Pope John Paul II blessed and comforted a distraught young woman who created a disturbance in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican said, but it refused to characterize the encounter as an exorcism.
Il Messaggero , the leading daily newspaper in Rome, ran a story this weekend quoting Father Gabriele Amorth, head of the International Association of Exorcists, as saying the pope performed an exorcism on the 19-year-old Italian after Wednesday’s audience.
The report said the young woman had been seated in the front rows usually reserved for the disabled, and apparently became very excited as the pope blessed the crowd of some 30,000 faithful. The woman, who was not identified, started yelling disjointed phrases in Italian as well as streams of words in unknown languages.
Failed Attempts to Calm Woman
Amorth, 74, was quoted as saying he had previously performed at least two exorcisms on the young woman without success. The priest said he has conducted exorcisms on 3,000 people in 14 years.
Il Messaggero said the young woman’s parents, who had been sitting with her in St. Peter’s Square, had hoped that seeing the pope would help their daughter.
A Vatican official, Archbishop Giovanni Danzi, was nearby at the time of the young woman’s outburst and tried to calm her. He showed her a crucifix and an image of the Virgin Mary, but she shouted insults at him, Il Messaggero reported.
It said Danzi advised Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope’s private secretary, who told the pope about the situation.
John Paul saw the obviously distressed woman as he was about to leave the square in his “popemobile,” but he got out of the vehicle to spend some time with her, said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.
No Exorcism, Vatican Says
Navarro-Valls said the pope did spend “a few minutes” with the woman but, as far as he knew, performed no exorcism.
“First he blessed her,” the spokesman said. “He caressed her, he tried to calm her, bring her comfort.” The pope appeared to calm her down, he said.
“I don’t think I can say that the pope performed an exorcism ceremony,” the spokesman said, adding it was not clear that the young woman was possessed.
Danzi, contacted at his Vatican residence for comment on the report, said, “I have nothing to say.”
A formal papal aide, Cardinal Jacques Martin, said the pope performed an exorcism on an Italian woman in 1982. Last year, the Vatican issued new guidelines issued for driving out evil spirits. These guidelines stressed the power of evil and reflected John Paul II’s efforts to convince the skeptical that the devil is real and present in the world.
ABCNEWS’ Phoebe Natanson in Rome, Lucrezia Cuen in London and The Associated Press contributed to this report.