Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel

Hello Bishop. I would like to ask you what is your opinion of the exorcism of Anneliese Michel. Do you think the reason the exorcism was unsuccessful was because the the bishop had delayed any exorcism to be performed on her, or the exorcism was unsuccessful because of lack of faith on the part of Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt? - Ruben

Anneliese Michel (21 September 1952 – 1 July 1976) was a Roman Catholic who many believe was possessed by demons. She was born in Klingenberg, Bavaria, Germany,  and raised in a fairly strict family. A devout girl, she tried to make reparations for the sins of wayward priests and drug addicts by sleeping on a bare floor in the middle of winter.

In 1968, when Anneliese was sixteen and still in high school, she began to suffer from convulsions. Court findings have her experiencing her first epileptic attack in 1969. It was then that a neurologist at the Psychiatric Clinic Würzburg diagnosed her with grand mal epilepsy.

Anneliese soon started to experience demonic hallucinations while praying. She also began to hear voices, which told her that she was damned. By 1973, Anneliese was suffering from depression and had suicidal thoughts. Her behavior became increasingly bizarre. She tore off her clothes, tried to eat coal and licked up her own urine.

Being admitted to an unnamed psychiatric hospital did not improve Michel's health. Her depression began to deepen and she grew increasingly frustrated with medical intervention as it did not improve her condition. Long-term medical treatment proved unsuccessful. Her condition, including her depression, worsened with time.

Having centred her life around her religious faith, Michel began to attribute her condition to demonic possession. She became intolerant of sacred places and objects, such as the crucifix, which she attributed to her own demonic possession. Throughout the course of the Catholic rites Michel underwent, she was also prescribed antipsychotic drugs, which she may or may not have stopped taking.

In June 1970, Michel suffered a third seizure at the psychiatric hospital she had been staying in and was prescribed anticonvulsants for the first time. The name of this drug is not known, and it did not bring about immediate alleviation of Michel's symptoms. She also continued talking about what she called "devil faces," seen by her during various times of the day. She became convinced that conventional medicine would not work or help her situation. Growing increasingly adamant that her illness was of a spiritual kind, she appealed to the Church to perform an exorcism. That same month, she was prescribed another drug, Aolept (pericyazine), which is a phenothiazine with general properties similar to those of chlorpromazine: pericyazine is used in the treatment of various psychoses, including schizophrenia and disturbed behavior.

In November 1973, Michel started her treatment with Tegretol (carbamazepine), which is an antiepileptic drug. Michel took this medicine frequently, until shortly before her death.

In 1975, when Anneliese was 23-years-old, an older woman who accompanied Anneliese Michel on a pilgrimage concluded that Anneliese was suffering from demonic possession because Michel was unable to walk past a certain icon of Jesus Christ and refused to drink the water of a holy spring. An exorcist in a nearby town examined Michel and returned a diagnosis of demonic possession. The bishop issued permission to perform the rite of exorcism according to the Rituale Romanum of 1614.

She and her parents were convinced that she was possessed. After years of unsuccessful psychiatric treatments, they gave up on medical treatment and chose to rely solely on the exorcisms for healing. The rites of exorcism were performed over the course of about ten months in 1976. A total of sixty-seven exorcism sessions were held, one or two each week, some lasting up to four hours. Michel at this time was refusing medical care, refusing to eat, and talking about her death being a form of atonement for other people's sins.

On 1 July 1976, Anneliese Michel died in her sleep. The autopsy report stated that her death resulted from the malnutrition and dehydration due to almost a year of semi-starvation during which time the rites of exorcism took place.

After an investigation, the state prosecutor maintained that Michel's death could have been prevented even one week before she died. He charged all four defendants — Pastor Ernst Alt and Father Arnold Renz as well as the parents — with negligent manslaughter for failing to call a medical doctor to address her eating disorder.

The trial started on 30 March 1978 in the district court and drew intense interest. Before the court, the doctors claimed the woman was not possessed, although Dr Richard Roth, who was asked for medical help by Father Alt, allegedly said after the exorcism he witnessed on 30 May 1976, that "there is no injection against the Devil, Anneliese."

The priests were defended by church-paid lawyers, and the parents were defended by Erich Schmidt-Leichner. Schmidt-Leichner claimed that the exorcism was legal and that the German constitution protected citizens in the unrestricted exercise of their religious beliefs.

The defence played tapes recorded at the exorcism sessions, sometimes featuring what was claimed to be "demons arguing," as proof that Michel was indeed possessed. Both priests presented their deeply held conviction that she was possessed and that she was finally freed by exorcism just before she died.

Ultimately, the accused were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence and were sentenced to a six months in prison, which was later suspended, and three years of probation. Though a far lighter sentence than anticipated by many people, it was more than demanded by the prosecution who had asked that the priests only be fined and that the parents be found guilty but not punished.

Before the trial, the parents asked the authorities for permission to exhume the remains of their daughter. They did so as a result of a message received from a Carmelite nun from the district of Allgäu in southern Bavaria. The nun had told the parents that a vision had revealed to her that their daughter's body was still intact and that this authenticated the supernatural character of her case. The official reason presented by the parents to authorities was that Michel had been buried in undue hurry in a cheap coffin. Almost two years after the burial, on 25 February 1978, her remains were replaced in a new oak coffin lined with tin.

The official reports state that the body bore the signs of consistent deterioration. The accused exorcists were discouraged from seeing the remains of Michel. Father Arnold Renz later stated that he had been prevented from entering the mortuary.

Bishop Josef Stangl, who approved the exorcism and corresponded by letter on the case with the two priests a dozen times, also was investigated by state authorities. It was decided not to indict him or summon him to appear at the trial due to his age and poor health. The bishop stated that his actions were all within the bounds of canon law.

The courtroom case, called the Klingenberg Case, became the basis of Scott Derrickson's 2005 cinema film The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

I cannot sit in judgement on the faith, or lack of it, of those administering the exorcism or, indeed, whether or not the exorcism was successful or not. What I do know is that both priests stated that Anneliese Michel was finally freed by exorcism just before she died..

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