Beliefs Culture

Catholic priest suggests Satan made James Holmes a killer

RNS photo courtesy Rev. Dwight Longenecker

(RNS) A Catholic priest has suggested that Satan may have driven accused killer James Holmes to open fire at a Colorado cinema, continuing the religious debate over a shooting that claimed 12 lives and wounded 58 more. 

“Was he demon possessed? Maybe. It happens,” the Rev. Dwight Longenecker wrote at the Patheos website, where the Catholic priest from Greenville, S.C., is a columnist.

Rev. Dwight Longenecker suggested that Satan may have driven accused killer James Holmes to open fire at a Colorado cinema, continuing the religious debate over a shooting that claimed 12 lives and wounded 58 more.

Rev. Dwight Longenecker suggested that Satan may have driven accused killer James Holmes to open fire at a Colorado cinema, continuing the religious debate over a shooting that claimed 12 lives and wounded 58 more.

Religious leaders and public figures have sparked some of the most heated discussions in the wake of the tragedy as they have offered various explanations for the violent outburst and spiritual guidance for dealing with it.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a onetime Baptist minister, blamed the nation’s “sin problem” for the crime. He echoed the views of Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, that the shooting happened because public prayer is not allowed at public schools and so Americans have lost the “protective hand” of God.

Longenecker dismissed the range of explanations for what might have motivated Holmes – a bad childhood, mental illness, social awkwardness, extreme political or religious views, or exposure to violent video games or to the Batman movie that was showing when he allegedly opened fire. The real culprit, he says, was spiritual, and malign.

“Demonic infestation is a rare, strange and terrible psycho-spiritual affliction,” Longenecker said. “In simple terms, a malevolent, separate intelligence infests the mind and spirit of a person.”

The priest conceded that “trying to diagnose the possibility of demonic influence is extremely difficult.” An exorcist, he says, “often feels like he is walking blindfolded through a minefield set in quicksand. He is wrestling with a pool of oily octopuses.”

Longenecker suggests that in the end, it is best to say that Holmes was “taken over by Evil.”

“Something happened to the mild mannered science geek. He turned into a monster. Something twisted in his mind and heart, and Evil made an entry. Evil infested his life. It took him over.”


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • I’,m watching American current events from the relative safety of the 45th parallel and can’t or don’t want to imagine some of the various scenarios that may develop socio-politically as the election draws near. Quite frankly I fear for Obama’s life. The Huckabee fascists are preparing themselves stage right and lovin’ that fried chicken too.

  • Oh, how shocking it must be for the leftist RNS crew to report this news. A Christian clergyman actually proposes that Satan may have had something to do with a such a gross outburst of sin?

  • “A Christian clergyman actually proposes that Satan may have had something to do with a such a gross outburst of sin?”

    On the other hand, there’s something to be said for a Christan (or anyone else) taking personal responsibility for sinful acts. Blaming someone else is as old as Genesis 3.

  • It would be important for who ever uses “satan” language to be acquainted with biblical studies and how evil is personified and often called “the devil.” In the end evil did capture the heart and soul of this young man, but was it mental illness and all the evil that can arise from that disorder? Remember the old line: “The devil made me do it”?

  • If blaming someone is as old as Genesis 3, belief in demonic possession is at least as old as the gospels which is full of it. Do we wish to dismiss Jesus’s work in this area as some illusion of his times he went along with? Just because the subject of possession is difficult, alienating, fearful and often obviously wildly misunderstood, that is not a reason to flee from the possiblity something real is involved. We just need to be better informed. I tried to shed some needed light on this subject in the course of “Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency”, see
    and frankly I do think inability to treat the subject of extreme evil well is at the point of being an inefficiency where Christianity is concerned. The views are too unbalanced. Either there’s the plain hysteria which see the devil everywhere or there’s the flip blase rationality which has everyday reasons for what belongs to blackest night. We need to get beyond this.

  • All I have to respond to Paul T. McCain above is that he should produce his “Satan.” We’ll put him in the dock and charge him, hopefully find him guilty, kill him, and send him… Where? To hell? The people produced by theological schools who have only memorized the bible and know little else, no history, no science, make fools of themselves and their congregants by preaching mythology as if it is fact.

  • Rollan McCleary: You’re guilty of taking an easy way out of admitting a lack of knowledge and doing the work required to fill that gap. A good, hard study of the social and physical sciences would help. We do not need to rely on “what ifs.” There are plenty of reliable, replicable facts to support solid thinking, diagnoses, and conclusions.

    Proof of the inanity of all this is the fact that Holmes hasn’t even been examined by any reliable medical people yet. Relatively little is known of his background. These people like Dwight Longenecker divine their explanations without knowing a single thing about the man. And U.S. Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas can’t even move his party to accomplish a single thing in the House of Representatives, so it’s easy to understand why he’s ready to blame everything on the Devil. They must be close friends.

  • gihow – I am guilty of nothing at all except as a doctor of religious studies keeping an open mind which you are not. Also perhaps I have a basic loyalty to the gospels to give them some benefit of the doubt you don’t give, possibly because you’re one of the neo-atheists who hang around religion sites to correct the ignorant, or some Jesus Seminar academic for whom eighty per cent of the gospels can be discounted. You don’t know me, you haven’t read me on these subjects, but in a way that I am becoming familiar with where Americans are concerned you just land in fists flying on a subject. I’m a merely ignorant person to be condemned..

    Let me return the compliment. I imagine you are one of these of those resltess, half paranoid Americans, scared witless of appearing before the world as anything but the most intellectually respectable individual, an idolater where scientists and their knowledge are concerned – they are all the last word in the truth of any subject until they change their minds! – clinging nervously to the sides if any irrational issue raises its head. The fact is a lot of science itself has depended upon intuitions, faith and even dreams to make progress in its line. There is, as the philosopher Michael Polyani insisted in “Knowing and Being”, a faith dimension to science and there are a variety of ways of knowing things correctly. And as Pascal had it, too much and too little reason can both mislead us. Frankly you sicken me and I am probably wrong to reply to you. Grow up and find some manners.

  • There is way too much stigma attached to mental illness as it is. To raise “Satan” as the culprit responsible for violent outbursts or erratic behavior of those likely suffering with mental illness is the same perception that allows the killing of women and children after branding them as “witches”–sometimes for no apparent reason other than one’s own paranoia that the devil is out there in others.
    Holmes appears to be a violent psychopath–the worst of the worse (some even think personality disorders and mental illnesses are somehow different–another reason to be cautious), but we still have to be careful how we characterize mental illness–certainly many people suffering from mental illness are more misunderstood than dangerous.
    A more positive approach would be to look at how our culture interacts with and possibly masks early signs of conduct disorder that indicate budding psychopathy–the worst form of a personality disorder. We have a social problem and to blame it on the devil instead of a broken culture is not going to help anyone.

  • All I have to say is…”DUH…!” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a Catholic Priest to know that Satan is behind ALL the wicked things going on in the world today…including injustice, wars, hunger, greed, etc.