The Supernatural Horrors In 'The Rite' Were Based On The Work Of Father Gary Thomas
The true story behind The Rite is based on the career of Father Gary Thomas, a priest who's been an exorcist for decades. Like The Exorcist, The Rite was based on a true story. The film drew much of its narrative from the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Day Exorcist by Matt Baglio, which outlines the true story of Father Gary Thomas and his exorcisms.
Nowadays, Father Gary Thomas splits his time between giving interviews, running his rather large ministry, and performing exorcisms. It's important to him that the truth about exorcism as a practice reach a wider audience, so those in danger can find the help they need.
Father Gary Thomas Played An Active Role In The Movie's DevelopmentVideo: YouTube
Father Gary Thomas had an integral role in the development of The Rite. At a time he spent over a week in Budapest, where most of the film was shot, offering criticism and insight to the creators. Anthony Hopkins reportedly received coaching on how to properly portray an exorcism from Father Thomas, which included everything from how to wear a stole to how to punctuate the prayers. The creative staff of The Rite was deeply interested in accuracy, according to Father Thomas.
The Catholic Church Really Does Have A Class For ExorcistsPhoto: Queen of Peace Media / YouTube
Since the appointment of Pope Francis in 2013, there's been a resurgence in demands for exorcisms. In fact, it's been reported that Pope Jean Paul II issued a mandate requesting every bishop appoint and train an exorcist for their diocese. Part of this training may include a week-long training course in the Vatican, designed to prepare priests for duties as an exorcist.
In Father Gary Thomas's case, this training ended with him tutoring under Father Carmine, a Roman exorcist, for three-and-a-half months. He observed exorcisms, helped the discernment team, and participated in the rite to gain the hands-on experience he needed to expel evil.
Father Thomas Only Performs Exorcisms In Approved LanguagesPhoto: The Rite/New Line Cinema
Demons can be surprisingly legalistic, according to Father Gary Thomas. He says the power of an exorcism comes from the faith of those involved but also from the approval of the Catholic church.
Part of this approval means using the correct language to perform the rite. Latin is the traditional language of exorcisms, and the most hated language to demons, according to Father Thomas. However, in a pinch, approved translations of Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese are available for use. Demons have apparently even been known to tease exorcists who do not use an approved translation. This means parishioners who speak other languages, like Father Thomas's native English, are out of luck when it comes to understanding the rite being administered to them.
There Are Only Three Questions Father Gary Thomas Asks A DemonPhoto: Francisco Goya / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Communicating with demons is definitely on the Catholic Church's list of things not to do, but for an exorcist it can be unavoidable. As pointed out in The Rite, ascertaining a demon's name and purpose is the first step in asserting control.
For Father Thomas, this means praying for the safety of his team and then beginning a grueling interrogation into the nature of the demon involved. This interrogation always contains only three questions: "What is your name?", "How did you get in?", and "When are you leaving?" He says that obtaining answers to these questions is a sign the demon is losing strength. Once the demon's strength is depleted, he can begin casting it out with prayer.
Father Gary Thomas Was A Middle-Aged, Experienced Priest When He Became An ExorcistPhoto: The Rite/New Line Cinema
The movie The Rite follows a seminarian, Michael Kovak, who is planning on renouncing his vows after graduation to get a free education. He ends up traveling to Rome to train as an exorcist, where he finds his calling.
In contrast, Father Gary Thomas, whom Kovak was based on, was an experienced priest of 22 years when he pursued his training as an exorcist. Already in his 40s, he says he was far from a skeptic by that point. He doesn't blame director Mikael Håfström for taking liberties with Matt Baglio's written account of his life. Father Thomas actually says he was happy for the opportunity to act as consultant for the film, making sure all the most important details were accurate.
Father Gary Thomas Was Not His Diocese's First Choice To Become An ExorcistPhoto: Magi Center / YouTube
Few people end up with the first job they take, and Father Gary Thomas was no exception. The father spent the first 22 years of his career as a traditional priest before his diocese suggested he become an exorcist. A detail The Rite left out was that his bishop originally requested another priest take the position, but the clergyman declined.
Whether based on the danger involved or the stigma surrounding the profession, exorcism is unpopular work among most priests. In a turn of events not unlike the character based on him, however, Father Thomas has taken it as a calling. He claims that Satan is real - and it's up to the faithful to put themselves at the disposal of God to fight them.