Prominent Psychiatrist Says Demonic Possession Is a 'Real Thing,' He's Seen It

(Photo: REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga)Exorcism ritual in Colombia on July 7, 2012.

A psychiatrist who teaches at New York Medical College and Columbia University says he has studied thousands of claims of demonic possession for 25 years and found that it is indeed very real.

Dr. Richard Gallagher, a Princeton- and Yale-educated psychiatrist, tells The Telegraph that he's "not just intuiting" but deals with it "from a very scientific point of view."

Gallagher adds that he can distinguish between mental illness and "the real thing."

"There are many other psychiatrists and mental health care professionals who do what I do  — perhaps not to the scope that I do — who seem hesitant to speak out," he explains. "That's what gives my work some singularity. That I have had so much experience and that I am willing to speak out. I feel an obligation to speak out. I think that I should."

Speaking with Yahoo last month, Gallagher, who's a Catholic, recalled that a priest came to him over 25 years ago and sought his help in determining if a Catholic woman who claimed she was being assaulted by invisible forces had some mental illness. Gallagher was skeptical but examined the woman and found bruises that would spontaneously appear.

"It didn't seem to be explainable on the basis of any medical or psychiatric pathology," he said. "She appeared to me to be completely sane. I had never seen a case like that before."

Since there was no medical cause for her injuries, he concluded she was attacked by an evil spirit.

Gallagher said he has examined thousands of claims of demonic possession but found only about 100 of those cases to be demonic activity.

The Catholic Church's canon law recognizes exorcism and the need for it, but it allows it to be performed only after high-level permission from within the Church.

At a four-day meeting held by the Vatican in Sicily in southern Italy earlier this year, testimonies were heard on sects and satanism. One of the organizers, Friar Beningo Palilla, said the Church was concerned that an increasing number of people were turning to fortunetellers and Tarot readers, which could "open the door to the devil and to possession."

He said roughly 500,000 cases requiring exorcism are seen in Italy each year.

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."