Thursday, March 29, 2012
Reporter: Michael Usher
Producer: Phil Goyen
Get ready to meet some real teenaged hell-raisers. Brynne, Savannah and Tess are trainee exorcists; all-American school girls who slay demons in their spare time.
Armed with just a bible, holy water and a handbag-sized cross, they fearlessly take on the forces of darkness wherever they may lurk. And, nowadays, that seems to be everywhere.
The Catholic Church is performing more exorcisms than ever before, while the girls can scarcely keep up with demand.
And we’ll give them this much. They do put on one devil of a show.
MICHAEL USHER: Just down the road from Hollywood, California, I’m witnessing scenes that are quite incredible. Tonight, we are inside the usually hidden and secret world of exorcisms. It’s raw, confronting and at times, downright weird. Meet Brynne, Tess and Savannah – they are teenage exorcists.
BRYNNE: What we’re trying to do is bring exorcism out of this dark corner that people have stuffed it into. We’re trying to show people what it really is, what exorcism is and if they can get help for things that are tormenting them – that’s our goal.
MICHAEL USHER: You get quite forceful with that bible and cross.
SAVANNAH: Oh yeah…
MICHAEL USHER: They look more like 'X-Factor' contestants than exorcists. But armed with their crosses and their bibles, they take on the devil – under the guidance of Brynne’s father, Bob Larson, a preacher and exorcist who claims to have performed more than 15,000 of these and can’t keep up with demand.
BOB: There has been an exponential rise in the interest of getting exorcisms and the cases coming to me. It’s absolutely astounding. Ah, there’s definitely job security in being an exorcist.
MICHAEL USHER: Are more people possessed than ever before?
BOB: I do believe more people are possessed today.
MICHAEL USHER: And if you believe Bob, there are demons in this room tonight. And as he settles into his ‘Do what Jesus Did’ seminar, more than a few in the congregation become restless.
BOB: By the power of this cross you are defeated! Do you understand me, Satan? Defeated!
MICHAEL USHER Bob Larson scans the room – he’s searching for what, he says, is the devil in people’s eyes. To my surprise, it was sitting right beside me.
BOB: Resist you with the blood of Christ. No! I take the sword of the spirit and I’m going to pierce you with it. You got that? I’m going to pierce you with it.
MICHAEL USHER: How would you answer the criticism that you’re just a showman and this is one hell of a show?
BOB: It is dramatic but I’m not faking dramatics. It’s just dramatic. I mean, it’s pretty sensational when you have somebody you’re hanging onto, they’re flailing about, they’re screaming curses and then a split-second later, they come to themselves and they are a very nice, ordinary person. Now that’s pretty sensational but I don’t try and make it sensational. In fact I don’t have to, it just is.
MICHAEL USHER: Over some time, Bob and his apprentices extract Cynthia’s demons, which turn out to be awful truths – a rotten childhood, a teen pregnancy, a family history of abuse. Do you believe you have the devil inside you?
CYNTHIA: Not the devil in itself but demons, yes.
MICHAEL USHER: Do you believe that demon has gone now?
CYNTHIA: Oh yeah. I feel lifted. I feel like a big relief.
MICHAEL USHER: Savannah, when you’re looking directly into someone’s eyes and you can see the demon, what’s that experience for you?
SAVANNAH: It’s incredible. There’s nothing like staring down a demon because what’s when it really becomes real.
MICHAEL USHER: They may be the Charlie's Angels of Exorcists, but Brynne, Tess and Savannah are just as comfortable talking make-up and music as they are the manifest evil of the devil.
SAVANNAH: We break every stereotype there is for an exorcists. We’re young teenage girls – it’s doesn’t get more radical than that.
MICHAEL USHER: When you let potential dates know you are exorcists, what’s the reaction?
BRYNNE: Surprise would be the best way to put it. But when you talk about it, like, explain it, they kind of go, “oh, that’s neat, that’s kind of cool.”
MICHAEL USHER: But does it scare some off?
SAVANNAH: Um, yes.
MICHAEL USHER: Not many dads can say their daughter’s an exorcist. Nor many daughters can say their dad’s an exorcist.
BOB: I actually don’t know that there’s anybody else on the planet who can say what I say and what my daughter says but I wish there were a million more. I mean, I’m not happy that I’m the only one, I wish there were more. In fact, that’s my whole point.
MICHAEL USHER: So you’d like to franchise exorcism?
BOB: 'Franchise', of course, is a harsh commercial term. Do I want to duplicate it? Absolutely.
