Famed Exorcist Comes to Miami, Puts Santeria on Blast

Father Jose Antonio Fortea, author of a famous treaty on demonology, spent about an hour with the press at Miami's Archdiocese on Friday. He framed the conversation around the idea that people are turning toward secular solutions or other faiths to overcome spiritual obstacles.

Fortea, who is from Spain, said that although exorcisms are uncommon last-ditch resorts, the Vatican has emphasized the rite in recent years out of necessity. The Catholic Church does not advertise the number of exorcisms it approves annually, but some statistics do exist: Between 1991 and 2001, the number of Catholic demon-expellers in the United States almost doubled. Fortea claimed that modern culture has weakened the soul and made it more susceptible to possession.

"In a Christian society where everybody prays to the Lord, the room for the activity of demons is very weak," he said. "In a society where you look toward sex, power and ambition, you have no room for God."

It is also the belief of the Catholic Church that there's no remedy for possession other than prayer. Although exorcisms are performed in Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, Fortea chose to focus on Afro-Cuban belief systems for his Miami talk. "What I emphasize is that people should not resort to methods such as dark witchcraft, Santeria or similar things," he said.

According to Ernesto Pichardo, the local babalawo who fought the Supreme Court for the right to practice animal sacrifice, Fortea is making the media rounds to actively combat other faiths, which have taken converts from Catholics in the past two decades. While Evangelical denominations of Christianity have weakened Catholicism's grip on the European faithful, many Cuban Miamians turn to Santeras or Santeros for guidance. The priest, Pichardo says, was employing scare tactics to win people back to the Church and shoehorning the concept of Satan -- a Catholic invention -- into a conversation about the separate kinds of exorcisms that he and other Santeros perform every week.

"This is the return of the Spanish church Inquisition mentality," Pichardo says. "He's here to cause panic and confusion among Miami-Dade's residents, to create intolerance, and to sell his book."

Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti

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