Katie McGhee meets with “evil’s new enemy”, Bishop Manuel Acuña, founder of Latin America’s first school of exorcism, to talk spirits, possessions, and Satan.
Ever dreamed of becoming an exorcist’s assistant? If so, you’re in luck, because Bishop Manuel Acuña of the Lutheran Parish of the Good Shepherd in Santos Lugares, in the province of Buenos Aires, runs a school where you can become exactly that.
Acuña, who has performed over 1,200 exorcisms during his 15-year career, describes his job as “the action of taking authority against damage, curses, and the devil present within a person, a house, or an object.” He refers to himself as somewhat of a celebrity, having performed exorcisms all over Argentina, in Paraguay, and the US, with clients coming in search of his help from countries as far as Japan.
He defines his usual customers as “people overwhelmed by an evil presence”, which is unsurprising considering he’s entitled himself “evil’s new enemy”. According to Acuña, you could be in need of an exorcism if you suffer from profound insomnia, have reoccurring dreams, feel an indifference towards life, or hear words in your ear. Whilst many of us don’t have an exorcist on speed-dial nor would immediately call one at the first sign of these symptoms, Acuña is saddened that people only ever come to the Church as their last port of call after other means are unsuccessful. He blames this reluctance on an absence of faith in society and because “families don’t talk about religion at home any more”. In his opinion, it is this dismissal of faith that enables evil spirits and practices such as Satanism to infiltrate society through the media, and leads people to require exorcisms.
Having been delayed for his meeting with the Indy due to a conference call held to discuss the Satanist Santa Muerte cult in Mexico, he expressed his fears that cults like it will continue to spread, and even begin in Argentina. “A Satanist church just opened in Colombia, there’s another in Uruguay. Satanism has stopped just being a concept, it has followers and they are publicly opening places where you can worship Satan. This can only happen because people allow religion to stop being an important part of their lives.” With cults like this growing across Latin America, Acuña believes the practise of exorcism is increasingly important to keep evil at bay.
Luis Luna, a fellow priest at the Parish and the director of the School of Exorcism and Liberation, agrees with Acuña’s belief that exorcisms are essential, adding that the most popular reason for their necessity in this day and age is due to “very bad games, like Ouija boards and cup games”. Luna warns against the use of games such as these, because they can cause “infestations”.
Forty per cent of the people exorcised at the Parish have played these games in their adolescence or childhood, and Luna believes this causes spiritual issues from a young age that manifest themselves as a person grows older. One particular source of the requirement for exorcisms is the game Charlie Charlie, a pencil and paper game similar to that of a Ouija, that has been popular in Argentina for many years amongst young people, and went viral in the last few years online in the English-speaking world as the #CharlieCharlieChallenge. Luna says it is particularly dangerous because it is a game that young people play whilst hidden from their parents, and don’t realise that they are “opening portals through which bad spirits can enter from the other side”.
Acuña summarised this, stating: “This is how this all begins, with the infestation of their homes and then the possession of their souls.” This does seem quite the escalation from a childhood game, but you can’t say he didn’t warn you!
Acuña’s assistant, Paula, who he calls “the pride of the Church” was the object of one of his exorcisms in 2015, which, according to Acuña was “the most important in the world”. It was also one of the most publicised, as video footage of the exorcism circulated online and was covered in 72 newspapers across the world, as far reaching as Singapore. It’s hard to imagine the down-to-earth girl organising his meetings is the same convulsing and screaming person from his videos that generated such attention.
Paula got in contact with Acuña after her psychiatrist told her that what she was suffering from wasn’t anything “clinical” and recommended to her parents that they looked for spiritual help. “My psychiatrist realised that my symptoms didn’t correspond with my diagnosis for schizophrenia. I’m very thankful for that, because before my exorcism I lived through ten long years of psychiatric hospitalisations and medications with serious side effects.” Her life then completely changed when she heard about the possibility of exorcisms in Buenos Aires via her aunt, who had seen the Bishop on television and suggested the idea to her parents.
Paula describes her experiences before the exorcism as unpleasant, stating that the night before she entered the Temple, she was plagued by stomach pains that she now attributes to the Devil. Although she doesn’t remember anything from the exorcism itself, she explains that afterwards “I felt a huge relief and all my physical discomforts left me. I’ve never heard the voices that used to torment me since then.” Paula’s psychiatrist has also since discharged her completely and she now views herself as fully recovered, no longer taking any form of medication. She is a firm believer that people suffering from problems like she did should find professional psychologists and psychiatrists who are open-minded and would contemplate the possibility of a spiritual remedy, but also felt the need to clarify to the Indy that this shouldn’t extend to witches. Opposing her low opinion of witchcraft is her high regard for her boss, as she enthuses that “I don’t know if there is another exorcist like Bishop Mañuel, but I am living proof that he is the best.” High praise indeed, but hardly surprising considering she’s his assistant!
Whilst Paula is by far Acuña’s most famous exorcism, she is just one of 1,200. When asked about the strangest thing he has witnessed during his many years in the profession, Acuña responded with a remarkable tale about a six-year-old boy. Many years ago, this young boy’s parents brought him to the Parish in desperation after he was acting strangely and speaking gibberish. Acuña diagnosed that a spirit from the desert had inhabited him, because “he was speaking a mixture of Spanish and Aramaic and was declaring that he was thirsty.” Unbelievably, that isn’t even the strange part. According to Acuña, during the exorcism “the boy floated 10cm from the ground without any assistance.” This levitation may be the only case that Acuña has ever seen, but despite this, he was apparently still able to cure the boy from his possession in a single session, albeit one that lasted three hours.
With stories as astonishing as this, Acuña undoubtedly must face many sceptics of his profession, but he maintains that “the practice of exorcism is not an invention of the church, it is a mandate of Jesus Christ.” His response to these critics does however carry a slightly more foreboding tone, as he warns that “those who don’t believe won’t be saved from the consequences”. What these consequences may be, however, we are yet to discover.
Acuña’s School of Exorcism and Liberation is open to anybody. For those interested, classes are held on Tuesday evenings at the Parish in Santos Lugares and cost $700 a month, with full graduation requiring three years study.