“That is a possessed woman there,” says Fr Vincenzo Taraborelli as he points up to an 18th Century fresco in his Roman church. “They’re holding her with her mouth open. She has little devils coming out of her body. She’s being freed.”
It is a scene the 79-year-old priest says he knows well. For the past 27 years, Fr Taraborelli has performed exorcisms – the Catholic rite of expelling evil spirits.
He stumbled into the job when a fellow priest needed help.
“I didn’t know what it was, I hadn’t studied it,” the father says. “He told me what to do. I was totally ignorant.”
He has since become one of Rome’s busiest exorcists, and the Catholic Church is struggling to find younger successors.
Working three days a week from a windowless room at the back of his church near the Vatican, he often sees up to 30 people every day.
“Before doing exorcisms I urge people to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist, and I ask them to bring me their prognosis. I’m in touch with many psychologists who send their patients here.
On one side of the room, a cabinet is filled with hundreds of small statues of angels. In a drawer, he keeps a supply of sweets to hand out to his visitors. On the wall is an official document showing his qualification as an exorcist.
Fr Taraborelli’s desk is crowded with papers, photos, and prayer books. He sits in a simple chair; those who come to see him sit opposite him.
Before doing exorcisms I urge people to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. I ask them to bring me their prognosis.”
Fr Vincenzo Taraborelli
“First of all, I get the room ready,” he says. “Then if the person is not doing well, I try to calm them down reassure them. I invite them to join me in prayer. But many of them when they come here are already disturbed.”
He looks through his copy of the Catholic Church’s exorcism rites. He’s had to tape it back together to stop it from falling apart. Amidst the pile of papers on his desk, he finds the cross he uses to expel evil spirits.
His most notable case involved a married woman he treated for 13 years.
“Another man, who was a Satanist, wanted her,” he remembers. “She refused. So this man told her: ‘You’ll pay for this.’ He cast so-called spells to attract her to him, twice a week.
“Then they came to me, in this room. I started to pray, and she went into a trance. She would blurt out insults, blasphemies. I quickly understood she was possessed.
“As the rite continued, she started feeling worse and worse. So when I told the devil: ‘In the name of Jesus, I order you to go away’, she started to vomit little metal pins, five at a time.
“Aside from pins she would also vomit hair braids, little stones, pieces of wood. It sounds like something from another world right? Instead, it’s something from this world.”