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Anna Elisabeth Michel. Over a 10-month period, Fathers Renz and Alt carried out 67 one-hour exorcism sessions with Anneliese. Audio recordings from the sessions reveal their efforts as well as how Anneliese’s voice was distorted, the sounds she made, and the growls and other utterances that she made in response to the religious ritual. Anneliese herself was supportive of the exorcism, but as it proceeded, she became weaker and thinner, and no medical intervention was sought.


Exorcisms are the stuff of Hollywood movies ? but real life versions of the rituals often make the headlines around the world.

But what are they and why does the Catholic Church perform them?

The idea that demons exist and can possess people is one of the most widely-held religious beliefs in the world. Most religions claim humans can be invaded by demonic spirits and offer exorcisms to cast out them out. The Vatican first issued official guidelines on exorcism in 1614 and revised them in 1999. The changes state that ?the person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness”.

Along with a handful of Vatican-sanctioned exorcists, there are hundreds of self-styled exorcists around the world. Catholic Church law requires that every diocese has at least one specially-trained priest who can perform exorcisms, although the Vatican says demonic possession is very rare and the majority of cases turn out to be people suffering from mental illnesses. In past centuries, epilepsy, schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome and similar conditions were mistaken for demonic possession.

The Church lists symptoms of demonic invasion as a loss of appetite, unnatural body postures and a change in the person’s face, voice as well as predicting future events and a cold feeling in the room. Other tell-tale signs include a person losing control and lashing out, an intense hatred toward religion or antipathy towards entering a church, speaking Jesus’ name or hearing scripture.

Most reported cases do not require an exorcism because twentieth-century Catholic officials regard genuine demonic possession as an extremely rare phenomenon.

Often someone will just need medical help.

In the Catholic church, the exorcist must be an ordained priest. They recite prayers and use religious materials such as a crucifix to invoke God – in the Name of Jesus – to intervene with the exorcism. The possessed person may be restrained for their own protection. The Catholic Priest recites certain prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Athanasian Creed.

It is important for the exorcist to finish the prayer otherwise the demon will pursue him. Sometimes exorcisms can take days, weeks or months of constant prayer. In 1928, Capuchin friar and Catholic priest Theophilus Riesinger performed a 23-day exorcism on an Iowa women who cried ?My Jesus! Mercy! Praised be Jesus Christ!? when the demons were finally said to have been driven out.

The movie, The Exorcist is based on a true story. The film has shocked and horrified audiences since its release in 1973 but most don’t realise The Exorcist was actually based on true events. In Missouri in 1949, a 14-year-old boy was subject to a months-long exorcism performed by Jesuit priests.

The teenager, who was given the pseudonym Roland Doe to protect his identity, was introduced to an Ouija board by his spiritualist aunt Harriet.

The boy’s parents began to notice strange occurrences such as his bed shaking, furniture moving across the room and scratching noises coming from inside the walls.

  • The family heard the sound of marching feet
  • Furniture moved on its own
  • Ordinary objects levitated or flew across rooms
  • Scratches appeared on the boy?s body
  • Blessed objects such as vials of holy water smashed to the ground on their own accord
  • Religious pictures vibrated on the wall

The troubles seemed to centre on poor Roland and even followed him to school. According to one source, it was reported that his desk moved on its own in front of several witnesses. Apparently, this alleviated any concerns that the problem was an ordinary haunting or simple poltergeist activity.

Roland Doe?s dutiful parents had their boy examined by medical and psychiatric professionals. After Harriet’s death, the boy’s parents met with the Roman Catholic priest at Saint James Parish, near their Maryland home.

With no explanation found, they turned to their clergyman. The pastor arranged for the boy to spend the night with him for observation. That night, the minister heard vibrating sounds from Roland?s bed and inexplicable scratching sounds coming from the walls. Likewise, he witnessed a heavy armchair topple over. Satisfied by his observations, he began the exorcism of Roland Doe without hesitation. The ritual was?unsuccessful.

