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18.2.2005. 10:44:43

An exorcism course for priests is being offered by Rome’s Roman Catholic university “in response to the popularity of Satanism and the rise in occultism”.

"This seminar was established in response to the popularity of Satanism in music, clothes and objects, but also in response to the rise of occultism, magic and mystic experiences," said the reverend Paolo Scafaroni, rector of the Queen of the Apostles (Regina Apostolorum) Athenaeum in Rome.

Italian police are warning that Satanism and devil worship are on the rise.

Marco Strano, an Italian police expert in Satanism, said: "Satanism is a phenomenon which is growing but it is impossible to quantify. Satanists are performing their rites in secret."

Up to 1,000 sects are believed to be involved in Satanism in Italy, according to a parliamentary group monitoring the issue.

They were accused of murdering three of their friends and were suspected of having pushed two others to suicide.

The class debuts as an Italian court prepares to try eight people believed to belong to a Satanic sect for their alleged role in three ritual killings. Sect members belonged to a heavy metal band called "Beasts of Satan."  They were arrested in June near Milan.

One of the victims was a 19-year-old stabbed to death in 1998. She may have been targeted because her killers believed she was a personification of the Virgin Mary, prosecutors allege. Another victim was shot last year and buried alive.

Beyond the violence, Italian officials are concerned about young people who develop personal forms of Satanism, outside the sects closely monitored by police. They often learn about the devil through the Internet.

"It's a more spontaneous and hidden phenomenon, a problem of loneliness and isolation, a problem of emptiness, that is fulfilled by the values of Satanism," said Carlo Climati, an author who will teach a course on the devil's lure to young people.

The class at the academy - run by the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative order - drew both Italians and foreigners. Rev. Christopher Barak, who came from the Lincoln, Neb., area at his bishop's request, senses a renewed concern about the devil among Roman Catholics.

"In the '60s and '70s, people got away from that," Barak said. "Even theologians said, 'No, the devil is just a myth.'"

The course ends in April with the culminating lesson: "Testimony of an Exorcist."  Two of Italy's some 400 exorcists are to tell their stories.

Widely accepted signs of possession - some of which were depicted in the 1973 movie, "The Exorcist" - include speaking in unknown tongues and demonstrating physical force beyond one's natural capacity. In 1999, when the Vatican issued its first new guidelines since 1614 for driving out devils, it urged priests to take modern psychiatry into account in deciding who should be exorcised.

The updated exorcism rite, contained in a red, leather-bound book, was a reflection of Pope John Paul II's efforts to convince the skeptical that the devil is very much in the world. At the time, he gave a series of homilies denouncing the devil as a "cosmic liar and murderer."

A former papal aide, the late Cardinal Jacques Martin, wrote in his memoirs that John Paul performed the exorcism rite in 1982, on an Italian woman who was screaming and writhing.

The course was conceived by the Legionaries of Christ, a powerful, wealthy and conservative order founded in Mexico in 1941 that is described as being close to Pope John Paul II.

Rev. Scafaroni said the aim of the course is to prepare priests and seminarians "to distinguish real cases of diabolic possession from mental problems so they can be referred to exorcists."

About 100 priests attended the opening lecture by the Reverend Gabriele Nanni, 46, the diocesan exorcist from the northern city of Modena.

Rev. Nanni said exorcists seek to drive out demons through prayer rather than the incantations, rites and magic formulas of popular mythology.

He said the fact the British Royal Navy allowed a practicing Satanist in a submarine crew was proof of a wide scale problem.

SOURCE: World News