There were some serious expectations around The Pope’s Exorcist, the 2023 horror movie with Russell Crowe as Father Gabriele Amorth. The film claims to tell a story based on the life of the famous exorcist and the real cases he shared in his books. Admittedly, the movie is based on true events and loyal to two of Gabriel Amorth’s most popular books: let’s explore in detail what’s authentic, what’s fictional, and if an actual, specific case of exorcism inspired the movie.
You can watch the official trailer for The Pope’s Exorcist here on Youtube.
The Pope’s Exorcist: the true story and Father Gabriel Amorth books
In general, we can confirm that the movie The Pope’s Exorcist is based on the real exorcisms performed by Father Gabriel Amorth in his life. There is no documented case of an exorcism performed by Father Amorth in Segovia, Spain, on a little child named Henry, so it is safe to assume that the specific exorcism presented in the movie is fictional. But the characteristics of that exorcism, the conversations between the priest and the possessed kid, and most of the events we see are based on two of the most popular books written by Gabriele Amorth: An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories.
In those two books, Father Amorth neither mentions names nor tells the whole story of any exorcism he did. What he does is to explain what an exorcism is, how you assess that it is really needed, what kind of cases needs it, and what typically happens in an exorcism, based on his true experience. Gabriele Amorth was one of the most famous exorcists who ever existed: he was known for his extensive work in this area, having conducted thousands of exorcisms over the course of his career. He was also the founder of the International Association of Exorcists, an organization that brings together Catholic exorcists from around the world to share knowledge and experiences.
The Pope’s Exorcist presents many mechanisms confirmed by Gabriele Amorth in his books. For example, it is true that people possessed by demons can speak languages that those individuals never studied; they can deceive the interlocutors by leveraging on their sins and guilts, mixing lies with some truths to confuse them; it is also true that they can expel objects from their body, as it happens in the movie with the bird that comes out of the kid’s mouth. Those aspects, well presented in The Pope’s Exorcist, can be recognized in the true story of the exorcisms performed by Gabriel Amorth in his real life.
Even witnessing the demon temporarily leaving the possessed body and taking another one is something confirmed in Father Amorth’s books. What’s fictional, however, is the possibility that the exorcism asks the demon to possess himself: this cannot happen, as the word of God guides the exorcist, and the demons fear the power of their Lord. As The Pope’s Exorcist doesn’t fail to explain, even demons are subjected to God’s will and live in fear of His judgment. As the movie shows, a demon can possess an individual only under certain circumstances, like the pain of a traumatic event.
In his books, Gabriele Amorth also confirms that demons are organized in a hierarchical structure. Asmodeus, the demon in The Pope’s Exorcism, is indeed an entity mentioned in the Bible and many other books, identified as the prince of hell. It is worth noting that the movie does a great job explaining the ideological battle Gabriel Amorth followed in his life about the true existence of evil: as his book An Exorcist Tells His Story explains, there is a lot of skepticism around the practice of exorcisms, even inside the Catholic Church, as many representatives don’t really believe in the existence of a demon that can possess a body and needs to be fought through this ancient practice.
This is probably the most authentic aspect of The Pope’s Exorcist, based on Gabriele Amorth’s true story: the Italian priest always stated vigorously that evil exists, and the entire Christianity is based on the concept of temptation, sin, and the duty of living under the Word of God. As in the quote we read at the beginning of The Pope’s Exorcist, “When we jeer at the Devil and tell ourselves that he does not exist, that is when he is happiest”: misbelieving in the existence of the Devil and his demons is the best way to create the preconditions for their presence in our society. At the same time, Father Amorth explains in his books that we shouldn’t fear a demon if we live in communion with God because also demons, like everything else, are subjected to God’s will. There is no room for a demon in the life of a pure soul living in faith.
In conclusion, The Pope’s Exorcism intends to tell the true story of Father Gabriel Amorth, as it’s presented in his books. And that’s independent of the specific case shown in the movie, with the family living in Spain and a powerful demon coming directly from the years of the Spanish Inquisition.
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