The Vatican is struggling to cope with a massive rise in demand for exorcists by Italians who are finding themselves increasingly menaced by demons.

The archdiocese of Milan has doubled the number of its exorcists and a telephone hotline in Rome has been ringing off the hook.

Father Vincenzo Taraborelli, who recently took over as the Vatican's head exorcist, says there have been 500,000 requests in Italy this year and he says and his small team cannot keep up with the demand.

He told Breitbart: 'There are only nine of us left and many more are needed. We need other priests like me to meet the needs of so many families.

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Padre Vincenzo, as he is known, sometimes handles up to 30 'clients' a day.

Last month, as an Italian documentary, Liberami, on exorcism won the best film at the Venice Film Festival, the country's most experienced exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, died aged 91.

Liberami's director Federica Di Giacomo, follows the efforts of Father Cataldo, a veteran exorcist in Sicily, in her movie.

In Frosinone, near Rome, another exorcist Father Ildebrando Di Fulvio, said when people asked for their relatives to be exorcised they were often ignoring more obvious issues like chronic depression or schizophrenia.

Father Di Fulvio claims to be able to spot when someone is possessed by a demon rather than in the thrall of mental illness.

He lists these as deformed facial expression; cavernous voice; spitting out food or metal objects; speaking in ancient languages; unnatural physical strength; and violent reactions to prayers and holy water.

Father Aldo Buonaiuto says 10 million Italians have consulted amateur exorcists but he says: "Most of them are charlatans who dupe desperate customers, but among them are some Satanists."