Exorcism gone wrong

In the late 1960’s a seemingly normal young woman named Anneliese Michel started to display strange behavior. That strange behavior was a result of a demonic possession. A possession that ultimately led to her death.

There are also audio recordings of her exorcism on YouTube.

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Anneliese came into the world a healthy baby girl on September 21, 1952. Growing up with her parents and her three sisters, Anneliese did not have a simple life. Her family was strict Catholic, flirting with some of the more intense elements of the religion. To the Michel family, the reformations of Vatican II were to be ignored; there was no simple atonement for sin, and one could not get by on atonement for their sins alone. Anneliese would spend the winters sleeping on cold wooden floors hoping that God would take her sacrifice as penance for drug addicts who had lost their faith.

In 1969, Anneliese would suffer her first seizure. Doctors would tell her family that Anneliese suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, which could cause, among a terribly long list of side-effects, changes in mood, hallucinations, and loss of awareness. It was then that a neurologist at the Psychiatric Clinic Wurzburg diagnosed her with Grand Mal epilepsy. She was diagnosed with epileptic psychosis (temporal lobe epilepsy).

Over the next few years, Anneliese would suffer more seizures, however scans of her brain didn’t show any serious symptoms. In the early 1970’s, Anneliese would start to hear knocking in her bedroom, her sisters also heard the knocks. Anneliese started experiencing devilish hallucinations while praying. She also began to hear voices, which told her that she was damned.

The first unofficial diagnosis was made by an older woman who accompanied Anneliese on a pilgrimage. She noticed that Anneliese avoided walking past a particular image of Jesus, and that she refused to drink water from a holy spring. The woman also claimed that Anneliese smelled hellishly bad.

Doctor’s attempted to place Anneliese on anti seizure medication, but that had zero effect on Anneliese’s convulsions.

It was reported that Anneliese’s parents would find her starring at a statue of Mother Mary for hours, her eyes ‘jet black’. Her parents would also report that Anneliese seemed to have ‘super human strength’, throwing her sister across the room ‘like a rag doll’. Anneliese carried out a number of highly disturbing actions. She licked her own urine off the floor. She ate flies, spiders and coal. She bit off the head of a dead bird. In one instance, she crawled under a table and barked like a dog for two days. She could often be heard screaming through the walls for hours. Tearing off her clothes and urinating on the floor became a regular occurrence

As the spring of 1976 came on, Anneliese’s seizures worsened. She began to attack family members, biting and scratching them. When she couldn’t get her hands on any of her sisters, Anneliese would beat herself.

She refused to eat, saying that the demons wouldn’t let her. She would collapse to her knees and rise back up quickly, only to repeat the motion hundreds of times each day, breaking her kneecaps in the process. Anneliese believed she was possessed as well.

Still, her parents trusted in the church and did not seek medical help. In her lucid moments, Anneliese would tell anyone willing to listen that she was willing to die in order to atone for the “wayward youth of the day and the apostate priests of the modern church”.

Anneliese continued to refuse to eat, but now she made it clear that it was her choice, not the choice of the demons inside her. In her weakening state, Anneliese came down with Pneumonia and a fever. She became emaciated, dropping under 100 pounds. Still, the two priests continued the sessions.

The final exorcism was done on June 30, 1976. Anneliese, too frail to perform the genuflections herself, was helped by her parents. On the tape, Anneliese speaks for the last time. She tells Renz and Alt to “beg for absolution” then turns her attention to her family. Through tears, Anneliese whispers “Mother, I’m afraid”.

On the morning of July 1, Anneliese Michel died of malnutrition and dehydration. According to the coroner’s report, she weighed just 68 pounds. Suffering from broken knees due to continuous genuflections. She was unable to move without assistance, and was reported to have contracted pneumonia.

After an investigation, the state prosecutor maintained that Michel’s death could have been prevented even one week before she died.

In 1976, the state charged Michel’s parents and priests Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz with negligent homicide. During the case Michel’s body was exhumed and tapes were played to the court of the exorcisms over the eleven months which led to her death. The parents were defended by Erich Schmidt-Leichner; their lawyers were sponsored by the Church. The state recommended that no involved parties be jailed; instead, the recommended sentence for the priests was a fine, while the prosecution concluded that the parents should be exempt from punishment as they had “suffered enough”, which is a criterion in German penal law, cf. 60.

Trial:

The trial started on 30 March 1978 in the district court and drew intense interest. Before the court, doctors testified that Michel was not possessed, stating that this was a psychological effect because of her strict religious upbringing and her epilepsy, but the doctor Richard Roth, who was asked for medical help by Alt, allegedly told her during the exorcism, that “there is no injection against the devil, Anneliese”. Schmidt-Leichner said that the exorcism was legal and that the German constitution protected citizens in the unrestricted exercise of their religious beliefs. The defense played tapes recorded at the exorcism sessions, sometimes featuring what was claimed to be “demons arguing”, to assert their claim that Michel was possessed. Both priests said the demons identified themselves as Lucifer, Cain, Judas Iscariot, Belial, Legion, and Nero among others; they further said that she was finally freed because of her exorcism just before her death.

The bishop said that he was not aware of her alarming health condition when he approved of the exorcism and did not testify. The accused were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence and were sentenced to six months in jail (which was later suspended) and three years of probation. It was a far lighter sentence than anticipated, but it was more than requested by the prosecution, who had asked that the priests only be fined and that the parents be found guilty but not punished. The Church approving such an old fashioned exorcism rite drew public and media attention. According to John M. Duffey, the case was a misidentification of mental illness.

After the trial, the parents asked the authorities for permission to exhume the remains of their daughter. The official reason presented by the parents to authorities was that Michel had been buried in undue hurry in a cheap coffin. Almost two years after the burial, on 25 February 1978, her remains were replaced in a new oak coffin lined with tin. The official reports state that the body bore the signs of consistent deterioration. The accused exorcists were discouraged from seeing the remains of Michel. Arnold Renz later stated that he had been prevented from entering the mortuary. Her grave became and remains a pilgrimage site.

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