Pope Francis
Some people believe Pope Francis performed an exorcism after Sunday's Mass in St. Peter's Square. Reuters

Pope Francis laid hands on a young man, and there is speculation that the act was an exorcism. However, the Vatican has denied the claims that Pope Francis performed an exorcism following Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.

The incident occurred after Sunday Mass. A television station captured Pope Francis laying hands and praying over a sick child. The boy shakes the pope’s hand, and an individual speaks to Pope Francis briefly before he places his hands on the boy’s head. Pope Francis can be seen praying, and the boy soon drops down into his wheelchair. Some believe Pope Francis performed an exorcism or prayed to remove the devil from the boy’s body, the Associated Press reports.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has denied the exorcism claims in a statement. According to Lombardi, “The Holy Father did not intend to perform any exorcism,” he said. “Rather, as he frequently does with the sick and the suffering who come his way, he intended to simply pray for a suffering person who had been brought before him.” AP notes that the topic of the devil has been featured in previous homilies by Pope Francis, which further spurred the speculation of an exorcism.

Vatican Radio says, regarding the nature of exorcism with the Catholic Church: There is a very strict ritual that must be followed when a bishop or priest performs an exorcism. Instead of “evangelical-style tent revival theatrics,” an exorcism consists of a regiment of prayer, gesture or movements, a crucifix and holy water, Vatican Radio notes.

Father Bernd Hagenkord spoke to Vatican Radio and elaborated on the exorcism ritual. According to Hagenkord, “Church law requires that every diocese have at least one specially trained exorcist, who knows how to distinguish the signs of demonic possession from those of mental or physical illness. In fact, even today, when some voices claim that demonic possession is on the rise, exorcism remains very, very rare. The vast majority of cases investigated turn out to be cases of mental illness.”

Hagenkord goes on to say that Pope Francis’ gesture is an ancient one that can mean many things. The action is meant to lend itself toward spiritual healing, but miracles have happened where laying of hands has led to the healing of ailments affecting a person. While the church will not classify Pope Francis’ actions as an exorcism, according to official guidelines, his prayer could have led to some sort of healing of the young man.

The video of the supposed exorcism performed by Pope Francis, via Repubblica TV, can be viewed below.