The Catholic Church has paid homage to Italian priest and exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, Gabriele Pietro Amorth, who died in Rome on Friday (16 September) at the age of 91. Amorth, founder of the International Association of Exorcists (IAE), passed away weeks after being admitted to a hospital in Rome following a lung disease.
Amorth was born in Modena, Emilia-Romagna region, in 1925. At the age of 18, he joined the Catholic partisan association Brigata Italia and became commander of the third battalion during World War II.
Following the end of the conflict, he joined the Christian Democratic Party and became a Roman Catholic Priest in the 1950s.
In 1985, Amorth was appointed exorcist of the Diocese of Rome by the Cardinal Ugo Poletti. He has claimed to have carried out up to 160,000 exorcisms.
The priest said he had witnessed at least 100 demonic manifestations, while the rest of the people he treated were disturbed, mentally ill or under "demoniac influence". He also claimed possessed people - who, he said, included Hitler and Stalin - vomit splinters of glass and iron.
In an interview with La Repubblica, Amorth hailed the 1973 film The Exorcist as an accurate depiction of what it was like to be possessed by the Devil.
"From their mouths, anything can come out – pieces of iron as long as a finger, but also rose petals," he said, describing possessed people. "When the possessed dribble and slobber, and need cleaning up, I do that too. Seeing people vomit doesn't bother me. The exorcist has one principal duty - to free human beings from the fear of the Devil."
Amorth founded the IAE in the 1990, in order to make other priests aware of the "dramatic reality of exorcism", which he claimed had been often undervalued. The association was later officially recognised by the Vatican.
In 1994, the IAE was expanded into an international group that holds biannual conventions where members from all over the world share their experiences and methods.
According to La Stampa newspaper, Amorth defined exorcism as "a form of charity that benefits people who suffer. Without any doubt, it is an act of benevolence both corporal and spiritual."
In a 2004 interview, the exorcist claimed he was used to communicating with the Devil in Latin. "I speak with the Devil every day. I talk to him in Latin. He answers in Italian. I have been wrestling with him, day in day out, for 14 years," he said.
Amorth became the Catholic Chruch's most famous exorcist. He was also known for some of his controversial claims including his views on Harry Potter, which he said encouraged the cult of black magic and wizardry.
The exorcist also discouraged the practice of yoga, claiming it fostered the worship of Hinduism and other Eastern religions.
"Practising yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter," he said during a 2011 film festival, where he was invited to introduce The Rite, a film about exorcism.
Commenting on the sex abuse scandals that hit the Catholic Church, he said it was a consequence of the fact the Devil lived "in the Vatican".
Amorth was the author of several books including An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories, personal accounts of his work.