Inside his small third floor office at Vatican City, the Rev. Gabriel Amorth prepares for his next client. In the corner, is a bed with restraining ropes. On the walls, pictures of the Virgin Mary. Near an armchair there is a Bible and other copies of prayers.
Looking his 85 years, the priest is still dressed in his pajamas, but his face shows signs of energy that has helped sustain him as the chief exorcist for the Vatican during the last 25 years.In a rare interview with the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, Amorth strongly defends his work and that of the Association of Exorcists.
"The devil is not everywhere," he says. "But when he is present it is painful." He says he has treated over 70,000 cases of demonic possession.
"The devil is pure spirit, invincible. He is shown with the painful blasphemies coming from the person which he possesses. He can stay hidden. He can speaks different languages. He can transform himself," Amorth says.
It can take six or seven of Amorth's assistants to hold down someone possessed. Often, he says, they choke up nails or shards of glass."None of this scares me he says," touching a small pouch where he holds the vomited artifacts. "I know that God is using me for this work."
But even the fearless priest becomes still, his voice grave when asked whether the devil can strike inside the Vatican City.
"He has tried already. He did it in 1981 by attacking John Paul II by working with those who armed Ali Agca. And also now with the attack on Christmas Eve night when the crazy woman pushed down Benedict XVI."His face serious, the many lines on his face clear, Amorth confesses, "The devil resides in the Vatican."
While admitting that it is hard to prove, he says the consequences of the devil's work are evident: Cardinals who don't believe in Jesus, bishops who are linked with the devil. As early 1972 Pope Paul VI talked about the "smoke of Satan" that hovered in the Vatican, but it is more recent events like the pedophilia scandal the church is confronted with and the grisly murder by a Swiss guard of his commander and wife that Amorth uses as evidence of the devil's presence.
His favorite movie, of course, is "The Exorcist."
Pope Benedict XVI is a proponent of the work of exorcists, and Amorth says that he had met with him on more than one occasion when then Cardinal Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Amorth says the Pope is committed to helping him receive a recommendation from the Church's Congregation of the Divine Cult that will confirm each and every Catholic diocese in the world should have at least one exorcist on its staff.
There are differences of opinion about exorcism inside the church, La Repubblica adds. Some are skeptical, some suspicious, other resistant.
"I believe bishops who don't appoint exorcists are committing a mortal sin," Amorth says.The toll of his work is clear. He recently collapsed from the seven days a week, 24 hour a day, on call schedule. The table in his office is covered with small bottles of medicines. He says that he relies heavily on lay people to assist him in his efforts.
"I work also on Christmas and Easter, " he sighs.
He has moved offices more than 23 times after fellow priests complained of the screams from his office at all hours of the day and night. Slamming doors, overturning chairs, rolling eyes and vomiting are part of the exorcist's daily routine.
"Some have vomited metal the size of a human finger, others have vomited rose petals," he says.
The exorcist's guide is the Scriptures, his tools are prayer.
"More than 90 percent of the cases of people who are possessed come from spells," he says. "People with anger or vendettas seek out magicians to cast spells and they are paid handsomely."
The fact that the devil has penetrated the halls of the Vatican should make the most reverent of Catholics shudder. Not so according to Amorth and his colleagues. Their work is to protect you.
"The principle responsibility of the exorcist is to free man from the fear of the devil."