The case was then referred to a Roman Catholic priest who attempted to exorcise the demon. This time, the boy tore a bed spring from his mattress and inflicted a punishing wound upon the pastor. The cut required stitches and the exorcism was put on hold. Roland went home with his family. While there, family members observed the words Saint Louis appear across Roland?s chest in blood. They immediately took the train to St. Louis and wound up in the capable hands of Rev. William S. Bowdern. The real battle began.

Father Hughes had said he believed the boy was possessed and sought permission from the Archbishop of Washington DC to begin the rite of exorcism.

Roland’s parents relocated him to a relative’s home in Saint Louis, Missouri, where over the course of several weeks as many as nine Jesuit priests, participated in the boy’s exorcism.

The family?s Lutheran minister feared that Roland might be possessed, so two Catholic priests?Father Raymond J. Bishop and Father William J. Bowdern?were brought in to perform an exorcism on him at Georgetown University Hospital.

The exorcism was performed 30 times over the course of several weeks. Roland reportedly exhibited violent behavior and often spoke Latin in a demonic voice while words like ?evil? and ?hell? mysteriously appeared on his body.

Another priest, Father Raymond Bishop, kept a diary of those encounters.

Father Bishop?s diary of the case includes the following account of Father Bowdern?s involvement, dated 18 March 1949: ?Next the Fathers began the Litany of the Saints, as indicated in the exorcism ritual. In the course of the Litany, the mattress began to shake.

?Even while the institution of the Blessed Sacrament was explained to (Roland) his body was badly scratched and branded.

?The prayers of the exorcism were continued and (Roland) was seized violently so that he began to struggle with his pillow and the bed clothing. The arms, legs, and head of (Roland) had to be held by three men.?

Another entry includes the following passage, dated 11 April 1949: ?At midnight, the Fathers planned to give (Roland) Holy Communion, but Satan would have no part of it.

?Even while the institution of the Blessed Sacrament was explained to (Roland) his body was badly scratched and branded.

During the exorcism, the boy allegedly slipped one of his hands out of the restraints, broke a bed spring from under the mattress and used it as a weapon to slash the priest’s arm. On a second exorcism, both priests visited Roland and observed a shaking bed, flying objects, the boy speaking in a guttural voice, and exhibiting an aversion to anything sacred.

At first, the exorcism was hit with repeated failure, with one priest being slashed with a bed spring.

An image of the devil?s face also apparently appeared on Roland?s leg.

But the possession finally came to an end when during the final session the young boy unexpectedly cried out: ?Satan! I am Saint Michael! I command you to leave this body now!?

After his body went into a violent spasm, he uttered: ?He is gone!?

It was a front-page article in the Washington Post about the boy?s exorcism that caught the eye of a young William Blatty, then a student at Georgetown University, who would go on to write the best-selling novel The Exorcist in Washington DC in 1971. The film of the same name followed two years later but featured the possession of a 12-year-old girl and her mother?s desperate and disturbing attempts to win back her child.

After his exorcism, according to Father Bishop?s diary, the boy became ?a fine young man?

After the exorcisms, Roland apparently married, raised children and maintained a long and productive career with the US government before retiring, reportedly to suburban Maryland. He has never spoken publicly about the case.

Analysts of Roland Doe’s case in later years believe he likely suffered from a mental health issue such as schizophrenia or Tourette’s Syndrome that was far less understood in the 1940s.

In 1949 a young William Peter Blatty, a student at Georgetown University, read an article in the Washington Post, ?Priest Frees Mt. Rainer Boy Reportedly Held in Devil?s Grip? by Bill Brinkely. Obviously, the subject matter stuck with him. While writing the novel, Blatty changed the victimized character from a teen boy to a twelve-year-old girl. The Exorcist? first printing came in 1971, became a runaway bestseller and then the scariest movie of its time.

In 1975, Anneliese Michel was exhibiting some undeniably bizarre and frightening behaviour, and her mother was at her wits’ end. So, Mrs. Michel contacted the Catholic Church to exorcise her daughter. Anneliese had been hearing voices and exhibiting violent reactions to religious objects ? hallmarks of demonic possession ? and her parents were convinced she was possessed. The tale of the exorcism of Anneliese Michel was the basis for the 2005 movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but the real story behind her behavior and her ultimate death is much more terrifying than anything Hollywood could have imagined.

