Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea, a priest of the Diocese of Alcala de Henares in Spain who has published numerous books on the subject of demonology and exorcism, visited the Valley May 28-30. Those who were hoping for a sensationalistic treatment of the topic were likely disappointed.
Fr. Fortea, who wrote his thesis on exorcism in modern times, addressed priests and deacons of the Diocese of Phoenix as well as some from Mexico, Colorado and other neighboring states, at the downtown Diocesan Pastoral Center May 29.
“I agree to speak about this [topic], not to satisfy curiosity but because to speak about this is to know Jesus better. Jesus was an exorcist because He wanted to be an exorcist,” Fr. Fortea said, referring to numerous passages in the New Testament.
An understanding of evil spirits and exorcism requires a deeper look at the nature of temptation. Fr. Fortea said that temptations are permitted by God because they can become instruments of sanctity and ultimately serve to draw souls closer to God.
“God knew that through [overcoming] temptations, the saints become more holy,” Fr. Fortea said. “Temptation exists with the express permission of God. When human beings suffer temptation and the action of demons, they have an opportunity to see the spiritual world and the power of the Church.”
Not to believe in exorcism, Fr. Fortea said, is not to believe in God.
“I know in some dioceses, priests laugh at this,” he said. “When those priests stand before the Lord at the end of their lives, He will tell them, I was the possessed person who knocked at your door….but you were ashamed of me.’”
Simple is best when it comes to exorcism, he told the clergy. “The best exorcism is the one centered on God,” Fr. Fortea said. “Jesus gave us the power and told us to cast out demons.”
In response to the modernist view that demonic influence or possession is merely a sign of mental illness, Fr. Fortea offered a measured view.
“We believe in mental illness — we honor psychology. This [exorcism ministry] is not a conflict with science,” Fr. Fortea said.
Although he examines many people who believe they are being harassed by demons or are possessed, Fr. Fortea noted that cases of possession are actually quite rare.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the issue of demonic possession.
“When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from Him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing.” (§1673.)
Fr. Fred Adamson, vicar general and moderator of the Curia, attended Fr. Fortea’s presentation to clergy and said that one of the reasons Fr. Fortea draws a crowd is due to a greater recognition of evil in the world. Priests in particular hear about it in the confessional, he said.
“I think there’s a realization, especially for priests and deacons, who see the effects of evil in the world and people that struggle,” Fr. Adamson said. “The world sees it almost like the movies, but the reality is that the idea of evil and needing to be delivered, just the basics can really be beneficial.”
Address to laity
Fr. Fortea also spoke to more than 1,000 people at St. Timothy Parish in Mesa May 29.
“It doesn’t matter how evil a person is — there is always hope…never lose hope,” Fr. Fortea told the crowd. He also cautioned them not to be afraid of demons.
“Do not be fearful,” Fr. Fortea said. “The presence and existence [of demons] accomplishes the will of God…they ought to be afraid of God and people who fear God. Fear to demons is lack of faith. If we believe in Jesus we have no reason to fear.”
Brien Bensel, an Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioner who attended Fr. Fortea’s presentation, said he enjoyed the positive focus of the talk.
“There was no focus on the power of evil — the focus was on a relationship with the Lord and the grace of God,” Bensel said. “He’s the one that loves us — He’s our source. Demons are a distraction and a problem and God is the answer. “
At the Phoenix Convention Center May 30, spoke to a crowd of 2,500 before concelebrating a Spanish-language Mass with Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares and other priests. Many of those who came stood in line afterward, waiting for Fr. Fortea to pray over them.
Carmen Portela, director of Parish Leadership Support in Spanish for the diocese, organized the inner healing and deliverance conference.
“Fr. Fortea took his time praying over each person,” Portela said. “He showed people God’s protection and God’s love for all his children.”