Pope Francis has defrocked nine monks of a monastery in Ukraine for performing exorcism prayers without authorization and for spreading messages from a nun who claimed God had spoken directly to her, according to reports.
The nine, who were from St. Theodore Studite's Monastery in the village of Kolodiivka in Ternopil region, refused to be corrected and "did not accept the admonitions of the Church authorities and refused to listen to them … (and) continued to violate the rules of the monks," the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said in a statement, according to The Daily Mail.
"They did not want to correct their behavior. After the relevant warnings, nine monks have been removed from the monastic state. This decision was personally approved by the Roman pontiff," it added.
An investigation had found that the monks violated monastic discipline and were performing exorcism prayers without authorization. Some of them were guided by Sis. Maria Baran from the nunnery in Velyki Birky in Ukraine's western Ternopil Oblast region.
"According to the decrees approved, they lose belonging to the monastic state, do not have the right to wear monastic clothes, lose all rights and are deprived of all duties arising from taking monastic vows and can no longer call themselves monks," the statement said.
Two of them, Father Planchak and Father Kostevsky, have also been barred from conducting any religious ceremonies or public prayers or performing exorcisms.
"This decision of the Holy Father is final and cannot be appealed," the Church said.
The Catholic Church's canon law recognizes exorcism and the need for it, but it thus far allows it to be performed only after high-level permission from within the Church.
At a recent four-day meeting held by the Vatican in Sicily in southern Italy, testimonies were heard on sects and satanism. One of the organizers, Friar Beningo Palilla, said the Church is concerned that an increasing number of people are turning to fortunetellers and Tarot readers, which can "open the door to the devil and to possession."
He said roughly 500,000 cases requiring exorcism are seen in Italy each year.
The Catholic Church also plans to hold an international conference at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, an educational institute of the Church in Rome, with a focus on teaching new priests the techniques of exorcism.
In January, a leading exorcist in Ireland, Fr. Pat Collins, warned that cases of demonic possession and other evil phenomena were rising in the country, urging leaders of the Catholic Church to appoint a team of exorcists.
"It's only in recent years that the demand has risen exponentially," Collins told The Irish Catholic at the time.
"What I'm finding out desperately, is people who in their own minds believe — rightly or wrongly — that they're afflicted by an evil spirit," he said. "I think in many cases they wrongly think it, but when they turn to the Church, the Church doesn't know what to do with them and they refer them on either to a psychologist or to somebody that they've heard of that is interested in this form of ministry, and they do fall between the cracks and often are not helped."