The decline of religious belief in the West and the growth of secularism has "opened the window" to black magic, Satanism and belief in the occult, the organisers of a conference on exorcism said yesterday.
The six-day meeting in Rome aims to train about 200 Roman Catholic priests from more than 30 countries in how to cast evil out from people who believe themselves to be in thrall to the Devil.
The conference, "Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation", has also attracted psychiatrists, sociologists, doctors and criminologists in what the Church called a "multi-disciplinary" approach to exorcisms.
Giuseppe Ferrari, from GRIS, a Catholic research group that organised the conference, said there was an ever-growing need for priests to be trained to perform exorcisms because of the increasing number of lay people tempted to dabble in black magic, paganism and the occult.
"We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out and the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality," said Ferrari.
About 250 priests were trained as exorcists in Italy, but many more were needed, the organisers claimed.
The Church tries to play down the more lurid associations but at the same time insists that the Devil exists and must be fought on a daily basis.
Pope Francis has frequently alluded to the Devil in his homilies and addresses since being elected to succeed Benedict XVI last March.