Fossombrone, Italy — Father Aurelio Gino Pela is a man of God, a Roman Catholic priest who tends a flock of the still devout in the central Italian province of Le Marche. But a few times each month he sits down with Satan.
Pela isn’t a character from a Hollywood film, or a rogue priest straying into the bizarre. He’s a Vatican-appointed exorcist, one of hundreds in Italy. Commissioned by the Church in spiritual warfare, Pela and his colleagues extract demons from those plagued by unexplainable behavior.
Exorcism isn’t a hidden rite here, but an accepted part of spiritual life. The Vatican oversees an exorcism bureaucracy — a structured, organized system with official exorcists appointed by local bishops. And in a country where a study published by the Italian Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana and Jesus revealed that 34% of the residents believe in demonology, it’s not surprising exorcists like Aurelio stay busy.
Father Pela claims to perform an average of 15 exorcisms week, which would come to more than 2,000 during his three-year career.
It wasn’t a job he applied for; he was recruited by an old friend, the bishop of the nearby city of Fano, on the Adriatic Sea.
“I was appointed exorcist by the bishop of Fano because as a rule the exorcist of a diocese is the bishop, and then it’s the bishop that appoints someone to substitute him or aid him with this duty,” Pela explaine. “Initially I didn’t want to be an exorcist, because it’s a heavy sort of duty, it involves risks, even personal ones.”
But Pela accepted the responsibility, and today he goes about this most unusual calling with an almost business-like daily routine...
Some are simply mentally ill, he said. “They need to be cured by a psychiatrist, because many of them have problems of this sort. So I tell them that a prayer of liberation is important, but maybe it’s at least as important for them to be followed by a psychiatrist.”
Major exorcisms are for cases of true demonic possessions. “Diabolic possessions — these cases are really rare,” said Pela.