THE proliferation of "beautiful young vampires" in TV series and Hollywood films including True Blood and the Twilight movies is encouraging young people to dabble with occult forces, a leading authority on demonic possession has warned a Vatican-backed exorcism course.
"There are those who try to turn people into vampires and make them drink other people's blood, or encourage them to have special sexual relations to obtain special powers," said Professor Giuseppe Ferrari at the meeting in Rome, which heard that the number of such possessions is rising globally.
"These groups are attracted by the so-called beautiful young vampires that we've seen so much of in recent years."
Professor Ferrari, who heads an Italian occult watchdog, The Group on Research and Socio-Religious Information, said exorcisms should only be conducted by properly trained priests.
Although the Vatican regards genuine demonic possession as rare, with many suspected cases proving to be people with mental illnesses, Pope Francis has urged dioceses to ensure that they follow Catholic law and have at least one trained exorcist each.
Swiss exorcist Father Cesare Truqui told The Independent that this week's course, attended by exorcists, priests and lay people, was vital in order to raise awareness and hone priests' skills in fighting evil.
"The ministry of performing exorcism is little known among priests. It's like training to be a journalist without knowing how to do an interview," he said, noting that dioceses in Italy and beyond were experiencing a surge in reports of symptoms of possession.
In 2012 it emerged that the diocese of Milan, the biggest in the world, had installed an exorcism hotline to cope with demand. Monsignor Angelo Mascheroni, Milan's chief exorcist, said that his diocese had doubled the number of exorcists from six to 12 to cope with the 100 per cent rise in the number of requests for help over the last 15 years.
"That has to tell us something," said Father Cesare. He claims to have seen possessed people speaking in tongues and exhibiting unearthly strength, including one "small woman, who could not be pinned down by three strong men".
Father Cesare is a protégé of Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's chief exorcist for 25 years, who claims to have dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession.
Father Amorth said that sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church were proof that "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican". He took a similarly dim view of fantasy novels and yoga.
Practising the latter, he once warned, was "satanic; it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter".
Gay rights and IVF fertility treatment were listed as signs of existential evil in society by Monsignor Luigi Negri, the Archbishop of Ferrara-Comacchio. "There's homosexual marriage, homosexual adoption, IVF and a host of other things. There's the clamorous appearance of the negation of man as defined by the Bible," he declared.
Exorcism guidelines: don't try this at home
Professor Giuseppe Ferrari gave delegates at the Vatican-backed course a checklist for improve the effectiveness of exorcisms.
* Exorcisms should only be carried out by properly trained priests, licensed to do so by the diocese in which they work. Priests can not perform exorcisms in different dioceses without special permission.
* Lay people should never perform exorcisms, say the special prayers of liberation, nor bless or touch a possessed person.
* Exorcists should defer to qualified doctors or psychiatrists, though priests may help by praying.
* Priests should not perform the Eucharist during an attempt to exorcise somebody because that can make the process "too Hollywood".
* Priests must welcome and pay heed to anyone who reports that a demonic possession may have taken place.
* Exorcists should consider the possibility that symptoms may be due to known medical conditions and seek appropriate professional advice if they suspect this to be the case.