Saturday, July 12, 2008

It Still Isn't An Exorcism, Stupid

By Angry Doc

More on the "exorcism" trial.

(emphasis mine)

Lawyer questions priest’s logic

Plaintiff’s lawyer accuses priest in Novena trial of evading question

Ansley Ng

IF A political party held a rally without a police permit and were quizzed about it, would the party be right to argue no rally had taken place because no permit was issued?

That was the analogy lawyer R S Bajwa made to explain that a “prayer session” two Catholic priests had carried out for his client Amutha Valli Krishnan four years ago was a violent exorcism rite that lacked authorisation from the archbishop and the church.

Calling the hypothetical reasoning “stupid”, the lawyer added: “I said you did all these acts; you said no. I asked why; you said you did not get permission from the bishop.”

Father Jacob Ong, the priest in the witness box on Friday, reiterated what another priest, Father Simon Tan, had said earlier — that no exorcism was carried out on Madam Amutha Valli. “The whole package must be followed. It cannot be set as an exorcism,” Father Ong said.

For an exorcism to be performed, the archbishop — the faith’s head in Singapore — has to give permission and appoint a priest to carry out the rites. An investigation also has to be carried out before the ritual.

Father Ong is among nine parties being sued by Mdm Amutha Valli over an alleged botched exorcism attempt at the Novena hurch in 2004. She claims the incident left her traumatised and unable to work.

“It doesn’t help you,” Mr Bajwa said in reply to Father Ong. “The substance is what we are interested in, not the form.

As Mdm Amutha Valli — who at times spoke in a voice that sounded like a low male voice — struggled harder during the alleged exorcism, the group prayed harder, the lawyer said. At one “momentous” point in time, Father Tan “engaged” the spirit by talking to it, said Mr Bajwa.

Using the same line of questioning he served on Father Tan, the lawyer asserted that Father Ong and his co-defendants had pinned Mdm Amutha Valli onto the floor in a room at the church and strangled her, thinking she had been possessed.

Father Ong disagreed, saying the group merely held a “gentle” prayer session to “protect” her even as the 52-year-old woman was screaming and writhing on the floor.

Mr Bajwa also asked the priest if he had seen people who had been possessed. The priest said he had seen instances where people displayed signs of possession and cited four examples, including people who spoke in voices that don’t sound like their own while trembling.

“Would you agree that the signs displayed by the plaintiff were more severe than these examples?” asked Mr Bajwa.

The priest replied he could not tell, prompting the lawyer to accuse him of avoiding the question.

The hearing continues on Monday

At least now someone has stated the obvious: it doesn't matter whether it was an exorcism or a "prayer of deliverance" - what matters is what happened and whether what happened caused the plaintiff to become ill. (Then again, maybe even that will not matter if the defendants can prove that the plaintiff is not actually ill.)

angry doc wonders if the persons involved in the trial would have spent so much time over terminology if one of the parties involved was not a religious organisation with an organised belief system on the existence of spirits and demons, possession by such entities, and on how to cast them out. Had the trial involved alleged alien mind-control and an attempt to break the control, the judge would perhaps not have been so indulgent.

The priests seem to be caught in a no-win situaion. To prove that they did nothing wrong, they need to show that what they did for the plaintiff was appropriate, and that means proving possession by spirit or demon, something which they cannot do. On the other hand, their argument is that the plaintiff is actually faking her illness, which if they manage to prove, will mean admission that their assessment of her condition on that day was wrong, and that the subsequent intervention (be it an exorcism or a "prayer of deliverance") was also wrong.

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