Reports are swirling that Pope Francis was filmed performing an exorcism after Sunday’s Pentecost Mass.
Footage of the Pope placing his hands on the head of a child sitting in a wheelchair was captured by Catholic satellite channel TV2000.
The Pope is seen in St Peter’s Square, having a brief conversation with the priest standing behind the child before placing his hands on the child’s head for about 15 seconds.
The boy appears to convulse, his mouth dropping wide open before he exhales sharply.
TV2000, which is owned by the Italian Bishops Conference, says: “The exorcists who have seen the images have no doubt: this was a liberation prayer from evil, or a real act of exorcism.”
Father Gabriele Amorth, the Catholic Church's best known exorcist and the head of the International Association of Exorcists told La Repubblica newspaper: "The Pope is also the Bishop of Rome, and like any bishop he is also an exorcist.
"We live in an age in which God has been forgotten. And wherever God is not present, the Devil reigns."
The Vatican downplayed the incident, telling the Associated Press that Francis: “Didn’t intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone.”
Last year the Catholic diocese of Milan created a special exorcism hotline to cope with demand for the service.
Monsignor Angelo Mascheroni, the diocese's chief exorcist since 1995, told IncrociNews: "We get many requests for names, addresses and phone numbers; that’s why we’ve set up a switchboard in the curia from Monday to Friday from 2.30pm to 5pm.”
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Exorcism is (1) the act of driving out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, or things, which are believed to be possessed or infested by them, or are liable to become victims or instruments of their malice; (2) the means employed for this purpose, especially the solemn and authoritative adjuration of the demon, in the name of God, or any of the higher power in which he is subject.
The former Pope, Benedict XVI never performed an exorcism, while Francis is on record as having performed them, as was Benedict’s predecessor John Paul II, the Irish Independent reports.