CV NEWS FEED // “The job of the exorcist is not to cast out the devil. The job of the exorcist is to find out, ‘Why is the devil there?’”
Father Carlos Martins, who has been an exorcist for nearly two decades, spoke with CatholicVote’s Erika Ahern about the ongoing spiritual warfare that has taken over our culture. Fr. Martins discusses the rise of Satanism and the occult, his past experiences conducting exorcisms, media portrayals of exorcists, and what faithful Catholics can do.
Erika Ahern: Welcome to the special edition of LOOPcast, where we cover all things faith, culture, and politics from a Catholic perspective.
My guest today is Fr. Carlos Martins. He’s a priest with the Companions of the Cross, a religious community with the charism and mission of evangelization. He is a convert from atheism, and he discovered Jesus Christ and the Christian faith while an undergraduate.
He hosts what is currently the most successful podcast in Religion and Spirituality, The Exorcist Files. And you can find him at exorcistfiles.tv. I will put that link in the show notes if you’re interested.
Fr. Carlos Martins, welcome.
Fr. Martins: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.
Erika: Thanks so much. We wanted to talk to you because demonic activity and Satanism [are] actually hitting the headlines these days. SatanCon Boston 2023 is coming up at the end of April, and it’s a sold-out event.
And we wanted to talk to someone who has a background and deep understanding of this phenomenon in the Church.
Before we dig into the headlines, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, and your particular ministry?
Fr. Martins: Sure, yes. I have been an exorcist for the better part of 20 years. I have dealt with Satanism. I’ve dealt with cases of people who have become possessed because of Satanism.
The rise of Satanism is something that is inevitable simply because the notion of Christendom has been eclipsed. And so, with the fall of Christianity within the culture, then there is going to be inevitably a rise of paganism.
And so this neo-paganism is manifesting itself in different ways. One of them is this embrace of this concept, this nouveau concept for many people, which is Satanism.
Erika: In terms of – if we could just define Satanism, are the people engaging in things like SatanCon and dressing up and LARPing around in costumes, or are they actually worshiping the devil? Is that like Lucifer? Is that what’s going on for them?
Fr. Martins: I think that the majority, and even by their own admission, they are not doing that.
I think the majority of the people who attend this conference, they are completely atheistic and including a lack of belief in the supernatural entirely.
For them, Satan is merely a mythological figure who represents the rebel. And so that’s what they are embracing.
The organizers of the conference make note of that, and they’re not shy about that: that the majority [of attendees] have no supernatural belief.
This is being embraced as a way to embrace the concept of rebellion. Satan, for many of these folks, is simply a figure who refuses to be boxed into a category. He refuses to have limits placed on him from the outside…. Satan was created, as we all are, and has a moral universe, a moral dimension imposed upon him, and he rebelled against it.
And so that concept is very poetic for some people, and they embrace it.
Satanism itself you could describe as having two kinds of branches, two pools, I will say. And then there’s everything in between them.
On the one hand is what I would call an unorganized Satanism. And that’s just informal stuff like this SatanCon, and the people who would adhere to it cover the entire gamut with regards to their belief in the supernatural or not thereof.
And then at the other pole are people who absolutely believe in Satan and, by extension, believe in God.
But the poles are reversed where they grant their worship and their allegiance, their obedience to Satan, and believe in some way of mystery, in some way of foolishness, that he will usurp God’s power one day and come out victorious.
And there’s everything in between those two moves. Either one of them, any one of them, is misdirected.
Even those who hold Satan nothing more than a mythological figure, that kind of rebellion is one that is spiritually dangerous.
And we see this at SatanCon with their embrace of, for example, the concept of abortion and their actual sponsorship of abortions. And so, at the end of the day, it’s not just fun and games; a gathering of like-minded people who want to throw off invisible shackles, and no one gets hurt.
No. People are dying. Babies are dying with this – with the embrace of this expression.
Erika: As an exorcist, obviously, you’ve had experience with people who have somehow become possessed by an actual demon, by an angelic being who is a fallen angel. How does that happen to someone?
