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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Last Exorcism

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Ashley Bell, Patrick Fabian, Louis Herthum and Caleb Landry Jones star in "The Last Exorcism." The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience.
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." So says the haunted Prince of Denmark in the first act of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," and so the main character discovers in the middling fright fest "The Last Exorcism" (Lionsgate).

While the gore factor is kept comparatively low in director Daniel Stamm's Gothic outing, an ambiguous approach to faith and a dark occult atmosphere make this feature inappropriate for all but well-grounded and judicious adult viewers.

Preparing to perform the titular rite, as the film opens, is Baton Rouge-based evangelical minister and self-confessed charlatan Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). Alarmed by news reports of a boy who was injured during an exorcism, Cotton has decided to abandon the practice, which he regards as nothing more than an opportunity to fleece over-credulous believers.

To publicize the trickery behind his supposed confrontations with Satan, Cotton has invited documentary filmmaker Iris Reisen (Iris Bahr) and her cameraman to tag along for his swan song as he responds to the anguished summons of fervent farmer Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum). The farmer fears that his 16-year-old daughter, Nell (Ashley Bell), is possessed.

Armed with elaborate special-effects gadgetry, including a crucifix that gives off smoke at the press of a button, Cotton arrives at the predictably spooky Sweetzer homestead and goes through the motions of liberating Nell's soul. But he gets more than he bargained for when the girl begins to show signs that she is indeed in the grip of something, or someone, supernatural.

Though shaky on the details -- as an evangelical, for instance, Cotton would be far more likely to make use of a plain cross than a crucifix in his staged efforts to send the devil packing -- the script by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland does toy cleverly with the modern presumption that all phenomena can be explained scientifically.

But the corrosive cynicism Cotton displays in the buildup to his encounter with Nell, which includes scornful references to an "exorcism academy" sponsored by the Vatican, will not sit well with Catholic audiences. And the diabolical doings of the movie's climax are not for the impressionable.

The film contains a complex treatment of religion, sacrilegious activity, some gruesome images, at least two uses of profanity, brief sexual talk and references to incest and homosexuality. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Alphonsus Liguori: 
		<p>Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.</p>
		<p>In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.</p>
		<p>At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but he soon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups. </p>
		<p>He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions. </p>
		<p>He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese. </p>
		<p>His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united. </p>
		<p>At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His <i>Glories of Mary</i> is one of the great works on that subject, and his book <i>Visits to the Blessed Sacrament</i> went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.</p> American Catholic Blog Ultimately there is no friend who can fully understand us, who can walk with us all the way. We must go forward and walk on our own in response to who we are and who we are called to be in God. —Thomas Merton

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