Angry Doctor

Thursday, July 03, 2008

It's not an exorcism, stupid‏


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 the law recognises that while 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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15 Comments:

  • I read that same article and your final sentence sums it up perfectly.

    By Anonymous Edgar, At July 03, 2008 11:32 pm  

  • "...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."

    Yeah, I wonder about the details of how Madam Valli was physically restrained during the prayers.

    By Blogger Lim Leng Hiong, At July 03, 2008 11:54 pm  

  • From what I was taught, restraining a person against his/her will is considered battery. Today's papers say that the Priest says she wasn't possessed but was "inflicted" by spirits. Does he mean "afflicted"? Or "affected"? He did take offence when the plaintiff's lawyer said "May God forgive you". Rather amusing saga.

    By Anonymous Edgar, At July 04, 2008 11:52 am  

  • Rather sad the way they spend time over semantics and not the essentials of the case, because if we go by religious talk, the priest is probably guilty of regularly inciting his congregation to commit cannibalism and not just asking them to eat bread.

    Restraining a person against his or her will is battery, but you can argue your case if it is to prevent her from hurting herself or someone else.

    By Blogger angry doc, At July 04, 2008 3:19 pm  

  • "Rather sad the way they spend time over semantics and not the essentials of the case..."

    It's not "exorcism" - it's "deliverance". Madam Valli was not "possessed", she was "inflicted". She didn't seem crazy, she was having "not usual behaviour."

    It would be more informative to know what they actually said and did to her for two whole hours during the prayer session.

    If a botched deliverance can produce as much damage as an exorcism I don't see the relevance of the distinction between them to this case.

    By Blogger Lim Leng Hiong, At July 05, 2008 11:26 am  

  • Ah, but then the "damage" done is questionable, considering the videos shown ;)

    By Blogger zhanzhao, At July 07, 2008 12:45 pm  

  • Zhanzhao says:

    "Ah, but then the "damage" done is questionable, considering the videos shown ;)"

    Indeed, if there is no ill effect at all then the distinction between deliverance and exorcism is irrelevant to the case.

    The defence has spent a lot of time and effort trying to show that it was not an exorcism, giving an impression that exorcism has a great potential for harm, whereas prayers of deliverance are safer.

    Perhaps you would like to offer some insight or evidence as to why this is the case?

    By Blogger Lim Leng Hiong, At July 07, 2008 5:24 pm  

  • I suspect it has to do with the fact that the term 'exorcism' invokes in people's minds something which can be violent and traumatic to the mind, something which the defence is trying to avoid doing. Plus, Catholic priests have been found guilty of negligent homicide arising from exorcism.

    On a more personal level, the priests may deem the difference between the two as something ideologically/theologically important. Like say if someone said to you that DNA and genes are the same thing...

    By Blogger angry doc, At July 07, 2008 5:39 pm  

  • For the pure and simple explanation that if it were an exorcism, it would have been premeditated. Hence the defence explaining that an exorcism isn't like a simple drivethrough/takeaway/delivery service.

    The defense already explained that an actual exorcism is a serious action that actually has to be approved by many levels before it is allowed. So one cannot just waltz in and expect to have an exorcism performed. Instead, what is more likely is that someone comes in troubled, and the priests offers to pray for the troubled person.

    Now as for the alleged ill effects, the defense again provided evidence that raises great doubt as to whether it is in fact genuine or not. To borrow your own reasoning,

    "Indeed, if the "ill effect" is all an act then the distinction between deliverance and exorcism is irrelevant to the case."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At July 08, 2008 4:10 am  

  • PS: The reply was with regards to Lim's comments

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At July 08, 2008 4:11 am  

  • "The plantiff" went to church, for what reason? To pray! (don't forget that)
    Think about it, if a woman and her family of a different faith goes to a temple or mosque to pray, instead throws a scene in a sacred place. Her family requests the imam or temple priest to pray for the person, what should the priest or Imam do? Call the ambulance? Why couldn't the family call the ambulance?

    The real victims are the priests who were asked to do their jobs in the first place by a group of people who have no business to be in a Church which they do not belong to.

    By Blogger rosita, At July 17, 2008 9:45 pm  

  • "... a woman and her family of a different faith goes to a temple or mosque to pray, instead throws a scene in a sacred place. Her family requests the imam or temple priest to pray for the person, what should the priest or Imam do?"

    Rosita, we've discussed this topic in the other posts, but since you took the effort to read and comment to this post, I will repeat myself.

    Let's say you come across a woman behaving abnormally like the plaintiff did at your workplace or school or in a public area: what would *you* do?

    I presume you would either think that the woman is suffering from some mental illness and call an ambulance or suggest that the family calls one, or you would supsect they are out to scam you, and either get away from them, or else call security or the police.

    Or will you decide that it is a case of possession based on what the family tells you, and decide that praying is the best thing to do?

    What if the family told you she is being controlled by an alien and asked you to help use your mental powers to block off the alien's mind-control ray?

    You will use your common sense and judgement.

    I agree with you that the priests are "victims".

    They are victims of a system of superstition that led them to jump to the conclusion that the plaintiff was possessed by invisible entities and that prayer was the best thing to do when there were more mundane and probable explanations for her behaviour, even to the point that when the plaintiff turned "violent", they would restrain her AND continue praying instead of calling an ambulance or the police.

    By Blogger angry doc, At July 17, 2008 10:30 pm  

  • Are you denying the role and function of the Priest in society?

    Maybe you had very little religious education, or maybe you have a deep abhorrence to Catholic/Christian beliefs.

    Good if you can find out more about Christianity. The concept of the Son of God becoming man, might be too much for your human mind to comprehend, but if you seek the truth you will find it.

    Last but not least, try to be respectful of all religions especially on the internet.

    By Blogger rosita, At July 18, 2008 9:34 pm  

  • Welcome back, rosita.

    "Are you denying the role and function of the Priest in society?"

    Specific to this case, I am merely pointing out the fact that the priests acted the way they did because of their beliefs in the existence of possession by spirits and the efficacy of prayer as a cure. The facts in this legal case show that they were wrong in their beliefs that they can diagnose and cure "possession".

    "Maybe you had very little religious education, or maybe you have a deep abhorrence to Catholic/Christian beliefs.

    Good if you can find out more about Christianity."

    Because in your mind, if I do not agree with your beliefs, I am either ignorant of your religion, or if I am not, then I am too stupid to understand it, or if I am not, then I am too evil to accept it, right?

    Well, I am neither ignorant of religions, nor am I too stupid to understand their theologies. However, I choose to apply reason and logic in assessing their claims, and I require evidence before believing. I guess that makes me evil?

    "The concept of the Son of God becoming man, might be too much for your human mind to comprehend, but if you seek the truth you will find it."

    I seek evidence, rosita. If the concepts you describe are too much for human minds to comprehend, how does anyone know if it is true? How do *you* know it's true?

    "Last but not least, try to be respectful of all religions especially on the internet."

    *Not least* indeed, rosita.

    On this blog we try to argue with facts, evidence, and logic. If resorting to threat to defend your religious beliefs is the best you can do, then you will find scant respect for your arguments here.

    By Blogger angry doc, At July 18, 2008 10:54 pm  

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