Anneliese was a German girl who was known in life for being very intelligent, shy, kind, generous and pious, but will always be known in death as an unfortunate soul who experienced a deteriorating malady so mysterious and devastating she ultimately succumbed to starvation. But who, or what, is to blame? Was it the severe affliction of an extreme case of epilepsy or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder having gone untreated, or was it the detestable work of the Devil himself?

Anneliese Grew Up In Germany With A Staunchly Catholic Mother. Born in 1952, Anneliese Michel was brought up by Bavarian parents alongside her brother and sister. Anneliese’s mother had a daughter prior to Anneliese’s birth, but the child, Martha, died at the age of 8. The death of Martha prompted Anneliese’s mother to put a lot of pressure on the young Anneliese, particularly when it came to prayer and religious devotion.

On a morning of 1 July 1976, a beautiful black haired girl is found dead in her bed. Her butchered body wounded face and knocked out teeth are showing the terrible suffering. The excited mass media, public trial and verdict: the priest ( the exorcist ) is guilty?.How extraordinary this German student from Klingenberg was from whom she had been casted out as a devil during her life and many considered her as a saint after her death.

The infamous case of the possession of Anneliese Michel, a German Catholic woman was subjected to 67 exorcisms over the course of less than a year, which eventually led to her death from dehydration and starvation.

Anneliese Michel began experiencing symptoms of mental illness in the late 1960s at the age of 16, which culminated?in a diagnosis of temporal lobe epilepsy following a severe attack of seizures. She kept experiencing seizures over the next several years, with her symptoms progressing into hallucinations and voices in her head. The Michel family was deeply religious, as was Anneliese, and many of her ?visions? and ?voices? spoke to her in religious terms, damning her to Hell and appearing in the form of demons. Despite treatment at a psychiatric hospital, her symptoms worsened. She increasingly felt?an aversion for Catholic symbols and rites, and also began to self-harm, drink her own urine and eat insects. Anneliese and her family were convinced she was possessed by demons, and consulted many Catholic priests, requesting and even begging for an exorcism to be performed on her. They were repeatedly rejected based on her medical history.

Anneliese Michel was a happy teenager who enjoyed school. There Were Supposedly Six Demons That Possessed Anneliese.?During the exorcism, Fathers Renz and Alt talked to no fewer than six demons possessing Anneliese. Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain, Hitler, and Fleischmann, a disgraced Frankish Priest from the 16th century, all made appearances. Given Anneliese’s?background in school and obsession with Christian teachings, there were later theories that Anneliese chose these men intentionally.?

Anneliese was born in 1952 into a strict Catholic family to a mother who had already lost a daughter, Martha, who died at the age of eight.

She was pressured into leading a pious life and attended mass twice a week.

Anneliese went on the suffer neuroses linked to religious iconography as a result of her zealous parents.

While at school one day in 1968, Anneliese?blacked out for a few minutes and, according to her friends, was in a trance-like state. Anneliese didn’t remember the event and said that she was fine afterwards, but the same night, she woke up to a heavy feeling on her body and then wet the bed. She was kept home from school the next day, but there were no recurrences, and the family thought she was fine.

Over a year later, in August 1969, Anneliese had a similar event and was taken to a doctor to determine the cause. Her local doctor, Dr Vogt, referred her to a neurologist, Dr Siegmund Luthy. He did not diagnose her with anything, but shortly after visiting him, she was hospitalized for tuberculosis in February 1970. While in the hospital, she had a third event and, in addition to being depressed and lonely, was ridiculed and excluded by the other patients after wetting the bed.

Soon after this third experience, Anneliese said she saw colours, heard sounds, and experienced feelings of euphoria while saying a rosary. She was taken for more tests with another neurologist, Dr. von Haller, who diagnosed her with epilepsy and prescribed her medication.

