Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea speaks during a workshop at Assumption Catholic Church in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 4, 2012. Fr. Fortea, a priest of the Diocese of Alcala de Henares in Spain, is an exorcist. He is the author of several books including "Interview with an Exorcist." Currently based in Rome studying for his doctorate in theology, he was in Florida to give talks about exorcism and pastoral care. (CNS photo/Don Burk)
Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea speaks during a workshop at Assumption Catholic Church in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 4, 2012. Fr. Fortea, a priest of the Diocese of Alcala de Henares in Spain, is an exorcist. He is the author of several books including “Interview with an Exorcist.” Currently based in Rome studying for his doctorate in theology, he was in Florida to give talks about exorcism and pastoral care. (CNS photo/Don Burk)

When Fr. José Antonio Fortea Cucurull began his ministry as an exorcist, he was the only one in all of Spain. That was some 15 years ago.

“All of the cases in Spain came to me,” he explained. It is a country of 46 million, and Fr. Fortea’s parish was 20 minutes from Madrid. “Everybody would come.”

Those who suspected demonic activity in their lives visited him  from throughout Spain. He received from eight to 12 people every day, except on Sundays, when he received 20 to 30.

Even at that, in the first year there were just four new cases of demonic possession out of the thousands who came. And those who came already suspected that something was happening. In other words, possession is rare — very unusual.

“With what is seen in the Church with some exorcisms, the faithful know — it’s a reminder to all believers that the power of Christ continues to be present,” Fr. Fortea said.

The Spanish priest will visit the Diocese of Phoenix to give conferences on healing and deliverance. He will give a presentation in English, 7-9 p.m. on May 29 at St. Timothy Parish; in Spanish, 5-10:30 p.m. at the Phoenix Convention Center. The Spanish event will cost $25 and registration is required for both events.

“We are doing what Jesus commanded,” Fr. Fortea said of exorcism. “Evil spirits exist. Therefore, we have to be attentive, we have to be on guard so that we do not fall into temptation.”

Temptation and possession are two of four demonic actions that Fr. Fortea named. Everyone suffers from temptations, which are sometimes strong and other times weak.

“It is simply when the devil draws near to us to inspire a thought that will lead us to temptation,” he said.

Influence is another demonic action. “It is when it is not just a temptation, but rather a much stronger, much more constant influence and not merely a temptation,” Fr. Fortea said.

“When the prayers of the exorcist are said, already the person feels in his body that a demon is around and [through the prayers] is trying to be torn away,” he said. “But the devil does not possess a person in influence.”

In his first year of ministry as an exorcist, Fr. Fortea estimates that he saw 40 people who suffered from such influence. Although it is more frequent than possession, it is still very unusual.

In possession, a demon possesses the body at times. “He has the power of the body to manifest himself through that body and he is inside. The person feels him inside,” Fr. Fortea said. “It is the strongest demonic action over a human being. It is the extraordinary action.”

Fr. Fortea also mentioned infestation, when an evil spirit is in a place, that is, “When the presence is located in a house or a concrete place.”

There are cases in which influence and infestation do not require an exorcist, but with possession, it is always necessary. Sometimes, with infestation, it suffices for a family to gather to pray. Also, the blessing of a priest can expel demons from infested areas. With temptation, you have to resist it.

To fight influence, there are also deliverance groups.

“Lay people also have the power of intercession,” the priest said. “But one is the work of the exorcist and another the work of the lay people in the prayer groups. They are not conflicting works — they are complementary.”

Prayer groups

Lay people have supported the work of Fr. Fortea in his diocese. They teach catechism to those who need exorcism and organize periods of prayer, asking God to help those who suffer attacks from evil spirits.

“So often, the weapon of these prayer groups is the glory of God,” Fr. Fortea said. “They sing, they read the Word of God, they pray the rosary. By glorifying God, they are able to get some of the spirits to diminish and others to flee — just with that, with the glory of God.”