I told my kids as they’re like, “What are you doing today, Mom?”
And I’m like, “I’m interviewing a priest who is an exorcist.”
And the older ones are like, “Whoa.” But they get this kind of fear like, “Oh my gosh, I could just be walking down the street, and a demon leaps into me or something.”
But, how does someone actually get into a state where they need an exorcist?
Fr. Martins: Sure. So let me start in this manner. The job of the exorcist is not to cast out the devil. The job of the exorcist is to find out, “Why is the devil there?” What rights has he obtained? And then it’s his job to help the victim rescind those rights. Once those rights are rescinded, then the demon has to leave.
People have this notion that in an exorcism, it’s kind of a battle where the priest and the demon are up against one another, and they’re kind of bashing heads, so to speak. And that is not what happens.
The exorcism is simply the victim ceasing one relationship and embracing another. And the demon is going to do everything he can to prevent that.
And the job of the exorcist in that regard is to combat him through prayer, through the instruments and the tools that the Church has given him, and his own faith, which is a gift from God.
People don’t get demons from making or by making peanut butter sandwiches. …They don’t get them by riding the bus and sitting next to somebody who has a demon.
They get a demon by someone in authority giving the demon rights. And that’s the way I phrase it.
Most often, the person who is in authority is them, they themselves. They make an aberrant choice. And so the Church has a teaching on sin, that effectively, there are two kinds of sin, mortal sin and what we call venial sin.
A mortal sin is a sin so grave that it evicts the presence of grace out of us. It evicts the presence of the Holy Spirit out of us. And that eviction makes us property of the devil.
In other words, if we die in the state of sin, we will never see heaven.
When the devil obtains the rights that he does through someone committing a mortal sin, he has the right to possess [them].
Now, thankfully, possession is relatively rare. In other words, God doesn’t permit the devil to possess by and large. But when people get a mortal sin, the vast majority don’t get possessed.
But the devil can. He can. And so my job as an exorcist, anyone’s job as an exorcist, is to go in and pursue, for example, their sin record. You know, what have you been into? And we need to undo that.
Of course, venial sin is any lesser type of sin. A mortal sin would be the violation of one of the Ten Commandments – serious violation: the committing of murder, your dishonoring of your mother and father, an act of the occult, an act of sexual aberration, a violation of sexual morality apart from God’s plan.
Erika: I want to go back a little to what you said about sort of the Hollywood vision of the exorcism, where the priest and the devil are duking it out and having this exchange. Because I found [in] one of your posts, you were talking about [that] the role of the priest isn’t to engage and argue with the demon. If it has been ascertained that there is a demon present, this is a possession.
Your role isn’t to engage and somehow prove to the devil that he’s wrong.
And I thought you had a series of texts there where you were actually in contact with the demon over text, and your responses to the demon were purely, “Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. Saint Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us.” And then, you would text images of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
And I thought that was such an eye-opener for me as the utter humility that the exorcist has to have.
And can you talk a little bit about that? Why do you not engage in an argument with the devil? Because obviously, he’s saying these falsehoods, and you could say, “No, that’s a lie, and here’s all the evidence.” So, why is that?
Fr. Martins: In doing so, I’m merely imitating our Lord in the temptation in the desert. What He did was respond with Scripture. He didn’t rely on His own power, even though He is God incarnate.
But that was the time of His temptation. There was a time, and that was what happened in that desert at Jericho, that in that mysterious period of time after the 40 days of fasting, Our Lord was allowed to, in a sense, be a sitting duck to the temptations of the enemy.
And that’s how He responded. And, of course, what the devil was doing was attacking the Incarnation because God, in His divine nature, cannot be attacked. Only in his human nature can He be attacked.
And Christ did not trust His human nature. He replied with words from Scripture, which ironically is Himself. Christ is the eternal Word of God.
In replying with the Word of God, He’s replying with Himself. So, it’s not that those words are foreign to him, but they’re not rooted in His human nature. They’re rooted in His divine [nature].