Anneliese?eventually returned to school in 1970 but was withdrawn and depressed. She continued to have seizures, visit doctors, and experience?frustration?with her situation. She threw herself into Catholic books and practices, graduated from high school, and started college to become a teacher. Despite these efforts and continued medications, her condition worsened.?By 1973, she experienced hallucinations while praying and believed she was?damned. She was obsessed with the idea that the Devil was inside of her and began to see a priest as well as her doctors.?Anneliese’s behaviour became more extreme from 1973 onward.

The pictures illustrate the tragic story of Anneliese Michel.?Anneliese Had To Be Restrained During The Exorcisms.

In the 1970s, Anneliese Michel, was a 23-year-old student from Klingenberg, after years of suffering convulsions began experiencing devilish hallucinations while praying. By 1973, she was suffering severe depression and considering suicide and voices in her head told her she was damned.

She would perform 600 genuflections a day, eventually rupturing her knee ligaments. The deeply religious student crawled under a table, barking like a dog for two days. She ate spiders, coal and bit the head off a dead bird.

She even licked her own urine off the floor and could be heard through the walls screaming for hours. In 1975, her request for an exorcism was granted and was performed by Fr Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt.

The priests identified several demons, including Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain and Adolf Hitler, who spoke with the correct Austrian inflections.

Haunting voice recordings were made of Anneliese gurgling and talking about the horrors of Hell through one of the six demons she was possessed by.

Anneliese Michel pictured with her mother shortly before she died.

Beginning on September 24, 1975, Anneliese Michel underwent a series of exorcisms. The official rite was administered during the course of 10 months by two Catholic priests, Rev. Ernst Alt and Rev. Arnold Renz, who were given permission to do so by the local Ordinary, Bishop Stangl, in an effort to free Anneliese of at least six demons that were believed to have been possessing her.

During the early morning hours of July 1st, 1976 Anneliese died of what an autopsy later determined to be malnutrition/dehydration, yet without many of the normal accompanying physical signs of such. Because she was not only under the care of her parents, but also the two exorcist priests, worldwide publicity immediately followed her sudden death, and afterwards Annelise’s parents and the two exorcists were brought to trial and were later found guilty of negligent homicide in a dramatic court case that garnered attention not only in Germany but throughout much of the world. Fr. Arnold Renz, Fr. Ernst Alt and Anneliese’ parents Josef and Anna, were sentenced to six months in prison which was suspended with three years probation, and all incurred court costs. Additionally, the two priests were fined.

The case of Anneliese Michel is well documented in two books: Anneliese Michel: A true story of a case of demonic possession by Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea and Lawrence E.U. LeBlanc and also “The exorcism of Anneliese Michel” by Dr Felicitas D. Goodman. The motion pictures ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’, ‘Requiem’ and ‘Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes’ were all based on the case, but in the movies, there were quite a number of details that were added as Hollywood fiction. Contrary to normal procedures, many of the exorcisms were recorded on audio tape, and have been subsequently “leaked” and released to the public over the years, which also has provided additional information concerning this case.

Anneliese Michel’s death was a very painful case for the Church in Germany and abroad, most especially for the priests and the local bishop involved, but the case did bring about some very important worldwide changes as to how exorcisms are now evaluated and performed.

?She died to save lost souls, to atone for their sins. Anneliese was a kind, loving, sweet and obedient girl. But when she was possessed, it was something unnatural, something that you cannot explain…
-Statement of Anna Michel, Anneliese?s mother, in 2005.

In September of 1973,?Anneliese told a physician named Dr. Luthy that she was having visions of “Fratzen”, the?German word for ghastly demonic beings. Later that fall she also stated to another physician that she was experiencing horrible stenches, which at that time only she herself could smell. Later, however, others in her family and the priests who performed the exorcisms would also smell the horrid stench during the times she was losing consciousness and being overtaken by the demons. Without going into all the details of her possession and exorcism, which are readily available in the above mentioned books and online, suffice it to say that two priests, Fathers?Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz, were eventually given permission by the local Bishop to perform the Rite of Exorcism upon Anneliese, after providing numerous proofs of her possession.

Anneliese Michel suffered broken teeth, bruised limbs and black eyes.

