"I said to John Paul II, I meet too many bishops who do not believe in the devil," he said. "And he answered, 'Those who do not believe in the devil, do not believe in the Gospel.' And John Paul II also performed various exorcisms. So he was a person who believed … and the present pope, Benedict XVI, he too really believes. And he is one of the members of the commission that drew up the ritual for exorcisms."
The Vatican prohibits photographing any officially sanctioned Roman Catholic exorcism, but priests who have performed them said exorcisms can look and feel remarkably similar to the 1973 Hollywood blockbuster "The Exorcist."
Gramolazzo recounted, "There are exorcisms in which the things you see in the film happen … people who lift off the ground, people whose skin is cut, people who vomit strange things. … The first exorcism I saw of an 18-year-old girl who had phenomena, her head rotated, her hands and her arms spun round, cuts would suddenly appear on her skin, certainly not made by her."
While the kind of full body possessions depicted in the movie do happen, official exorcists also note they are extremely rare. Satan, they claim, is more likely to work in more subtle ways.
As Amorth explained, "His main activity is to tempt man to fall into sin and away from God. Satan does everything he can to avoid being discovered … And he's also pleased to be projected with bat wings and with hooves at his feet, with long ears and things like that. Because by rendering him ridiculous what people do is deny his existence."
Some are not so ready to deny the devil's existence. A 2005 online poll of 889 U.S. adults conducted by Harris Interactive show that 61 percent of adult Americans believe in Satan.
But even in a world they see as vulnerable to Satan's maneuverings, leading Catholic exorcists say there is a safe haven.
"It is faith, faith, faith, only faith," said Gramolazzo.
The most well-known priests who perform the rite, like Amorth, say exorcism is only part of a larger mission.
"It is a ministry," he said, "which is gratifying, a spiritual gratification of bringing souls back to God."