And so that needs to be the response of every exorcist. You don’t rely on your own power. You rely on the power of God.
I never, never answer questions of the demon. I issue commands. That’s it. I issue commands.
Erika: Who teaches you to be an exorcist? Like, how do you become an exorcist? And who teaches you that?
Fr. Martins: One is asked to undertake the ministry typically by one’s bishop or by one’s religious superior. And then one receives a training. Most exorcists are trained by another exorcist.
It is very much a craft that is rooted in apprenticeship, and that is the best way to learn it. You kind of have on-the-job training by somebody who has learned how to do the ministry.
It is a ministry that is very much an art, and it takes a learning, and it takes an adapting – a learning of of the rules and how to engage in that particular landscape. Because a mistake can prove to be very dangerous for the exorcist himself and for the victim. You need to have some preparation going into the ministry because the Devil is very cunning.
He knows your particular weaknesses. He knows all about you. The demons have observed you your entire life, so they know what makes you tick. They know how to make a temptation maximally tempting. And so you, yourself, are not going to see all of your own pitfalls and shortcomings.
So you need to be given a list of rules and guidelines that you operate out of religiously, no pun intended.
Erika: Understood. I wanted to also talk to you because we have two films that were just released. And unfortunately, for many people, their only contact with the Catholic Church is through films about exorcisms and possession because it sells.
But we have these two movies just released on exorcism, and the trailers alone made my toes curl. The first is Nefarious, and the second is The Pope’s Exorcist with Russell Crowe. I think of him as the Gladiator, but hey, he could be a tough priest, too.
Now you’ve seen them. For people who are getting most of their information on this from Hollywood, what do these films get right, and what do they get wrong?
Fr. Martins: In fact, this year, in 2023, there are five films on exorcism to be released by Hollywood. There [are] these two, and there are three others. And this is, in fact, the 50th anniversary of the original movie The Exorcist. And so they are releasing a sequel to that one this year as well. Lots to feed on if you’re into the devil.
And I’m really not into him. Here’s what I will say. I found The Pope’s Exorcist profoundly disappointing because it was marketed as being a biopic of Fr. Gabriele Amorth, who was an exorcist for the Archdiocese of Rome in Italy. He had great notoriety. He was a holy man. He was a wonderful exorcist. He was somebody who was a man of the Church. He could be relied on.
However, the movie has really nothing to do with his life, other than the fact that there’s a character [with] his name. What is presented is not accurate. The conspiracy that the Vatican is hiding – that there was a pact made [with] the devil centuries ago – I just think it is just a product of the imagination. It’s not rooted in anything real.
Erika: Sounds like The Da Vinci Code.
Fr. Martins: It’s Da Vinci Code stuff. There’s a Da Vinci Code-esque-ness about the thing. So, I found it profoundly disappointing because what Russell Crowe and Sony Pictures are going after there is straight horror. It’s a horror movie. It’s not rooted in reality. It’s rooted in, “Let’s just create something that gets you spooked while you’re in the theater.” And that kind of exhilaration [is what] some people appreciate.
I don’t appreciate it. It doesn’t work for me. But I found, frankly, the way that it was marketed, there was a dishonesty about that. And I found that distasteful.
The other movie is Nefarious. I have the opposite to say about that. In fact, I can’t really speak highly enough about it.
The script is a work of genius. It is not interested in presenting the demonic rage, the manifestations that we are used to in a movie of exorcism: levitations, objects being thrown, grotesque language, and disgusting things.
There’s none of them. There’s not a single four-letter word in the movie. There’s no sex scene, there’s no gratuitous car chase. There’s no kind of conspiracy [or] plots that are uselessly woven into the movie.
What there is is a profoundly geniusly written dialog in which the demonic intellect is presented, and it takes the viewer into the mind of the demon in such a way that you are able to appreciate the conundra that he wraps his victim under.
