Exorcists wanted, and fast

FESCHUK: In the throes of a serious shortage, the Church tries out some new strategies

Looking for work? Seeking a new challenge? Now may be the perfect time to consider a career in the exciting field of demon exorcism.

The U.S. Roman Catholic Church is in dire need of dedicated professionals with the courage and theatrical overacting required to cast out evil spirits from the bodies of the faithful. American bishops even held a conference last weekend in Baltimore to train clergy on the tactical points of coaxing a demon from its human host. That’s one souvenir conference tote bag we’d all like to have: Exorcism 2010—The power of Christ compels you?.?.?.?to support our sponsors!

The New York Times summed up the Church’s predicament: “There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists, but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil.”

You can imagine the mishaps that ensue. When a newbie exorcist is pressed into action before he’s ready, it’s easy to panic and grab the wrong magical weapon. Note to rookies: a silver bullet kills a werewolf, garlic wards off vampires and a Big Mac lures Kirstie Alley down from a tree. You want the crucifix, the holy water and, if Hollywood has taught us anything about exorcisms, a few Wet-Naps to clean yourself up afterwards.

The Times also revealed that being an exorcist is trickier than it looks. It’s no easy task to discern if people are genuinely possessed by evil. Many just want attention, while some may be at the mercy of other forces—such as a vengeful ghost or, in the case of Creed fans, bad taste.

For those who are truly possessed, it can come as a blow to discover that the demon inside is a mere minion. We all like to think we’re special enough that the Devil himself would choose us to be the instrument of his nefarious will—but if Satan is inside you or me, then who’s in Tom Hanks?

The shortage of exorcists is just the latest headache for the Catholic Church. Its legion of worshippers is in decline across much of the globe. Enrolment in its schools is down. And there’s the devastating fallout from the ongoing sex abuse scandal, not to mention all the time and resources being devoted to keeping the gays in their place.

This makes it tough to focus on recruiting new priests. Apparently, low pay and lifelong celibacy aren’t the draw they once were. And frankly, the Catholic leadership isn’t helping itself with some of its recent decisions.

First, a public relations firm in France was hired to make the priesthood seem an attractive lifestyle option. It distributed thousands of postcards that featured an attractive young man holding a cardboard cutout of a priest’s collar and jacket. Printed on the postcard were the words: “Why not?

Why not? That’s the slogan? What—was “The Catholic Church: Meh” already taken? It makes you wonder about other slogans that didn’t make the cut, like maybe “Chastity: It’s not just for homely fat guys anymore!” Or perhaps they considered emphasizing the priesthood’s lack of a commute, proclaiming on billboards: “If you were an instrument of God, you’d be home by now!”

Second, Pope Benedict keeps dumping on everything that young people like. He has assailed the “destructive” power of television. He’s described money and power as “the snares of evil.” Just this past week, he expressed grave concern about the Internet, saying it is blurring the line between truth and illusion—which is unacceptable because as we all know that’s the job of religion.

But being a badass priest who roams the country dressed in black and doing exorcisms—that’s the kind of career that today’s kids can get excited about. Duking it out with demons. Going mano-a-mano with Lucifer. Getting to go to funerals without having to wear a tie.

While it awaits this influx of young exorcists, the Church needs to buy time with the possessed. I suggest a standard delaying tactic:

Dear person under the control of Satan or his flunkies—Are you sure you want an exorcism? Maybe the demon inside is the most interesting thing about you. Sure, it gets a little much with the bed shaking and the projectile vomiting, but at least you get noticed at parties. Yours, Catholicism.