Anneliese was one of Mr and Mrs Michel?s four daughters. They were very kind and pious people who had been living in German Klingenberg. Although Anneliese was petite and prone to the illnesses when she was a child, ?she was quite normal? her schoolmates remembered: she knew how to be cheerful and to skylark and banter with others. Something abnormal started happening shortly before her sixteenth birthday, it was autumn 1968. According to one Anneliese schoolmates testimony, she couldn?t move after a horrifying night. She felt as if tightened by a huge power that prevented her from breathing. It was no good crying for help, a drenched bed, fear?..

Almost a year later the situation happens again. The medical check-up and detailed neurological examination did not show anything wrong. So the girl was sent home from the hospital and then her friends noticed her blue eyes go black, her hands changed and had strange spasms. Although she missed a school year, this gifted and hard-working girl passed her school-leaving exam and she was going to study at the college of education. As a young student, she complained to her mum: ?Something?s making a noise in my room.? Her mother sent her to see an ear specialist but he did not find out anything…

She was religious and went to Mass twice a week. When she was sixteen, she had suffered a severe convulsion and was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. In 1973, Michel graduated and joined the University of W?rzburg. Her classmates later described her as “withdrawn and very religious”.

At the end of an ordinary road in a little town in Bavaria stands an unexceptional house, its walls a dirty white, the window frames painted a flaking green. But behind the locked front door and the lowered shutters, a dark tale of extraordinary horror lurks.

Forty-One years ago, the house was filled with fear. The nights were punctuated by howls and screams, the mornings filled with inhuman voices. The neighbours did not know it then, but they were hearing the exorcism of a young woman who would shortly die.

In June 1970, Michel suffered a third seizure at the psychiatric hospital where she had been staying. She was prescribed anti-convulsion drugs for the first time, including Dilantin, which did not alleviate the problem. She began describing seeing “devil faces” at various times of the day. That same month, she was prescribed another drug, Aolept, which is similar to chlorpromazine and is used in the treatment of various psychoses including schizophrenia, disturbed behaviour and delusions. By 1973, she suffered from depression and began hallucinating while praying, and complained about hearing voices telling her that she was “damned” and would “rot in hell”. Michel’s treatment in a psychiatric hospital did not improve her health and her depression worsened. Long term treatment did not help either, and she grew increasingly frustrated with the medical intervention. Being a devout Catholic, she began to attribute it to demonic possession. Michel became intolerant of sacred places and objects, such as the crucifix.

There began to be real problems when the others, who were living in the same house, began to hear tapping somewhere under the floor, in the wardrobe or in the ceiling. They were scared and so they went to pray before the?little statue of Virgin Mary. Anneliese?s face twisted in different ways and they could sense a hatred coming out of her black eyes. The family prayers and frequent receiving of Eucharist and the evening rosary gave less and less comfort to this girl started been feeling worse physically and mentally every day and began complaining about disturbing incidents.

?Father, I never thought it would be as cruel as this. I always thought that I would want to suffer for others so they would not have to go to hell, but that it could be this bad and this cruel and terrible.?
? Anneliese Michel, from a transcript of a recorded conversation with Exorcist Father Arnold Renz.

Michel went to San Damiano with a family friend who regularly organized such pilgrimages to places not officially recognized by the church. Her escort concluded that she was suffering from demonic possession because she was unable to walk past a crucifix and refused to drink the water of a holy spring. Both she and her family became convinced and consulted several priests, asking for an exorcism. The priests declined, recommended the continuation of medical treatment, and informed the family that exorcisms required the bishop’s permission. In the Catholic Church, official approval for an exorcism is given when the person strictly meets the set criteria, then they are considered to be suffering from possession (infestatio) and under demonic control. Intense dislike for religious objects and “supernatural powers” are some of the first indications. Michel worsened physically and displayed aggression, self-injury, drank her own urine and ate insects. In November 1973, Michel started her treatment with Tegretol, an anti-seizure drug and mood stabilizer. She was prescribed antipsychotic drugs during the course of the religious rites and took them frequently until some time before her death