Anyone who is possessed is put in a conundrum by the devil, where his freedom is restricted … such that at the end of the day, he’s given basically two options. You can choose Option A or you can choose Option B. Either way, you’re damned. And then, of course, you can always opt to kill yourself.
And so there is another nested conundrum within that. The devil exercises control of his victim, and that is presented better than in any other movie in history. In fact, I’ve never seen any other movie project that dimension, and that is the most accurate thing that happens in a possession. It’s not scary, but it is revealing.
And some have described it as reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. Another reviewer described it as a kind of dramatically acted theology, and the theology really is first-rate. The acting is first-rate. I mean, it would be criminal if the actor who played the possessed demonic, who is in prison, isn’t considered for an Academy Award. It is absolutely brilliant.
He presents the switch – you have the victim talking now, and then there’s a switch, and now there’s the demon. It is absolutely true to life. I found every part of the movie true to life. And so what is depicted there is the way by which the devil attempts to quickly cover all the mouse holes, if you will, available to the victim and to exert and exercise his control.
Erika: That’s amazing. Everyone, go and support Nefarious. Just skip The Pope’s Exorcist.
What you’re saying is your experience is less head-spinning around people, vomiting blood, and scary levitations than it is this intellectual, psychological, twisted…
Fr. Martins: Absolutely. I’ve been an exorcist for a lot of years. When I go into a situation now – like, have I seen levitation? Absolutely. Have I seen the vomiting? Yes. Have I seen, you know, grotesque things or the demon causing diabolical phenomena to happen – inanimate objects being thrown in the air? Yes.
But you know what I point out to people is, okay, if you walked to the room and there’s someone levitating, that would probably make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, right?
Okay. What about the 28th time? What about the 228th time? You know, at that point, you probably wouldn’t even put down your cup of coffee, right? Because it’s become old hat.
Erika: Right, it’s habituated.
Fr. Martins: When one battles the demon enough, when one is in this situation as an exorcist would be, the demon stops presenting those things because they’re ineffective. And so what there always is is that battle over the victim’s freedom.
What I’m doing as an exorcist is I’m taking a drill, putting it in reverse, and I’m undoing the screws, the nuts, and the bolts that the demon has put in to establish his position.
I’m beginning to undo his apparatus. And the movie Nefarious captures that better than any I have ever seen. And the two writers who are also the two directors and the two producers, they’re devout Catholics, and they have had conversions to Catholicism. That conversion, that embrace of the faith has – you can see it in this movie.
They have informed themselves theologically, and what they have presented is something that has the force of a sledgehammer.
Erika: That’s awesome. And for better or for worse, most people get their theology from art, from film – at this point – and from television. And so to have an option where it’s presented truthfully is so refreshing. So, I really appreciate your sort of insider review.
I did want to ask you one more question. You can read stories in Christianity Today, especially non-Catholic publications, of sort of an awareness of the rise of the occult in our Western society. In your 20 years, have you observed that just anecdotally in your own ministry?
I think you were saying the secularization of the West, Satan steps in to fill the void. Obviously, because we are worshiping creatures, we have to worship something. How have you seen that rise of the occult play out in your ministry?
Fr. Martins: The abandonment of Christianity is the abandonment of a relationship. And so when that relationship with God is not there, one doesn’t have God’s protection.
One will make not just poor choices, but one is also subject, because of one’s past choices, to the ministry of the devil.
We see it everywhere today. We see it in the rise of the occult. We see, you know, mom and dad or even grandma purchasing a Ouija board for their kids and their friends when they have a sleepover. And it’s all done in fun and games. And, you know, nobody is believing that something demonic or supernatural is going to happen out of this experience.
But guess what? The kids often do, and it stays with them for years, even when they’re receiving the ministry of an exorcist. Because an exorcism is not magic.
You know, the average exorcism lasts a year and a half. And so putting that into a different scale: if one is receiving an exorcism once a week, on average, it takes 75 exorcisms to free somebody who is possessed. It is not an instantaneous thing. And in that year-and-a-half while that is going on, it is hell on earth for the victim. Typically, it’s really difficult for the victim. But we’re subjecting people to that with our embrace of the occult.
