When to Call an Exorcist?

by Kathryn Jean Lopez
Looking away from real evil on Halloween

On Halloween, The Drudge Report highlighted a Washington Post interview with the author of The Exorcist. William Peter Blatty had used the word “demonic,” and now there atop Drudge was a photo of of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

It had been another week of the Obama administration’s having to answer for and trying to explain away the political house of horrors that its signature law, the misnamed Affordable Care Act has becomesignat.

Blatty never called Sebelius demonic. But he did reflect on the American soul in ways deeper than most political analysts tend to, deeper than many public prayers about politics.

Sebelius’s name came up during the interview as Blatty talked with the reporter about his decades-long concern for the integrity of his alma mater, Georgetown University, as a Catholic institution. In the spring of 2012, he recalled, as religious leaders, and Catholic bishops in an unmistakable way, were protesting the White House’s insistence that an HHS-mandated assault on conscience stand as a new health-care regulation, Georgetown hosted Sebelius as its commencement speaker.

But this runs deeper than a cabinet secretary, a political debacle, or even one influential school. Anyone who clicked on the Drudge link was issued an invitation into a contemplative life.

The Ear of the Heart, the memoir of Mother Dolores Hart, known as “the nun who kissed Elvis,” the former actress who went on to the cloistered religious life writes: “To enter the contemplative life truly, you have to go though a narrow, lonely place in your being, where you face all your fears and selfish patterns, even when you don’t know what these are. I thought I was very grown up, very mature. You don’t realize what a child you are until God tests your heart and you go through that deep place all of us have to go through.”

Outside of a cloister, Blatty has seen that. Blatty has lived that.

The Post piece notes that Blatty wears “a silver medal etched with the three crosses of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified in the Gospels. The medal,” the reporter writes, “belonged to his son Peter, who died seven years ago. One reason The Exorcist has endured, Blatty thinks, is because it shows that the grave does not mean oblivion. That there is something after death.” As Blatty talked about the death of his son, he also talked about and demonstrated hope.

But what is even more interesting than what was printed in the Post’s article, occasioned by the 40th anniversary of The Exorcist, is what it did not say.

The reporter tells us about Blatty’s choice of sweetener for his coffee at their lunch at the Georgetown-area Tombs restaurant, along with his mashing his meatballs, carving his polenta, and swirling “them together with blood-red sauce.” And yet there is a ceiling on details in the piece. “He describes, his voice trembling, a particular abortion procedure in graphic detail,” the reporter writes. End of details.

Blatty tells me that what he described was a “late term abortion procedure plus the saline injection.”

“I described late-term abortion procedure in which the abortionist plunges a surgical scissors into the infant’s skull,” he says. He talked about the brutality of the procedure, one that Leroy Carhart, a late-term-abortion provider with a clinic in Maryland, has described in almost sacramental terms: “I think out of respect and love and honor for this baby that you’ve lost, you will find yourself being a better person,” Carhart recently told an undercover investigator from Live Action.

In 1977, Melissa Ohden survived a saline-infusion abortion. Her teen mom was six months pregnant, and Melissa was delivered alive and cared for as the newborn she was by the doctors and nurses present. Today she speaks about late-term abortion in the most personal of terms. She started a group, the Abortion Survivors Network, for other women who have survived abortion and who started life as babies who were supposed to have been delivered dead.

It’s hard to see no evil here. Even when there may be the best of intentions.

“Most women who come in for abortions, if they knew this, would never go through with it,” Blatty believes. It’s “demonic” to look away, to not confront it and insist on better, was his point. For women, for children, for our country and our day.

In talking with the Washington Post’s reporter, Blatty described his writing of The Exorcist as “apostolic.”

Picking up my yellowed copy of the 1971 classic, I am reminded of the quotes with which Blatty chose to open the book. First there was Luke. Jesus approaches a man possessed “by a devil.”

“Many times it had laid hold of him, and he was bound with chains . . . but he would break the bonds asunder.  

“Jesus asked him, saying, ‘What is thy name?’ And he said, ‘Legion.’ . . .”

Blatty then moves close to home, with a graphic portion of a transcript of an FBI wiretap describing a murder: “[William] Jackson was hung up on that meathook. . . . He was on that thing three days before he croaked.”

Blatty does not shy away from blunt descriptions of the evil men do. Dachau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald all get mentions before his novel begins.

Beyond ghoulish fascination, there is good and there is evil. And for all our popular talk of “spiritual journeys,” and of millennials’ being “spiritual but not religious,” we’re kidding ourselves if we think there is redemption in denial.

“There is no greater gift, I believe, that a woman can give, than life to a child,” Melissa Ohden has said. Melissa’s mother was pressured into that abortion that should have killed Melissa before she saw the light of day. “I soaked in that toxic salt solution,” Ohden described the latter days of her fetal life to a rally earlier this year protesting the push to expand the availability of abortion that New York governor Andrew Cuomo considers a priority of his administration.

This is a window into hell. Want out? Acknowledge our radical abortion politics as being about a right to dead babies, and we might just break the chains of a grave ideology, as we work together for something better.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.