The priest Ernst Alt, whom they met, on seeing her declared that “she didn’t look like an epileptic” and that he did not see her having seizures. Alt believed she was suffering from demonic possession and urged the local bishop to allow an exorcism. In a letter to Alt in 1975, Michel wrote, “I am nothing, everything about me is vanity, what should I do, I have to improve, you pray for me” and also once told him, “I want to suffer for other people…but this is so cruel”. In September of the same year, Bishop Josef Stangl granted the priest Arnold Renz permission to exorcise according to the Rituale Romanum of 1614 but ordered total secrecy. Renz performed the first session on 24 September. Michel began talking increasingly about “dying to atone for the wayward youth of the day and the apostate priests of the modern church”, and she refused to eat towards the end.At this point, her parents stopped consulting doctors on her request and relied solely on the exorcism rites. 67 exorcism sessions, one or two each week, lasting up to four hours, were performed over about ten months in 1975?1976

At the time, it was believed that Anneliese Michel, then a 23-year-old student had been possessed by six demonic spirits who would not let her go. She forced herself to fast, believing that it would rid her of the influence of Satan and when she died her weight was down to 68lb. “Mother,” she said, just before the end, “I’m afraid.”

During the last moments before Anneliese’s death on July 1, 1976, Father Alt and her mother both claimed to see the stigmata on Anneliese’s body. The stigmata are the wounds endured by Jesus Christ prior to his death, including on the hands and feet. There was no real evidence of the stigmata on her body, but Father Alt also tried to ascribe?some of the other wounds on Anneliese’s body to the religious phenomenon.

On 1 July 1976, Michel died in her home. The autopsy report stated the cause was malnutrition and dehydration because of being in a semi-starvation state for almost a year while the rites of exorcism were performed. She weighed 30 kilograms (68 pounds), suffering broken knees due to continuous genuflections. She was unable to move without assistance and was reported to have contracted pneumonia.

Anneliese’s parents, Anna and Josef, were put on trial for their daughter’s murder alongside the two priests who performed the exorcisms. All were found guilty of negligent homicide by allowing her to starve and given suspended six-month prison sentences and three years’ probation.

Anneliese’s mother, who still lived in the house where her daughter died, has never quite recovered from those terrible times. Her husband died in 1999 and her three surviving daughters have moved away. So Anna Michel, now in her bears the burden of memory alone. Her bedroom overlooks the graveyard where Anneliese is buried, under a wooden cross bearing her name and the inscription “Resting with God.”

The house is quieter now, but the pain is evident still. In 2005, Mrs Michel said, her eyes glazed with the film of cataracts. “I miss Anneliese, of course. She was my daughter. I can see her grave from the house. I visit it often, taking flowers.”

For a moment, it is easy to forget her turbulent history. She looks like a benign great aunt, contoured with soft lines drawn across papery skin, her brittle white hair tucked under a floppy black hat. She clearly does not like speaking about Anneliese’s death and, until then, she had maintained a public silence.

But nor does she regret her actions. A deeply religious woman, she insists that the exorcism was justified. “I know that we did the right thing because I saw the sign of Christ in her hands,” she says in a voice surprisingly forceful for one so frail. “She was bearing stigmata and that was a sign from God that we should exorcise the demons. She died to save other lost souls, to atone for their sins.

“Anneliese was a kind, loving, sweet and obedient girl. But when she was possessed, it was something unnatural, something that you can’t explain.” From the very beginning, Anneliese’s life was governed by fear. Her family was deeply religious. Her father had considered training as a priest and three of her aunts were nuns. But the Michels had a secret.

In 1948, Anneliese’s mother gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Martha, bringing such disgrace on her family that she was forced to wear a black veil on her wedding day.

When Anneliese was born in 1952, her mother encouraged her to atone for the sins of illegitimacy through fervent devotion. But when Martha was eight, she died from complications arising from an operation to remove a kidney tumour. Anneliese, a kind-hearted and deeply sensitive girl, must have felt ever more strongly the pressure to do penance for her mother.

