The Roman Catholic Church has some serious problems: declining church attendance in Europe, paedophile scandals from Ireland to America, a chronic shortage of priests, and a series of turf wars with protestant evangelicals or (in places like Brazil) voodoo-influenced syncretic movements.
Few people, however, when asked what challenges face the Vatican in the 21st century, would single out demonic possession.
So it's surprising to read, in today's Telegraph among other places, that Pope Ratzinger wants to employ more exorcists.
The octogenarian Father Gabriele Amorth, who heads the Vatican's demonology unit (it apparently exists), has been outlining plans to recruit hundreds of priests to specialise in the sprinkling of holy water and casting out of Beelzebub. No doubt they will also be given lessons in how to avoid projectile vomit.
Thanks be to God that we have a Pope who has decided to fight the Devil head-on.
Hitherto, he thinks, there's been a problem with apathy.
Too many bishops are not taking this seriously and are not delegating their priests in the fight against the Devil. You have to hunt high and low for a proper, trained exorcist.
That all this will now change is apparently due to the pope's personal enthusiasm for the project.
Thankfully Pope Benedict XVI believes in the existence and danger of evil, from the time he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I remember a meeting we exorcists had with the Holy Father last year, in which he implored us to follow our mission as exorcists.
Now all this seems distinctly odd. Ratzinger has about him the air of a serious intellectual. He was for many years a professor of theology. His recent encyclical, Spe Salvi ("Space Elves") was a tightly-argued analysis of enlightenment and post-enlightenment philosophy. His book on Jesus was a doorstopper weighted down with footnotes.
In contrast with the theatricality of his predecessor, who did have a pronounced interest in shrines and miracle-working icons (he famously attributed his surviving a 1981 assassination attempt to the "maternal hand" of Our Lady of Fatima), Ratzinger makes speeches about the compatibility of faith and reason. Yet here he is warning the world about the sort of monsters who only inhabit cheesy 1970s movies. What is going on?
I don't for a moment think that Ratzinger actually believes in this sort of nonsense. But it does fit in well with his medievalising agenda. He makes speeches quoting 15th century Byzantine emperors. He has reintroduced indulgences and reinstated the recondite Tridentine mass. He enjoys wearing fancy clothes and sitting on thrones. His headgear gets more elaborate by the day; I'm sure he secretly wants to bring back the Tiara.
It's all part of a plan, I think, to distance the Catholic Church from what the pope sees as the corruptions of modernity, to reassert the fullness of its historic mission, in a word to get back to basics. An aggressively anti-modern religion, he has noticed, is a successful religion, whether it takes the form of stoning, burkha-imposing Islam or Darwin-denying, Bible-spouting American Protestantism. People don't want a religion to be credible, to be easy for rational individuals to believe. Just look at the travails of the Church of England if you want to know what happens to a faith that attempts to compromise with the modern world.
After all, what's the point of a religion if you don't have to believe all of it? Why bother believing any of it?
Far better to insist upon dogmas that would strain anyone's credulity. Then they'll be queuing up to join.
Like Tony Blair. After falling for the weapons of mass destruction delusion, demons should be a doddle.