Father José Antonio Fortea is a Catholic exorcist who is ok with Harry Potter, has an aversion to blaming the devil for people’s wrongs, and wants people to understand the difference between exorcisms in the movies and real life.
A priest of the Diocese of Alcala de Henares in Spain, and an exorcist, Father Fortea is the author of several books including 'Interview With an Exorcist'. He is currently based in Rome studying for his doctorate in theology.
He was at Assumption Catholic Church in Jacksonville, Florida, on January 4, to talk about exorcism and pastoral care, and sought to dispel what he described as popular misconceptions about demonic possessions.
Catholic priests and lay ministers attended the discussion. Father Fortea took questions from the audience, which ranged from children’s entertainment to addiction.
Father Fortea’s opinions differ in many areas from the well-known Father Gabriele Amorth, who has a tendency to see the devil under every rock, so to speak. The “Vatican exorcist” recently had some press attention when he repeated his opinion that Harry Potter was something children shouldn’t be permitted to watch.
In Father Fortea’s view, simply banning things can do more harm than good. A healthier approach might be to simply teach children the difference between fact and fiction, right and wrong.
“Prohibition has to be used carefully. People think we are more protected by forbidding things,” Father Fortea said. “If you forbid Harry Potter, why not Tolkien?”
Father Fortea specifically addressed worries about letting children anywhere near ‘Harry Potter’ books and movies. He said he thinks ‘Harry Potter’ is great fun as long as it is regarded as entertainment.
“I looked a lot like Harry Potter when I was a boy,” said Father Fortea, who has seen one of the films. “When Harry went to Hogwarts, it made me remember when I went to seminary.”
Jacksonville.com noted that Father Fortea didn’t discuss how to perform exorcisms. Rather, he “discussed how to gently care for those who believe they or a loved one are possessed.”
Questions from the audience focused mainly on how much of the world’s and society’s problems can be attributed to satanic influence.
Participants asked if the breakdown of the family, addictions and emotions like anger are the result of demonic forces.
“We tend to exaggerate the actions of the devil in the world,” said Fortea, author of “Interview with an Exorcist: An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession and the Path to Deliverance.”
He used his own chocolate compulsion as an example. Fortea said he usually can never stop at just one piece, especially when listening to classical music or playing chess.
“I do not blame that on demons,” he deadpanned, getting several laughs.
He said 90 percent of evil results from human actions. “It is time we learned again the meaning of free will.”
But Fortea said possession is a real phenomenon that is wrongly dismissed by some, even priests, as superstition. Such persons sometimes dismiss biblical accounts of possession as little more than “a poetic way of speaking of evil.”
Fortea said he always requires multiple witnesses to testify to a person’s possession and usually can tell right away if the account is credible. If during the rite the person begins acting like the possessed do in films, he knows it isn’t demonic.
Rather, people who are actually possessed, while sometimes displaying great rage and strength, usually just tremble lightly and utter gibberish when confronted, he said.
Many possessed suffer in silence and loneliness because many of their family and friends, and sometimes their own pastors, don’t believe them. It’s important that medical and psychological factors be ruled out before calling in an exorcist, he said.
A spokeswoman for the Jacksonville diocese said it has no documented cases of possession in Northeast Florida and the diocese does not have an exorcist, a job that can be performed only by specially designated priests.
Fortea said possessions are part of God’s plan because they are usually occasions for conversions and deeper faith by those who witness the exorcisms.
“Every exorcism is a gift that helps us believe,” he said.
That last bit grabbed Lilla Ross at Catholic News Service. The National Catholic Reporter published her article, titled “Spanish priest: Exorcism is God’s ‘gift to help us believe’”
Every culture has an understanding of demonic possession, Fortea said. “But they don’t have a solution for it. Jesus brought the solution. Jesus taught us to do exorcisms.
“Exorcism is a sign of the power of Jesus that the power of the kingdom of heaven is here on earth,” he added. “Every exorcism is a gift that helps us believe.”
The need to expel demonic spirits from a person’s body is neither common nor rare, Fortea said.
When his bishop first called on him to study exorcism in the late 1990s, Fortea said he thought exorcism was a rare event that might occur once or twice in a century.
But when more and more people came to him for help, he realized demonic influences were much more active, especially in those who associated with witchcraft, magic, Santeria and some New Age practices.
Unlike the movies, most possessed people seem perfectly normal, he said. The signs are usually subtle — trembling or spitting.
The church has specific prayers and rituals for conducting an exorcism, he said. But when he is training priests, he tells them not to worry about technique. “I tell them to surround the demoniac with the glory of God,” he said. “Center on God.”
Demonic spirits take over the body, not the soul, he said, which is why the sacrament of confession is more important for the average Catholic than exorcism.
But he said anyone can be approached by evil spirits, even Jesus.
He urged people to use moderation and common sense and to build up their faith with the sacraments and devotional practices of the church.
“A lot of temptation isn’t from the devil. It’s from the individual,” he said. “In fact, 98 percent of temptation comes from our heart or the world. You can avoid sin because God is willing to give us grace.”
And if they feel the need to consult an exorcist, they should call their bishop. Only certain priests have the training and the permission to conduct exorcisms and the list is not made public.
Fortea, a priest and theologian specializing in demonology, studied and graduated from the University of Navarre with a degree in history. In 1998, he wrote his thesis on “The Exorcism in Modern Times” and defended it before the secretary of the Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Spanish bishops’ conference.