lampert have known each other for decades, having been seminarians together before they were ordained in the early 1990s.

Bishop Grob appreciates Father Lampert’s willingness to speak publicly about the ministry of exorcism.

“There are a handful of guys who are more out there, trying to build a healthy balance in the understanding of it,” Bishop Grob said. “There are so many skewed understandings of the ministry. Father Lampert is a very solidly grounded guy in his faith, his practice of the faith and his teaching of the faith.

“He has good discernment. He looks at a situation and sees what it is and what it’s not.”

‘Trained to be a skeptic’

Father Lampert thinks the Church’s approach to demonic activity takes a healthy middle ground between two more extreme views.

“There are people who don’t believe in the reality of a personified evil,” he said. “They would say that evil is nothing more than humanity’s inhumane treatment of one another. … Then there’s the flip side of that where you have people that see the devil behind everything and that we’re all poor victims of what the devil is trying to do.”

In his book, Father Lampert explains that, while he affirms the reality of the devil and the possibility of him and other demons afflicting people, he is nonetheless “trained to be a skeptic.”

“I should be the last one to believe that someone is possessed,” he wrote. “I must exhaust all reasonable explanations for what is taking place in the person. Therefore, experts in the medical and psychiatric sciences are always consulted.”

But when those explanations are exhausted, Father Lampert is willing to minister to afflicted people with the spiritual means the Church provides.

Bishop Grob spoke of the challenge of charting this middle course.

“In a purely psychological world, there is no place for what we profess in the creed that God created all things visible and invisible,” he said. “Those invisible things, as we believe in them, don’t necessarily have a place when you talk about angels and demons. As Catholics, that’s part and parcel of our tradition.

“It’s always a challenge to keep a healthy balance, because either end is counterproductive.”

He said that Father Lampert’s book portrays this middle course well.

“He presents the mind of the Church, our understanding,” Bishop Grob said. “It’s a balanced read that presents concrete situations. It’s down-to-earth and is approachable. It’s grounded in our theology and tradition.”

Sometimes, it takes a long time for the ministry of an exorcist to have the desired effect. Father Lampert describes in his book ministering for more than a year to a woman possessed by seven demons.

Not being caught up in the “theatrics of the devil,” when she was finally free of them, Father Lampert took his success as another day at the office.

How did he celebrate? By going to a nearby Dairy Queen for a chocolate milk shake.

“The place was crowded and as I waited in line to place my order,” he notes in the book, “I thought to myself that if these people knew where I had just come from I would be like Moses parting the Red Sea.”

One of the reasons Father Lampert is so successful in his ministry is that he doesn’t just see it as another day at the office. It’s part of his priestly vocation.

“A vocation is a calling from God,” Father Lampert said. “Because there are fewer priests, we wear so many hats and are pulled in so many directions, there’s the danger of seeing the priesthood as an occupation. As a vocation, though, you’re a priest 24/7. As an occupation, you do your thing and you’re done and go on to the next thing.”

‘I always have hope and joy’

Father Lampert’s priestly ministry was curtailed enough at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year that he had time to write his book.

He recognizes, though, that the pandemic and trends going on in society before it began gave an opening to the devil to work in ordinary ways in people’s lives.

“The devil is an opportunist,” Father Lampert said. “So, if we find ourselves in a crisis, he’s going to use that to his own benefit to advance his agenda and his kingdom.

“Christ came to give us community. But the devil is all about isolation—divide and conquer—and we’re all living in isolation today because of the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, we were all in isolation because of technology. We’re all walking around with gadgets in our hands and not really communicating with each other. We’re all in isolation.”

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and the continued efforts of the devil to divide and isolate people, Father Lampert is grounded in the hope of Christ.

“It may be challenging, but I know that every time the devil is doing something that he believes is advancing his kingdom, ultimately he’s advancing the kingdom of God,” Father Lampert said. “When you think of the crucifixion, the moment the devil thought he had won in Christ’s death on the cross, it was the moment of his defeat.

“Ultimately, everything the devil does plays into the hands of God. I believe that wholeheartedly. And, because of that, I always have hope and joy.”
 

(To purchase Exorcism: The Battle against Satan and His Demons, visit stpaulcenter.com or amazon.com.)

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