One priest told Connexion he believes this is because France is less religious, leaving people vulnerable to diabolical attacks.
Currently about 50 exorcisms are carried out per year in Ile-de-France alone compared to 15 a decade ago.
There are around 2,500 requests annually in the region, which does not in itself represent an increase said Ile-de-France exorcist, Father Georges. However what has changed is the number of cases being identified as possession by the Devil as opposed to other causes such as psychiatric illnesses.
Father Georges said: “It’s gone up over two or three years. There’s a growing paganism, so the Devil is more at home.
“Thirty years ago there wasn’t a village where the church wasn’t open for people to come and pray and where there was the holy sacrement [blessed bread] which we believe is the real presence of Jesus. And the national authorities have opposed Christianity for years.”
Discerning real possession is not foolproof, he said, however signs can include the person speaking in a language they have never learned or demonstrating extraordinary strength.
One almost certain sign is if the possessed person speaks to the priest about the priest’s sins.
All 100 French dioceses have at least one exorcist.
Father Emmanuel Coquet, responsible for supporting the exorcism service at the secretariat of the Bishops’ Conference of France, said: “Today there are many fragile people who find themselves completely isolated in our society; asking for exorcism can be a way of speaking about their suffering, their pain. So they come to the Church and we listen.
“We support them on a journey to discover the root of the problem, and this doesn’t necessarily end in exorcism, in fact usually it does not. Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them.”
Priests work with the person over an extended period to “unravel what is really happening.” Simply feeling possessed by the devil is not enough.
Before undertaking what is known as a “major exorcism” – that is, a formal ceremony, as opposed to simply praying for the person – the church often has a psychiatric assessment done. In other cases the priest relies on his experience.
“It’s a reality. The devil exists,” Father Coquet said. “In extreme and rare cases, people can be possessed by the devil. They really can.”
He warns however, that the demand for exorcism from vulnerable people is resulting in various non-Catholic organisations springing up, which may be purely commercial and seeking to make money from a ‘gap in the market’.
He said they may appear at the top of a Google search for exorcism and appear to be Catholic at first glance.
“They are easy to spot,” says Father Coquet. “If they are offering to train people as lay exorcists or asking for money for their services, they are not Catholic,” he added.