A new documentary shows inside the world of modern exorcisms, where enthusiastic and charismatic preachers claim they can “cure” teenagers suffering from mental disorders.
In scenes reminiscent of horror classic “The Exorcist” a young girl wails and writhes on the floor as the purple-robed priest thrusts a crucifix in her face and shouts Christian slogans.
He is supposedly attempting to drive the devil from within her.
The option of an exorcism was taken by Natalia, who lives in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires.
The teenager had been complaining for weeks of strange urges and impulses, as well as voices telling her to do things she wouldn’t usually do.
Her religious parents believed the symptoms could be the work of the devil and sent her to see prominent exorcist Manuel Acuña.
He has exorcised thousands of girls like Natalia and vehemently believes their mental issues can be cured through a religious ceremony and not in a doctor’s office.
In Natalia’s case, Manuel, known as the Padre, spent an hour “locked in combat with the devil”.
In a BBC documentary he can be seen chanting to himself as the girl’s screams echo around his church, in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.
The documentary sheds light on the practice of exorcisms, which are still popular in some of the more superstitious parts of the world.
There is a huge demand for exorcisms in Argentina, often from unwell girls who would be better served seeing a doctor or medical professional.
The procedures are like something out of a movie. The padre brandishes a cross and rings a bell as the afflicted person thrashes and moans.
The inside story of exorcisms has come to light as Manuel, who often appears on local TV shows, becomes the subject of a new BBC 3 documentary, Exorcism: The Battle for Young Minds.
In the show, journalist Andrew Gold meets the Padre, who he says was clearly influenced by the big-screen depiction of exorcisms.
Andrew told Sun Online : “His church was adorned with movie posters superimposing his face onto characters from the X-Files and The Exorcist.”
He said: “When watching videos, there’s a distance that makes the exorcism process seem either paranormal or a little embarrassing.
“But to actually be in the room is something else.
“Initially keen to get involved, I’d taken hold of the bells that supposedly drove off the devil.
“But standing over Natalia, the gravity of her situation dawned on me. This was a woman at my feet who I perceived to be suffering from a serious mental illness.
“She came from an impoverished district where nobody discussed mental health, so it was tough for her both socially and financially to put herself in the care of psychologists.”
After the ordeal Natalia claims she is feeling better - however when she is checked up on later on by Andrew she has in fact not improved at all.
Padre’s work has even been known to harm the people he exorcises.
In the documentary, Andrew speaks with doctor Eduardo Garin, who loses patients to figures like the Padre.
He believes that exorcism is so popular because it genuinely appears to work at first, as a catharsis.
But the doctor warns: “I can only tell you as a doctor and as a scientist. It is a dangerous practice.”
At the end of the BBC documentary, a furious Padre demands to be left alone by the film-making crew, calling reporters “snotty brats” and “little punks” when they question him on the controversy surrounding his exorcisms.
“You got the scandal you were looking for,” he rages. “And you came to defraud the church’s trust.
“They just want Argentina to look bad. They’re English. They’re the enemy - they always have been. They took the Falklands.”
By Tom Davidson