Network television, with the consent of a priest in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, plans to show the film of an exorcism performed on a teen-ager.
Exorcism, the effort to cleanse satanic influence from the human body and soul, has been a solemn ritual of the Catholic Church since medieval times, and it remains part of Catholic theology.
Historically shrouded in privacy, it has been performed less and less often in recent decades as the church has embraced psychiatric explanations of abnormal behavior and become wary the aura of Hollywood horror that surrounds the practice.
Many church figures, who have not yet seen tomorrow night's segment prepared for the ABC program "20/20," are questioning the wisdom of permitting such a filming.
Both the Archdiocese of New York and a Vatican office were aware that the program on exorcism was be
ing prepared, and Bishop J. Keith Symons of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., ultimately authorized the filming.
The Rev. James J. LeBar, an archdiocesan priest in New York, said this week that he agreed to ABC's request to film an exorcism as a way to encourage belief in the existence of the Devil and to give accurate information about the relief from diabolical forces that he said the church could provide.
LeBar, who is a consultant on cults for the archdiocese and a chaplain at a psychiatric center, said he had kept Cardinal John O'Connor, the archbishop of New York, fully informed of his work on the program.
The Rev. Richard Woods, a priest who teaches pastoral care and counseling at Loyola University in Chicago and is an adjunct associate professor in psychiatry at Loyola's medical school, said the broadcast violated a clear understanding in the church that all possibility of public spectacle should be avoided in exorcisms.
"There is a place for exorcism in the healing ministry of the church, but it is very rare and extraordinary," he said. "The place is not in the public media, where broadcasting such a dramatic ritual can only serve to exacerbate the spiritual and mental difficulties of susceptible individuals."