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Cardinal Rules Part 13: On a good old demonic possession

The (not) Primate of All Ireland extols the joys of exorcism on the silver screen.

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

THIS WEEK I brought the priests on their annual outing to the cinema. We were delighted to attend Anthony Hopkins’ new film ‘The Rite’.

As an excited Fr O’Rourke so rightly pointed out to me, “You wait ages for a good demonic possession movie to arrive, and then three come along in the space of ten years.”

For us it was a movie which ticked all the right boxes.

To begin with there was a young priest, full of doubt and soulful lost looks, constantly frowning as if he were trying to remember where he’d left his car keys. There was lots of murmurs of disapproval whenever he appeared. A disgruntled Fr Deasy couldn’t help himself, and even started throwing popcorn at the screen. Ordinarily I would have stopped him, but I felt it added to the whole experience.

Meanwhile, old and slightly senile Fr Cronin had his 3-D glasses on. “It’s just like being there,” he gasped as he touched Fr Deegan’s head.


When the wise old priest played by Anthony Hopkins appeared on screen there was a big cheer. Unfortunately this was all spoiled by the young priest, who again indulged in nasty scepticism, even when presented with a very obviously possessed young girl.

“What does he want her to do?” said an exasperated Fr Deasy, “Spin her head around?”

At this point the film momentarily headed into the realm of the ludicrous. For starters any priest trained in the art of exorcism can recognise a possessed subject within seconds. I was reminded of Fr Maher who once spotted that Marty Whelan was possessed during an episode of Winning Streak. As Fr Maher quite rightly pointed out there was a “slight wildness” in Mr Whelan’s eyes, and he was a bit mean to one of the elderly female contestants.

“Any second now he’ll go feral,” said Fr Maher.

Fr Maher and a couple of other priests then headed straight to the RTE television centre in their customised exorcism van. But by the time they had gotten there Marty Whelan was back to his normal convivial self. He was given a few drops of the holy water and a stern talking to.

Elsewhere in the building the demon which had possessed him passed into the person who commissioned the All Ireland Talent Show.


In ‘The Rite’, the wise old priest had the misfortune to end up possessed himself. The young priest continued on in his sceptical way, even after seeing the old priest sitting outside his own house in the rain. As everyone knows, sitting outside your house in the rain for no apparent reason is one of the 35 signs of demonic possession.

Or a sign that you are waiting for the number 3 bus to Ringsend. In which case it is a sign of delusion, which ironically, can leave you vulnerable and open to a case of demonic possession.

Fortunately the whole thing ended happily ever after as the young priest saw the error of his ways and went on to become a fully fledged “I believe God is only brilliant” type of priest. Everyone left the cinema happy, except Fr Cronin who was disappointed that “Hannibal Lecter didn’t eat anybody.”

Later in the week we were even more delighted to discover that a “re-boot” of ‘The Rite’ has already been made. We were given a sneak preview of the trailer in which Mr Samuel L Jackson played the possessed priest, with Mr Casey Affleck in the role of the young doubting priest. I was particularly impressed with the scene in which Mr L Jackson grabbed Mr Affleck by the lapels and snarled “Get this motherflipping thing out of me, motherflipper!”

Yes, you can keep your films with your giant transforming robots and latex clad superheroes. There is only one motherflipping genre we want to watch.

For more homilies from (Not) Cardinal Brady, see his blog >

About the author:

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

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