For most people it is a way of toning the limbs and soothing the stresses of everyday life, but the Catholic Church’s best-known exorcist says yoga is evil.
Father Gabriele Amorth, who for years was the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have cleansed hundreds of people of evil spirits, said yoga is Satanic because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation”.
Reading JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books is no less dangerous, said the 86-year-old priest, who is the honorary president for life of the International Association of Exorcists, which he founded in 1990, and whose favourite film is the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist.
The Harry Potter books, which have sold millions of copies worldwide, “seem innocuous” but in fact encourage children to believe in black magic and wizardry, Father Amorth said.
“Practising yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter,” he told a film festival in Umbria this week, where he was invited to introduce The Rite, a film about exorcism starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as a Jesuit priest.
“In Harry Potter the Devil acts in a crafty and covert manner, under the guise of extraordinary powers, magic spells and curses,” said the priest, who in 1986 was appointed the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome.
“Satan is always hidden and what he most wants is for us not to believe in his existence. He studies every one of us and our tendencies towards good and evil, and then he offers temptations.” Science was incapable of explaining evil, said Father Amorth, who has written two books on his experiences as an exorcist. “It’s not worth a jot.
The scientist simply explores what God has already created.” His views may seem extreme, but in fact reflect previous warnings by Pope Benedict XVI, when as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s enforcer of doctrinal orthodoxy.
In 1999, six years before he succeeded John Paul II as Pope, he issued a document which warned Roman Catholics of the dangers of yoga, Zen, transcendental meditation and other ‘eastern’ practises.
They could “degenerate into a cult of the body” that debases Christian prayer, the document said.
Yoga poses could create a feeling of well-being in the body but it was erroneous to confuse that with “the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit,” the document said.
Italian yoga schools said Father Amorth’s criticism was absurd.
“It’s an accusation that has nothing to do with reality,” Vanda Vanni, the founder of the Mediterranean Yoga Association, told Adnkronos, an Italian news agency.
“It’s a theory — if one can call it a theory — that is totally without foundation. Yoga is not a religion or a spiritual practise. It doesn’t have even the slightest connection with Satanism or Satanic sects.” Giorgio Furlan, the founder of the Yoga Academy of Rome, said yoga had nothing to do with religion, “least of all Satanism.” “Whoever says that shows that they know absolutely nothing about yoga,” he said.
Father Amorth has previously said that people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron and have such superhuman strength that even children have to be held down by up to four people.
He has also claimed that the sex abuse scandals which have engulfed the Catholic Church in the US, Ireland, Germany and other countries was proof that the Anti-Christ is waging a war against the Holy See.
2:31PM GMT 25 Nov 2011