We are now 107 days into the nurses’ strike at St. Vincent Hospital in Massachusetts. Providers have been on the streets for weeks, demanding safer working conditions and better nurse-patient ratios. Their employer, Tenet Healthcare, refuses to comply with their terms, leading to one of the nastiest labor disputes in recent memory.
This week, the nurses took up a new tactic: Staffers could be seen performing an exorcism while condemning the company for putting profit before their patients.
A Religious Rite
It’s not every day you see an exorcism. During a rally on Monday, workers stood from the balcony of the hospital holding a banner with the words, “Catholics Say: Cast Out the Evil of Corporate Greed. Justice for Saint Vincent Nurses,” as they sprayed holy water over the guard rail.
“God, Creator, and defender of the human race, who made us in your own image, look down in pity on these your servants, the executives of Tenet Corporation, now in the coils of the unclean spirit of corporate greed and disdain for safe conditions for the nurses and patients of this hospital,” the group chanted.
Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, the founder of Worcester’s chapter of the Catholic Worker Movement, says he helped organize the rally in support of the nurses. “We looked at the prayer for exorcism, which is a very specific Catholic prayer for the expulsion of evil,” he said.
The anti-war group has a history of taking a liberal stance on a variety of issues, including labor, but Schaeffer-Duffy says the protest was personal. “My wife and I and all four of our children were born at St. Vincent Hospital,” he said.
So far, around 700 of the hospital’s nurses have joined the strike. Tenet Healthcare has hired replacement nurses until the dispute can be resolved.
“We studied the circumstances regarding these nurses, and we became convinced that the hospital’s refusal to give a fair contract to these nurses had to do with corporate greed,” Schaeffer-Duffy said. “And so, we felt that casting out the sin of corporate greed through the power of the exorcism would be perfectly appropriate.”
Hospital administrators say they were less than pleased with the demonstration.
A spokesperson for St. Vincent Hospital told reporters, “We are a hospital providing vital care, not a theater for staged publicity stunts. We are disappointed and surprised the nurses’ union would support this attempt to demean the Catholic Church and its followers. According to the religious leaders we rely on for spiritual guidance, the activist group was not representing the Catholic Church, and its members were not performing a Church-sanctioned prayer or religious practice. We will not allow these antics to distract from our mission to deliver safe, quality care to the people of our community.”
Members of the Catholic Worker Movement are no longer allowed in the hospital, but Massachusetts Nurses Association spokesman David Schildmeier said the nurses working inside the hospital appreciated the gesture. “When they saw this, it just brought joy to their hearts,” he said, adding, “These activists risked getting arrested to make a stand on behalf of the nurses and their cause.”
Exorcisms Make a Comeback
Exorcisms are generally used to rid an individual of demonic possession, but experts say they’ve become increasingly political in recent years.
“We’ve seen this recent uptick in the U.S. of very public and political exorcisms,” says Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Just last week, authorities broke up an exorcism in the lumber aisle of a Home Depot in Dickson City, Pennsylvania. Staff reported several “disorderly people” in the store. According to police, two individuals were “having an exorcism in the lumber aisle for the dead trees.”
The men didn’t say why they thought the wood was possessed. No one was arrested in the incident after the two men left the lumber aisle willingly.
“Sometimes they’re simple: recited prayers, holy water, the rosary. Other times they do get pretty wild,” Chesnut added.
In January, a priest was reassigned after live-streaming an exorcism that supported former President Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
Last year, a priest was seen performing an exorcism in the middle of downtown Portland, Oregon. The archbishop, Alexander Sample, later clarified his intentions:
“I wasn’t trying to suggest that I think the city of Portland is possessed,” he told a local news outlet. “It’s not that at all. It’s just a prayer of blessing prayed by the clergy, especially a bishop over a community, just asking that all the influences of the Evil One be driven away.”
Chesnut says some of these exorcisms are even sanctioned by the Catholic Church. The Pentecostal movement is less restrictive in terms of who can perform the religious rite. He believes the recent uptick in exorcisms may be “a response to the Pentecostal competition.”
“It’s a real novelty seeing the left availing itself of exorcisms,” Chesnut said.
Be on the lookout for exorcisms in and out of the lumber aisle – or anywhere else, for that matter.