Prayer groups need to be in “full union” with the bishop of the region, the priest said.

Fr. Carlos Gomez, pastor of St. Augustine, said that in the Diocese of Phoenix there are deliverance groups in union with Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.

“These groups must be supervised and supported by the pastors,” he said. “The primary authorization is through the priest of the parish. He, in turn, shares with the diocesan delegate.”

This relationship between the groups, the pastor and the bishop is key, Fr. Gomez said. 

He noted that everyone can learn more about demonology, especially from a priest with as much knowledge as Fr. Fortea, who is giving a conference this month.

“Everyone can attend, but it’s better if they go not so much out of curiosity but rather with a desire to learn. Lay people, with the help and authorization of their pastor, can put into practice what they learn,” Fr. Gomez said.

“They must live a life of frequent reception of the sacraments, prayer and sacrifice. They can want or desire to be part of this deliverance ministry, but not all are called to such a delicate ministry,” he added. “The members of the deliverance team are just instruments that God uses. With Jesus Christ, everything is possible. He is the one who delivers and heals.”

Fr. Charlie Goraieb, pastor of St. Timothy, said that sin can be fought through the confessional. But some people need something more in order to be delivered from demonic strength.

He said that Fr. Fortea will present the dynamic between human beings and evil spirits in a profound way — and he will teach how to defend oneself.

“He understands the complete range of spiritual warfare,” Fr. Goraieb said.

Getting involved with ouija boards, witchcraft, Santeria and New Age practices makes one more susceptible to evil spirits.

Manuel and Berta Murrillo, with the permission of the bishop, coordinate healing and deliverance groups in the Diocese of Phoenix. They have decades of experience with evil spirits and began coordinating “prayer rooms” at Queen of Peace Parish in Mesa under Fr. Goraieb.

“We have a lot of passion for deliverance and healing,” Berta said. On a recent Wednesday, they prayed for 40 people.

Fr. Goraieb said that the devil wants to enslave us to him. “That is his goal. Satan wants to seduce us so that we freely choose evil and, that way, he can bind us to our evil behavior.”

Satan speaks in half-truths and uses things that are good — like love — and distorts them, Fr. Goraieb said.

The place of exorcism

Fr. Fortea did not study exorcism for his own interest, but because his bishop asked him to take on the subject. There are many other ministries, according to Fr. Fortea, that are “more meritorious.”

He mentioned working to help the poor, especially where there is great misery, where people are surrounded by sickness and violence. He also noted catechesis.

“If exorcism were to disappear from the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church would continue to exist, would continue its life,” the priest said, “but if confession were to disappear, for example, that would have a direct, grave repercussion on the life of the Church.”

Jesus left the power of the exorcist to His Church. This power demonstrates that the Word of God is true.

“Exorcism is a gift of Christ. It is a gift, a treasure, but it is not an essential treasure,” Fr. Fortea said. “The sacraments are much more important. So are other ministries, including that of lay people. Catechesis, helping the poor, missions, the idea of faith — these are much more important and essential things.”

The priest said that the action of the devil is the same in the United States as it is in Europe, although there are differences between the cultures. The extraordinary action of the devil has always been something unusual in all periods of history.

“The Church was never centered on exorcism,” Fr. Fortea said. “The power to exorcise has always existed within the Church. But it never was centered on exorcism or on the fight against the devil because the message of Christ is positive. That’s the announcement. It is a positive message.”

Healing and deliverance

Fr. José Fortea, a Spanish priest and expert in demonology, will speak on healing and deliverance this month.

English: 7-9 p.m., May 29 at St. Timothy Parish, 1730 W. Guadalupe Road, Mesa.

Spanish: 5-10:30 p.m. May 30 at the Phoenix Convention Center, 100 N. 3rd St., Phoenix.

Registration is required for both events. The Spanish language event will cost $25.

Info: (602) 354-2380.