Religion and the Paranormal
Buell is aware some Catholics are uncomfortable with his combination of Catholicism and the paranormal. There are also the paranormal investigators who say he should leave religion out of it. Buell is firm on this issue. “If you believe in spirits, there’s got to be a God,” he says.
Still, some Roman Catholic clergy are concerned about his controversial use of psychics in dealing with haunted dwellings.
“Making use of someone who is frequently in communication with the ‘spirit world’ is extremely dangerous,” said Fr. Francis Tiso, Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The only preternatural voice that the people of God are to listen to is the voice of God. Other voices can be deceptive.”
Fr. John Gerth, a pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, also sees the danger.
“Dabbling in cooking or writing the great American novel are relatively safe,” he said. “Dabbling in the spirit world is not, unless you are properly disposed in mind, body and spirit. If people were to get involved with evil forces unexpectedly and without proper disposition of their own souls, it can be really bad. Worst case scenario, they could be in need of an exorcist themselves.”
Still, Tiso, who studied exorcism while ministering in Italy and assisted Fr. Cipriano de Meo, the Puglia region’s exorcist, said the worst can be avoided: “I think the safest thing for Ryan to do is to confine his work to research on well documented case histories, to learn from experienced exorcists, to travel to other cultures where exorcism and trance states can be observed, to study the documentation on the lives of the saints.”
Tiso also noted, “A layperson can always offer prayers for a fellow human being who is suffering from some illness or spiritual distress. That is part of being a Christian. However, only an authorized exorcist is allowed to address the presumed demonic force and command it to leave.”
Buell says he can’t ignore the pleas of a person who is plagued by the paranormal. “I do not believe for a second that God’s condemning the work I’m doing.”
Support within the Church
Not all members of the Catholic faith see Buell’s attitude as cause for alarm. Fr. Bob Bailey, pastor of St. Maria Goretti Roman Catholic Parish in Pawtuckett, R.I., worked on two cases with the PRS during Paranormal State’s second season.
“I really support what they’re doing,” said Bailey. “The usual occurrence after death is heaven, hell or purgatory. What we’re dealing with are anomalies. We don’t understand them right now.”
Bailey does make a point of clarifying he doesn’t mean they aren’t real. “Because so many people have had experiences, we have to admit there is paranormal activity out there, and that doesn’t go against our Catholic faith. I don’t find my work at all in contradiction to our Catholic faith,” he said.
Buell invited Bailey, who is not an exorcist, to bless a house for one episode of Paranormal State, and to pray for deliverance over a client in another. The difference between the rite of exorcism and the prayer of deliverance, Bailey said, is that exorcism is for people who are completely possessed by evil, who are violent and have lost free will.
Deliverance, he said, is for people who are oppressed by evil—and that attracted him to the paranormal long before Buell invited him to work with PRS. “I’ve always had an interest in helping with the paranormal,” he told me. “I have permission [from my bishop] to go out and help paranormal groups.”
The Real Deal
Many people, including Bailey, believe PRS is the real deal.
“What you see [on TV] is what you get,” Bailey said. “[Buell] spends the bulk of his time with the client. He’s extremely compassionate and I think he really makes them feel at ease. He’s also humble. When he called me up to counsel, he stayed right in the background. He let me do my thing. I consider it a privilege to work with him.”
Buell said that his signs of the cross, his prayers and the blessed medallions are for real, too, with or without A&E’s cameras capturing them. He goes to mass a couple of times a month, and sets aside time to pray and reflect on days that he doesn’t. He gives up something each year during Lent, and never tells anyone what it is. He likes his Catholic faith to feel personal.
“I’m by no means a cheerleader Catholic,” he told me. “I don’t go to mass every week, I don’t pray the rosary, and I don’t think God is a Catholic God.”
But he does think God is calling him to be a paranormal investigator.
“I believe I’m meant to be helping these people,” Buell said. “If anyone’s doing something morally wrong, God will figure that out.”