Middle-class women are going to the spa and they opt for a Reiki treatment. Reiki is a page straight out of the occult. It is a willing of energy and an energy that is undefined, or even when it is defined it’s an inanimate energy that the practitioner is purporting to will into existence upon the recipient.
That’s a straight act of the occult. That’s a spiritual action that is happening. You have a re-embrace of Freemasonry, and the Freemason oaths are all cultish from start to finish.
What we have is people inadvertently coming into contact with the demonic. We have the kind of aberrant sexual appetites that are there now, and the confusion surrounding our very identities. I’m thinking in terms of gender and in terms of how we view ourselves as persons. And the dominant view in reality now is to view ourselves as … minds trapped inside a body. The body is external to me. It belongs to me. It’s a possession, but it’s external in the sense that I can remake it and refashion it into anything I want.
Erika: Right. The “ghost in the machine.”
Fr. Martins: Exactly. We’re a “ghost in the machine.” That has implications. That is a playground for the Devil. Because when you lose your sense of identity, then the devil has you right [he wants you] because he’s going to fill that void with a different identity. And that’s the ministry that we’re empowering him with.
Erika: To turn from the devil’s ministry to yours, can you just tell us a little bit about The Exorcist Files Project? What’s your mission? What’s your goal, and where can people find you?
Fr. Martins: The podcast has proven to be very, very successful. How it came about is, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Holy See, the Vatican, asked me to undertake a catechesis on exorcism. I work with the Holy See in kind of different capacities.
What I was asked to do is to dispel some of the myths that are out there, even by Catholics and even by some priests – information that is just unhelpful or is inaccurate.
I decided to roll this out in different phases. Phase One was a podcast. And so it’s a recorded teaching that people can download on their phones or their computers whenever they want and listen to it.
Why that format? Because I discovered a statistic that just alarmed me. The Pew [Research Center] did a survey and they found that in a five-year period, the number of people that abandoned religion in the demographic of 18-to-29-year-olds increased by one third – by one third in a five-year period alone.
And at the same time, that same demographic, in a separate survey – it was discovered 63% of them believe it is possible to become demonically possessed. It is not an abandonment of belief in the supernatural. It is an abandonment of organized religion.
Something is happening in the lives of these young people that is making them conclude the devil is real.
I thought, this is a really interesting statistic. I wanted to produce something that would speak to these people. As an exorcist, I wanted to share my experiences. I wanted to start a dialogue for all people. But really, I was going after the 18-to-29-year-old non-religious folk.
When you hear the podcast, you’re not hearing theology lectures. You’re hearing 3D recorded binaural re-enactments of my actual case studies.
You will hear professional actors playing out a scene. And you’ll hear my commentary and that of my co-host providing information in between those scenes. It is on the iHeartMedia platform.
It has proven to be immensely popular. We released eight episodes, and we had a million downloads. It has proven to be something that is striking a chord.
Anywhere where you get your podcasts, you can download this. If you use Spotify, Apple Podcasts. If you have no idea what I’m even talking about, visit the website exorcistfiles.tv. It will give you instructions on how to download the production onto your machine. It is free.
An episode is anywhere from 40 to 55 minutes in length. And the point of it is to teach, although it is not, like I say, a lecture per se, and it certainly is not kind of the gathering of a prayer group.
I didn’t want to do that because young people are just simply not going to be interested in that.
But you are going to get something that’s very Catholic and very informative and educational.
Erika: I’ll second that. Everyone should go and check out The Exorcist Files. They are gripping and just a creative way to get to the hearts of young people, in the “nones.” The young people who have left organized religion, as you say. Real great use of the new media.
Father, thank you so much for your time. This has been highly informative. I could probably talk to you for three hours, but alas, we have our primary vocations to attend to. Thank you so much, and we’ll definitely stay in touch.
Fr. Martins: Absolutely. Thank you very much.