A Spanish bishop known for performing exorcisms has resigned after reportedly falling in love with an author of Satanic-themed erotic fiction, sparking fears among his former Catholic colleagues that he has been possessed by the devil.
Xavier Novell, 52, who became Spain's youngest bishop when named in 2010, resigned in late August, with Church authorities in Solsona, Catalonia, citing "personal reasons" for his decision.
But sources quoted by the Catholic publication Religion Digital this week confirmed rumours that Novell had embarked on a relationship with Silvia Caballol, a psychologist and writer of erotic novels, leading him to set aside his vow of celibacy.
He said he had "fallen in love" and "wanted to do the right thing", according to reports, in reference to the relationship with the 38-year-old author of The Hell of Gabriel's Lust and the erotic trilogy Amnesia.
Caballol, a divorcee, is described by her publishing house Lacre as a "dynamic and transgressive author [who] turns upside down our ideas of morality and ethics".
In Amnesia, the author asks prophetically: "What happens when attraction is stronger than any code of ethics or social pressure?"
The Hell of Gabriel's Lust deals with occultism and sadism, as well as "the raw struggle between good and evil, between God and Satan, and between angels and demons".
Church colleagues told Spanish media they believed Novell had been possessed by demons, with one saying this was "not a problem of celibacy but rather of infestation".
The same sources claimed that Pope Francis had urged Novell to undergo an exorcism to free his troubled spirit, but the then-bishop had refused to do so.
Novell had himself practiced exorcisms for several years. His desire to study demonology apparently led him to meet and become close to Caballol, an expert in Satanism.
Novell had also come under fire for his strong support for and participation in so-called conversion therapy, aimed at "curing" gay people of their supposedly deviant sexuality.
Spain's Catholic synod criticised the holding of such events, but Novell was among a minority of priests who resisted and continued to organise conversion programmes.
In June, Novell attended a meeting in Torrent, Valencia, promoting the pseudo-therapy meant to direct young people towards heterosexuality.
According to someone who attended the event, Novell "held a wedding between a woman and one of the young men who had undergone such a treatment in Madrid, without the support or consent of the local priest or the bride's parents".
Novell has also been an outspoken supporter of independence for Catalonia, posting a photograph of himself to social media voting in the 2017 banned separatist referendum that led to a short-lived declaration of independence.
Two former ministers from the rebel Catalan government, who were imprisoned on charges of sedition before being pardoned and released in June, were among the few to express support for Novell when his resignation was made public.
Josep Rull and Jordi Turull thanked the former bishop for visiting them during their time in Lledoners prison to offer them spiritual comfort.
"Bishop Novell has always been by the side of political prisoners, with words and, above all, with deeds, becoming one of the few exceptions from the Catalan Church hierarchy," said Rull, who was Catalonia's minister for territorial matters.