Andrew Watts

The Anglican priests charged with exorcising evil spirits

Still from the 1973 film, The Exorcist (Getty Images)

Last month, a trailer for the new Exorcist film – the scariest trailer ever, apparently – was released. The Exorcist: Believer isn’t out until Friday 13 October – just in time for Halloween – but Hollywood movies about demons are legion. This one follows The Pope’s Exorcist (released on Good Friday), in which Russell Crowe is a maverick exorcist who doesn’t play by the book, but gets results – despite the pen-pushers at (Vatican) City Hall.

The Reverend Canon Dr Jason Bray, the Bishop of St Asaph’s ‘deliverance minister’, will not be watching either film. He hasn’t even seen the original Exorcist – ‘I don’t go big on horror movies, overactive imagination, probably’ – although the cover of his book Deliverance shows him in a black coat and trilby, holding a leather bag, looking into the unknown in the Max von Sydow pose. (He giggles when I point this out, claiming it was the photographer’s whimsy.)

‘If someone’s pleading with me to give them an exorcism, I can pretty much guarantee they don’t need it’

Every Anglican diocese has people like Fr Jason, whom you’re going to call when there’s something strange in the neighbourhood. Parish priests are not supposed to tackle paranormal activity themselves, but refer it to their bishop; and the bishop will very quickly pass it on to his team of deliverance ministers, as they’re now called. Most of them are anonymous and discreet – my own diocese’s website says tersely that any priest who needs to contact the deliverance team will already have the mobile number – but Fr Jason was outed by a newspaper after speaking at a conference about clergy insurance. (Deliverance is not considered a ‘normal parish activity’ for insurance purposes, so has to be done under the bishop’s insurance.)

Since then, he has been explaining to disappointed journalists that his job is much more like the sitcom Rev than The Exorcist: ‘You almost wish that someone’s head would spin or they’d projectile vomit.

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