ROME — The den of the Catholic Church's best-known exorcist is an unassuming place, a small third-floor room in a home for aging priests hidden in an obscure corner of southern Rome. I walk down the hospital-like hallway on my way to meet him, and the priest anticipates my knock before it happens. The door swings open, and there he is.
The Rev. Gabriele Amorth, 89, peers up with goldfish eyes through his Hubble-telescope glasses.
"Enter," says the diminutive priest.
The room is stark, fitted out with a hospital bed and numerous images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Then there are the mementos, which Amorth began collecting after he was appointed as an exorcist back in the 1980s. He has conducted thousands of spiritual cleansings since then, keeping just a few of the bits and bobs he likes to call "the stuff that gets spewed from mouths." Nails. Keys. Chains. Plastic figurines.
"What seems to be spit turns out to be a nail," he said with a seen-it-all tone. "I don't give it much importance."
His services, though still in great demand, are not always needed. "Most times there's no actual diabolical presence, and my job lies in suggesting those that come to me to live a life of faith and prayer," he said. "And this is enough to assuage the fears of those afraid of the Devil's ills."
But other times, he said, "there really is a diabolical influence."
Twice, Amorth claims, he saw possessed victims levitate. "We try to keep the person in the armchair," he said, adding that demons "do it just to show off."
An hour later, he invites me and an Italian colleague to witness an exorcism ourselves.