ROME (Reuters) - Forget the new "Exorcist" film, the Vatican is offering the real thing.
A Vatican university said on Thursday it will hold a special "theoretical and practical" course for Roman Catholic priests on Satanism and exorcism in response to what the Church says is a worrying interest in the occult, particularly among the young.
This year, Italy was gripped by the story of two teenage members of a heavy metal rock band called the "Beasts of Satan" who were killed by other band members in a human sacrifice.
The deaths horrified Catholic Italy, with pages of newspapers given over to descriptions of the black candles and goats' skulls decorating one victim's bedroom and witness statements of sexual violence.
The Regina Apostolorum, one of Rome's most prestigious pontifical universities, said in a statement that such episodes should be seen as an "alarm bell to take seriously a problem which is still far too underestimated."
"In the last few years there has been a lot of interest in Satanism and it develops because of the media. It's not that the devil is in the media, rock and roll or the Internet but the media can be damaging when it is used the wrong way," Carlo Climati, one of the professors of the course, told Reuters.
"For young people, interest in Satanism can start with a CD, move onto the Internet. From there, it sometimes develops into home-grown, seemingly harmless things like going to cemeteries but sometimes can lead to murders, as we have seen."
The two-month course, which begins in February and will be limited to priests and advanced students of theology, will include themes such as Satanism, diabolic possession and "prayers of liberation."
Satanism, the statement said, aimed to sow confusion among the young and promote a world without moral rules.
According to some estimates, as many as 5,000 people are thought to be members of Satanic cults in Italy with 17- to 25-year-olds making up three quarters of them.
Interest in the devil and the occult has been boosted by films such as "The Exorcist" in 1973 and this year's "Exorcist: The Beginning."
In 1999, the Vatican issued its first updated ritual for exorcism since 1614 and warned that the devil is still at work.
The official Roman Catholic exorcism starts with prayers, a blessing and sprinkling of holy water, the laying on of hands on the possessed, and the making of the sign of the cross.
It ends with an "imperative formula" in which the devil is ordered to leave the possessed.
The formula begins: "I order you, Satan..." It goes on to denounce Satan as "prince of the world" and "enemy of human salvation." It ends: "Go back, Satan." although he has kept a low
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