Even though exorcisms seem like part of the distant past, the Catholic Church still does them. There are 500,000 exorcisms in Italy each year, one friar said.
Lots of people have problems with this: that it's a superstitious, black magic bunch of woo.
But Rick Lusk, 56, a Denver man who defines himself as a community minister, spiritualist, and, yes, occasionally an exorcist, says that isn't the problem with how the Catholics do their exorcisms.
It's that the Catholics are so darn closed-minded about it.
If a family has a refrigerator rolling across the room, and he thinks it's caused by demons, the Catholic church will come exorcise the house — unless they disapprove of their lifestyle, Lusk says.
"They may be gay, they may be divorced, they may be on the fringes of that community, still in need of that kind of support, but unable to get exorcisms from the Catholic church," says Lusk, who walks around town sometimes with a priest's collar on.
This exorcist is modern, open-minded. His main focus is on suicide prevention, especially among veterans. But he'll work with LGBTQ people in any spiritual capacity — even this mysterious one.
"There's a whole segment of society that the Catholic church has turned their back on" when it comes to exorcism, Lusk says.
Which can lead to a real spiritual emergency, Lusk says.
Not long ago, Lusk was called to a home that a family had inherited after a single gay relative committed suicide. Here, there was a disturbance, Lusk says. Inanimate objects moved. Everyone felt the presence of a soul that couldn't let go, because it had been held back by another spirit. The family wasn't able to get the Catholic church interested in a cleansing of the house, Lusk says.
So Lusk stepped in.
Chanting, prayer, sage and crosses, over the course of several weeks — then, in Lusk's words, "the gay man's spiritual captor released his soul and vacated the place."
Exorcisms feel like a bizarre bit of religious kookery. But it's a vibrant, if hidden, part of the world's largest organized religion, Catholicism. The Vatican just announced a conference on exorcism in April. Saint Michael's "Journal of Exorcism," reported recently that "demand for exorcisms rises 'exponentially,'" as more people seek help for when a beelzebub or a lucifer lodges itself in a soul or a home. And even though Pope Francis seems hippie, liberal and open, he's all about the Dark Side, and recently gave his blessing to the International Catholic Association of Exorcists, for “helping people who suffer and are in need of liberation.”
But not, apparently, for those who need liberation — but who watched Queer Eye while they were alive.
Lusk says exorcism isn't like in Hollywood. It isn't about finding a scary young girl whose soul has been sideswiped by Satan, announce that the power of Jesus commands the demon to exit, then stand back to avoid the projectile vomit.
Lusk's most common request is to deal with haunted houses.
"This type of work has been part of the real estate community for decades," Lusk says.
How it works is: a new homebuyer feels their spot is haunted — possessed, by a demon squatter, an otherworldly occupant who ain't paying rent — Lusk and his "spiritual cleansings" are like an eviction officer, but for spirits. Next thing you know, the house is ready for staging and showing.
Lusk says he's not in it for the money, but donations to local charities are accepted.
Lusk lets us in on a secret: sometimes, there are no spirits in there at all. The homebuyer is imagining it. But Lusk likes to give peace of mind.
"So you shake your burning sage, you shake your cross and you leave," Lusk says. "That's generally enough."
He also works with ghost hunting groups, providing a layer of spiritual protection for those who seek out contact with malicious spirits, he says.
And if the spirits are gay? That's where Lusk is at his best.