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> A Woman Possessed?

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Posted: Jul 24 2005, 09:32 PM
Quote Post
A Woman Possessed?
By Lawn Griffiths
East Valley Tribune
Wallace tells stories about amorphous shapes floating in her room, an inability to move from her bed in the morning, times when she felt a creature was on her back or something putting arms around her middle and squeezing.

Shirley Wallace believes as many as 10 demons have possessed her in the past 23 years. "A lot of evil spirits have left," says the devout lifelong Phoenix Catholic, but she thinks two demons still rampage inside her.

They have distinctly different voices, she explains.

"It's like there's a monster inside you from hell," says the 43-year-old mother of four. "It's a type of suffering I can't put into words, but it's like a natural suffering " something hellish." She believes she was first cursed by a witch from Mesa in 1982 in connection with both of them dating the same man.

"Nothing ever happened to me before that " nothing strange," she says.

Since 1991, four parish priests have performed "minor exorcisms," also called the prayer of liberation, to give her some relief. Wallace estimates she has had about 30 of those sacred procedures performed, with friends and family members on hand to give her prayer support and to hold her down as she writhes, screams and curses at her demons.

But Wallace sorely desired the official Rite of Exorcism (Ritus Exorcisimi Maioris), formalized in 1614 but revised by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

After years of asking the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix for that rite and being denied, Wallace finally found a change of heart with the departure of Bishop Thomas O'Brien in 2003 and arrival of Archbishop Michael Sheehan as interim diocesan head, then the permanent replacement, Bishop Thomas Olmsted.

In January, Olmsted authorized an exorcist from North Dakota to meet with Wallace for what what she expected would be an exorcism. Monsignor John Esseff traveled to Phoenix and met her April 19 in the sacristy at St. Catherine of Siena Church in south Phoenix. Ceremonies themselves lasted scarcely 15 minutes, without a "hail Mary" said or holy water sprinkled, Wallace laments.

The whole encounter with Esseff and a woman assistant took less than 90 minutes, she says. She says it turned out to be little more than a casual conversation with the exorcist talking from a three-ring binder and conferring a few blessings, then asking her, "Well, how do you feel?" when it was over.

"Nothing happened! Was that the exorcism?" Wallace pressed him.

Esseff met the next day with Olmsted and told him that Wallace did not need his help. "In his judgment, you do not have need of an exorcism because you are not suffering from demonic possession," Olmsted wrote Wallace on April 29. "He does, however, recommend regular spiritual direction from a seasoned spiritual director and regular reception of the Sacrament of Penance from a discerning confessor who can assist you in uncovering whatever might keep you from freely knowing and doing God's will."

"Absurd," says Mary Langlois, a close friend and Catholic who was on hand that day as she has been for all of Wallace's minor exorcisms dating back to 1991. "It was absolutely ridiculous. It was pure psychobabble." At one point the assistant closed her eyes for 30 seconds, then announced that Wallace was beset by six generations of sexual violence.

When the exorcist asked Langlois why she was there, she told him that she helped restrain Wallace when she became violent during minor exorcisms.

"We'll have none of that " no exhibitionism," the monsignor responded.

Langlois says she first accompanied Wallace to Bullhead City 14 years ago for the first minor exorcism with the late Rev. Dominic Candappa, who later was assigned to Sun City and then held sessions with her more often.

A pattern of behavior can be witnessed during the minor exorcisms, Langlois says. "She will start with a twisting of her hand, as if she has a rosary or something," she says.

Wallace will groan, then partway through a series of prayers, her entire body trembles and shakes and her arms and legs flail. "It takes three or four of us to restrain her. She kicks, she bites, she cries, she attacks the priest, she will break the crucifix," says Langlois.

"The last one we did was surprising because she will usually do the writhing or that trembling first, but this time, she went into full outbursts. We have even knocked portable pews over," says Langlois, who explains she has come to recognize when the "evil spirits" back off and "when she is back to herself."

Wallace says she has been treated for depression and has submitted herself to psychiatric evaluations at the request of the diocese in preparation for an exorcism.

She offered a 2001 letter to the diocese from clinical psychologist Bente Tingulstad of Tempe, who had nine sessions with Wallace over six months that year. She says Wallace's marital, social and family lives showed no problems, her children were well-behaved and she got along well with extended family.

Tingulstad says Wallace believed she was possessed by evil spirits that manifested themselves especially when she was near a church or other holy places, such as at San Xavier Mission near Tucson when she was "standing near the old burial site of two Catholic priests in a side chapel." He recommended an exorcism and concluded that "ordinary psychological and psychiatric treatment is clearly not sufficient to help her."

The Rev. Michael Diskin, assistant chancellor of the diocese, says Esseff's decision to not perform an exorcism must be accepted because he "has much more expertise in this area than anyone in the diocese. It was his conclusion that Ms. Wallace is not suffering from demonic possession."

"We are talking about a very sensitive subject when we are dealing with the possibility of possession," Diskin says. He says he is concerned that others with psychiatric and emotional conditions might see Wallace's story and falsely attribute their problems to an outside agency like the devil. For that reason, he says, granting formal exorcisms must be "guarded."

Diskin says non-Catholics could also misunderstand what exorcisms are, and rather than turn to their own pastors for spiritual help, they might go to a priest "for a magical cure" for matters that require professional help. Besides, he says, because they are not Catholic, they could not get the regular benefits of the Catholic Church.

While in her 20s, Wallace says she explored medical avenues and took antibiotics for infections believed to be a cause but found little relief. "I would see white, spiritlike things flying around the ceiling of my room at night," she says. "I would see shadows moving. I really had a strong feeling that there was something inside me, really evil, and I was losing weight."

Wallace tells stories about amorphous shapes floating in her room, an inability to move from her bed in the morning, times when she felt a creature was on her back or something putting arms around her middle and squeezing. "I do hear the evil spirits' voices from time to time," she says. "I feel their presence still over me. There is physical pain and illness during the Mass. It is very hard to pray.

"I am not pointing at the bishop," Wallace says, "but I don't think he understands what I go through."

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