HL Deb 09 June 1975 vol 361 cc1-4

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take having regard to the letter from 65 leading academics about exorcism in the Church of England and its growing practice in many English dioceses.


My Lords, it would be neither appropriate nor helpful for Her Majesty's Government to intervene in the debate on this matter which is now going on within the Church.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the deplorable reply that he cannot take any action just now. In view of the fact that in the 16th and 17th centuries the Church was conscious of the dangers of exorcism, is it compatible with modern medicine that the Church should now be encouraged to indulge in this medieval practice?


My Lords, in reply to my noble friend I would say that what happened quite recently, and the publicity given to it, has caused considerable concern. The open letter from 65 leading academics, to which my noble friend referred, was directed, if I understand the position correctly, to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and to the Bishops and members of the General Synod. The letter went so far as to suggest that exorcism receives no official encouragement and gains no official status in the Church. As it was directed to the Church in General Synod, I assume—and it is an assumption on my part—that this is a matter which they will consider at the General Synod next month.


My Lords, does my noble friend feel that it would also be appropriate for the Government to give an indication to the Church of the very wide feeling existing in the country against this type of behaviour, and also the feeling of sadness that the Church has not been so forthright in condemning what appears to many to be very near witchcraft, which is not in accord with present-day methods in society?


My Lords, I understand the concern of my noble friend, but would come back to the point which I tried to make a moment or two ago. At least for the time being, this matter must be left to the Church.


My Lords, has it not always been a function of civil government to stand between the Church and the Devil, with a modified leaning to the Left?


My Lords, for all I know it may be necessary to do so again.


My Lords, can my noble friend argue that this is a matter for the Church? Surely the victims of these practices are ordinary lay, ignorant people who become victims of a superstition about which they know nothing, but which they feel can be submitted to because the Church wields such tremendous power in the community.


My Lords, I do not think I can take the matter any further without repeating what I have already said. Certain Prelates have taken a very strong view about this matter. I think I am right in saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury himself has drawn attention to the need for collaboration with the medical world, but I cannot take the matter any further this afternoon.

The Lord Bishop of DERBY

My Lords, while appreciating the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and expressing greater appreciation of it than was perhaps gathered the last time she raised this matter, may I ask that in any consideration given to this matter Her Majesty's Government will also take note of the great increase in occult practices of Satanist groups and the like, whose activities have stirred up a great deal of interest in the practice of exorcism? Will Her Majesty's Government also take account of the fact that there is no general encouragement in the Church for people to take part in the activity of exorcism?


My Lords, I am sure my right honourable friend will take note of what the right reverend Prelate has said.


My Lords, is not the real danger to people already men- tally disturbed, in that they may believe in the existence of devils?

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