MICHAEL USHER: Where Bob Larson is the extrovert exorcist, Catholic priest, Father Gary Thomas, fights evil quietly, discreetly. His services at this Northern California diocese are deeply traditional and he is one of the church’s few, officially sanctioned exorcists.
GARY: My role as an exorcist is not simply to say, "oh yes, you have a demonic attachment." My role is to get to the root cause of their affliction.
MICHAEL USHER: Father Thomas has been an exorcist for six years, was taught by the Vatican, even had his training turned into a film – 'The Rite.' In real life, he has performed 80 exorcisms on eight people. But under strict Catholic protocol, they all happen in private – stark contrast to Bob Larson’s very public purging. Do you think that he’s a genuine exorcist performing real exorcisms?
GARY: When people of other denominations are performing exorcisms, they are more likely to be really experiences or rituals of deliverance. They’re very dangerous. They can do more harm than good, so you really need to know what you’re doing.
MICHAEL USHER: Because some of these people could be suffering genuine mental health problems.
GARY: The vast majority of people who see me have mental health problems.
MICHAEL USHER: So if somebody walked through the door now and said, "I have demons. I have something badly wrong with me, I need an exorcism", there’s no way you’d exorcise them on the spot?
GARY: No way, absolutely not.
MARIE: I hate the devil. He messed me all up, he destroyed me. He turned me into a piece of sh*t, I hate him.
MICHAEL USHER: In Marie Moore’s tormented mind – she was convinced that she was possessed. What she needed was a psychiatrist, not an exorcist. In 2009, Marie walked into a Florida shooting range and shot her 20-year old son Mitchell before killing herself. She left behind recordings, saying the devil made her do it.
MARIE: When I look back how sh*tty I was thinking and all the negative and how the devil got to me, he destroyed me. He made me destroy all of us.
BOB: She’s obviously severely mentally ill. Now I think the demons took advantage of that and planted these horrible thoughts in her mind. And I want to make it clear the demons didn’t pull the trigger, she did. Demon possession is never an excuse for moral accountability.
MICHAEL USHER Bob insists that everyone attending his seminars must provide their mental health history – information he and his teen exorcists apparently analyse.
SAVANNAH: Part of our job and part of our education at this point is learning where that fine line is – what is the difference between someone who suffers from Schizophrenia or Bipolar disorder. It’s very different though when you know what to look for, you can tell when it’s a demon.
DAN: These exorcists are really practicing medicine without a license. They are perhaps keeping people from getting real help when they really need serious help.
MICHAEL USHER: Dan Barker is an atheist, but he wasn't always. For 19 years he was a preacher – he himself performed deliverance. Looking back on that time now, what do you think about what you were doing?
DAN: Well, I’m embarrassed – it’s silly to think that we could treat mental problems with demonology.
MICHAEL USHER: We showed Dan some of the footage from Bob Larson’s seminar.
DAN: You know, it would be comical if it wasn’t dangerous. This woman looks like she’s a somewhat mentally healthy woman but she’s play-acting and going along with it. We’re watching a drama. A drama that was not just acted out by the main actors – those phoney practitioners of medicine who think they understand mental health – but also participating in the drama were the people in the audience. And people got what they came to see and they were not disappointed.
MICHAEL USHER: Is this exorcism or is it evangelical therapy?
BOB: That’s very good and I don't think anyone has ever quite put it that way before. It’s not clinical therapy and I’m not a licensed clinician and I’m not trying to practice as such. But often a good therapist is in addition to their education and professional standing, a good, kind friend and listen who hears the pain of the people and that what I try to do.
MICHAEL USHER: Is she possessed right now?
BOB: Yeah. Right now, this is her talking but you can tell when the spirit starts to take over.
MICHAEL USHER: Janette is in the throws of her exorcism – to the point of becoming physically ill. I don’t understand the psychology of what’s happening here, but Janette is certainly deeply affected.
JANETTE: When I was throwing up, I felt like things came off me, you know? Like I felt like a more-free person.
MICHAEL USHER: Sounds creepy.
JANETTE: It is, but it’s real.
MICHAEL USHER: You believe that.
JANETTE: Yes. It’s real.
MICHAEL USHER: Bob and his girls may be unconventional – and their work potentially damaging – but they’re thoroughly convinced that they’re helping win God’s war with the devil.
JANETTE: There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a spiritual battle and it’s the power of God working through us.
BOB: I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing but you see the establishment church in America doesn’t want to hear it. They wish I would be quiet and go away.
MICHAEL USHER: Will you be quiet and go away?
Bob: Absolutely not. I’m not going anywhere except to heaven someday.