'Pope Francis Effect' Partly Credited With Increase in Exorcisms

PHOTO: Pope Francis holds the pastoral staff as he celebrates an Armenian-Rite Mass to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, in St. Peters Basilica, at the Vatican, April 12, 2015.PlayGregorio Borgia/AP Photo
WATCH Exorcism Rise Credited in Part to Pope Francis

Pope Francis has another feather to add to his pontiff hat. He has been credited, in part, for easing American-Cuba relations, riling Turkish sentiment by referring to an Armenian genocide, and, lately, for an increase in the number of exorcisms performed globally.

The Argentine pope has, indeed, encouraged exorcism priests in their fight against "the Devil's works" and said late last year the Catholic Church needs to help "those possessed by evil.”

The diocese of Milan, for instance, increased the number of exorcism priests to 12 from five recently, The Telegraph reported, and the diocese of Rome doubled its number to 10. In fairness, the Milan diocese hotline for exorcisms predates Francis’ papacy by a year.

"People believe possession of Satan is a problem and the Catholic Church is making sure they have quality control on these issues," Steven Engler, professor of religious studies at Canada's Mount Royal University in Calgary, told ABC News today.

The pope's roots in Latin America may be an influence on growing attention and activity, Engler said.

PHOTO: A priest who is a student of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum reads the Bible during class break while the Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation annual conference is taking place on May 5, 2014 in Rome. Italy The Washington Post/Getty Images
A priest who is a student of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum reads the Bible during class break while the Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation annual conference is taking place on May 5, 2014 in Rome. Italy

"Pope Francis' openness about speaking about the devil reflects his Latin American background and that reflects an openness in the church in using this particular lens for problems that people experience," Engler said.

The "phenomenon" of exorcisms has been noticeable in most parts of the world, including in Africa and Latin America, Engler said, and they are increasingly accepted in Europe because of the pope’s openness.

PHOTO: Don Aldo Buonaiuto holds the necessary objects for his exorcisms on Jan. 12, 2012 in Rome, Italy. Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Don Aldo Buonaiuto holds the necessary objects for his exorcisms on Jan. 12, 2012 in Rome, Italy.

Engler said he doesn't believe there's an increase in symptoms described as demonic possession. But he said there has been an increase in the past decade in the number of priests who are trained for exorcisms, which is an official Catholic ritual, like baptisms.

"Religions offer a diagnosis and prescription for the human predicament: what’s the problem and solution? The Christian answer has been a little ambivalent," Engler said. "The problem is original sin or Satan, and those are two sides of the same coin."

In Brazil over the years, Engler has noted billboards from local Catholic communities advertising exorcisms, in part while competing with the Pentecostal church.

"If there’s a boom, it’s not a boom in people needing exorcisms,” he said, “it’s the Catholic Church trying to manage the issue.”