She found herself increasingly surrounded by evidence of sinfulness and increasingly anxious to be rid of it. While other children in the 1960s were rebelling testing the limits of their freedom, Anneliese slept on a bare stone floor to atone for the sins of the drug addicts who slept rough at the local train station.

In 1968, aged 17, she began to suffer convulsions. Although initially diagnosed with grand mal epilepsy, she started experiencing devilish hallucinations while praying. By 1973, she was suffering severe depression and considering suicide. Voices in her head told her she was damned. She asked the local priest for exorcism and was twice refused.

But gradually, Anneliese slipped further into the abyss. She crawled under a table, barking like a dog for two days. She ate spiders, coal and bit the head of a dead bird. She even licked her own urine off the floor and could be heard through the walls screaming for hours.

In 1975, her third request for exorcism was granted by the Bishop of Wurzburg. “I don’t regret it,” says Anna Michel firmly. “There was no other way.”

We shall never know if there was. By this stage, Anneliese had refused further medical intervention from the Psychiatric Clinic Wurzburg. Her symptoms have subsequently been compared to schizophrenia and should have responded to treatment. There has also been speculation that Anneliese might have been influenced by the release of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, in 1973. But whatever lay behind her disturbance, the exorcism could have caused Anneliese to believe her own hallucinations.

There was certainly no doubting the extent of Anneliese’s turmoil. Her exorcism was performed by Fr Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt according to the 1614 Rituale Romanum. One or two four-hour sessions a week were held over nine months. The priests identified several demons, including Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain and Adolf Hitler, who spoke with the correct Austrian inflections.

Forty-two hours of the process were recorded and the tapes are said to make terrifying listening. Barely human growls mingle with throaty gurgles, screamed obscenities and a series of dialogues between each of the demons about the horrors of Hell. The sessions often resulted in such brutality that Anneliese would be held down or chained to her chair.

By the spring of 1976, Anneliese was suffering from pneumonia and emaciation. Gradually weakened and exhausted to the point of fever, she died on July 1. Her parents buried her next to Martha at the outer edges of the cemetery – ground normally reserved for illegitimate children and suicides. Even in death, Anneliese was not free of the sinfulness she fought so hard to repent of.

Today, the 2,000 inhabitants of Klingenberg are unwilling to speak of Anneliese Michel. A gentle enquiry to passersby is greeted with hostile glares and a shake of the head. “The town is ashamed,” says Christiana Metzler, 42, who works in the tourist office. “I was at school when it happened and there were a lot of things covered up. People don’t want to talk about it. There is a feeling that it was the parents’ fault because they were so religious they didn’t see what was happening. Sometimes Catholic pilgrims come to her grave because they think she can save lost souls. But there are not many of them.

It is a past that the Church is ashamed of, too. In 1984, German bishops petitioned Rome to review the exorcism rite in the light of the Michel case. Although their recommendations were not adopted, the Vatican published a revised exorcism rite in 1999 – the first update since the 17th century – and has introduced a qualification in exorcism that makes priests undergo medical training.

“I wouldn’t have carried out the exorcism [on Anneliese Michel],” admits Fr Dieter Feineis, the current priest at St Pankratius Church in Klingenberg. “But both Anna Michel and her husband remained absolutely convinced that what they had done was right. The view of the Church is that it is possible to be possessed, but in Germany, there are no more exorcisms.”

In Italy, however, it is a different matter. According to the Italian Association of Psychiatrists and Psychologists, half a million Italians seek exorcisms each year. There are about 350 practising exorcists worldwide. Earlier this year, a priest and several nuns in a Romanian Orthodox convent in Tanacu believed that Maricia Irina Cornici, a 23-year-old nun, was possessed. They carried out an exorcism ritual and tied her to a cross, pushing a towel in her mouth and denying her food or water, She was dead three days later.

Was this death, or Anneliese’s, the work of Satan or was the act of exorcism itself to blame? It is a question that tests the limits of faith and science.

The number of officially sanctioned exorcisms decreased in Germany due to this case, in spite of Pope Benedict XVI support for wider use of it compared to Pope John Paul II, who previously made the rules more strict involving only rare cases in 1999.

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