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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 February, 2005, 05:11 GMT
Rome priests get exorcism lessons
By Mark Duff
BBC News, Milan

Roman Catholic priest
A two-month course is being offered at the university
A Vatican-backed college is launching a new course for exorcists - Roman Catholic priests who cast out evil spirits from the possessed.

Lessons at the prestigious Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum will include the history of Satanism and its context in the Bible.

Practical lessons in psychology and the law will also feature.

Concern is high in Italy about the influence of Satanic cults - especially among the young and impressionable.

And there will also be seminars at the Athenaeum, or Upra as it is known, on the spiritual, liturgical and pastoral work involved in being an exorcist.

The ideal exorcist

Father Giulio Savoldi has been Milan's official exorcist for more than 20 years.

He did not have the benefit of training but is in no doubt about what he would include in any course for candidates to take on the task of fighting evil in the raw - and the qualities needed of any would-be exorcist.

"I would include the supernatural force - the presence of God - and then suggest that the man picked to do this kind of work be wise and that he should know how to gather strength not just from within himself but from God," he says.

"Because each case of possession is different, each person possessed is different. Those studying to become exorcists should also study psychology and know how to distinguish between a mental illness and a possession.

"And - finally - they need to be very patient."

Next week - in a case that has captured the public imagination - a court outside Milan is due to consider murder charges against a group of young people accused of killing two teenagers as part of a Satanic rite.

For Father Savoldi, the case just confirms his belief in the power of evil to make the most of human weakness.

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