Eighty-six-year-old Father Gabriele Amorth knows from exorcisms. Having clocked twenty-five years in the demon-eviction game as Chief Exorcist of the Vatican (appointed by Pope John Paul II), Father Amorth claims to have performed more than 70,000 exorcisms during his tenure. He is the honorary president for life of the International Association of Exorcists, and he even says his favorite movie is…you guessed it, The Exorcist. So if there's anyone better at sniffing out evil, it's news to me.
But speaking at Italy's Umbria Film Festival on Friday, where he was invited to introduce a Sir Anthony Hopkins film about, yes, exorcism called The Rite, the good padre caught some people off-guard by accusing the practice of yoga and the Harry Potter books of being Satanic. Believing that, more than mere exercise, yoga is a slippery slope that leads to the worship of Hinduism, and that "all Eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation," Father Amorth said that "Practicing yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter. In Harry Potter, the devil acts in a crafty and covert manner, under the guise of extraordinary powers, magic spells, and curses."
The J.K. Rowling books have been accused of having an occultic subtext before, and the Catholic Church seems to have a real problem with yoga. The current pope, Benedict XVI, had previously issued a document in 1999, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, stating that "Eastern" practices such as yoga, Zen, and transcendental meditation posed a danger, in that they could "degenerate into a cult of the body" that edged out "the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit."
Taking the opposite view, and voicing the majority opinion on the subject, Vanda Vanni, founder of the Mediterranean Yoga Association, said:
"It's an accusation that has nothing to do with reality. It's a theory — if one can call it a theory — that is totally without foundation. Yoga is not a religion or a spiritual practice. It doesn't have even the slightest connection with Satanism or Satanic sects."