Thursday, July 3, 2008

It's Not An Exorcism, Stupid‏

By Angry Doc

More on the court case which we first looked at almost a year ago:

Was it exorcism?

Priest denies accusation, says it was salvation

Leong Wee Keat

IN THE witness box, he sang hymns and showed how she had apparently slithered like a snake.

Yesterday, one of the two priests accused of performing a forced exorcism at the Novena Church about four years ago — gave his version of what transpired — the first time the High Court was hearing the defence’s story.

Father Simon Tan denied that the incident on Aug 10, 2004, was an exorcism. Instead, he called it a prayer of deliverance for plaintiff Amutha Valli Krishnan.

Cross-examined by her lawyer, Mr R S Bajwa, Father Tan also said the archbishop’s permission must be sought and a thorough investigation conducted before any exorcism could be carried out.

While he did not think she was crazy, what this Catholic priest saw that night was definitely “not usual behaviour”. Father Tan, 44, claimed it “never occurred to him” that Madam Amutha Valli was possessed or was a mental patient, and that he was “just answering the family’s request to pray over her”.

Father Tan is among nine parties — including the church, Father Jacob Ong and six church helpers — being sued by Mdm Amutha Valli over an alleged forced exorcism attempt. She claims the incident left her traumatised and unable to work.

Father Tan, who was ordained in 1998, testified that exorcism is “hardly practised” and has “never heard” of it in his ministry.

But, Mr Bajwa asked: Couldn’t the priest have stopped the prayer session as Mdm Amutha Valli was strangling herself and assuming the voice of a dead soldier?

Father Tan said he did not understand why she had manifested violent behaviour, but there were at least three occasions she snapped out of her trance.

Her family had brought her to the church to be prayed over so that she could get some comfort, added the priest.

While he did not advise the family of any risks involved, Father Tan disagreed with Mr Bajwa’s question if “safeguards” should have been in place. The priest said there were cancer sufferers, for example, who turned to the church and religion for prayers and comfort.

But wouldn’t he stop to think if a devotee had prior medical history?

Father Tan disagreed, saying the incident arose from “a simple request from her family to pray”.

He added: “If I start using my mind, be self-conscious of the risks, a lot of Catholics would suffer. I would become neurotic if I’m afraid of being sued.”

The hearing continues.

angry doc wonders if the presiding judge even cares whether what happened on the day was an exorcism or a "prayer of deliverance"; what matters more would be what exactly did the priests and other church staff do for or to the plaintiff that day, and whether those things led to the illness that the plaintiff claims to be suffering from.

Whether it was an exorcism (which it technically was not) or a "prayer of deliverance", there is probably no doubt in anyone's mind that Father Tan acted out of good faith and in good faith (and had assumed the same of the plaintiff that day!). However, under the law (the Penal Code to be precise, which presumably does not strictly apply to this case), "[n]othing is said to be done or believed in good faith which is done or believed without due care and attention".

What that means, angry doc believes, is that while the law recognises that we may help someone in need with good intentions, the person being helped may sometimes actually suffer harm from our intervention. The law seeks to protect those whom we help by requiring that the person rendering the help has good reasons to believe that his actions will help that person, and at the same time not cause harm to that person.

So does Father Tan have good reasons to believe that a "prayer of deliverance" was the correct thing to administer to the plaintiff for the state which she was in on that day?

Of course, to even decide whether or not a "prayer of deliverance" was the right thing to administer, one would have had to decide what the plaintiff was suffering from.

It seems that the Father had provisionally excluded "possession" and "mental illness", and that working diagnosis was "not usual behaviour".

Was that a reasonable conclusion to make?

Is a "prayer of deliverance" a reasonable intervention for "not usual behaviour"? How often does it work? What are the risks and benefits of a "prayer of deliverance" for "not usual behaviour"? Surely that is relevant, because the plaintiff is claiming that she suffered harm from the process.

Unfortunately it doesn't seem that the lawyers pursued that line of questioning. angry doc doubts that if the lawyers had asked Father Tan those questions he would have been able to answer with figures and statistics, because it is likely that those questions never crossed the good Father's mind - or as Father Tan put it himself:

“If I start using my mind, be self-conscious of the risks, a lot of Catholics would suffer. I would become neurotic if I’m afraid of being sued.”

Poor Father Tan. Maybe that was the problem to begin with.

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