VATICAN CITY - The Vatican is downplaying speculation that Pope Francis intended to perform an exorcism.
There have been questions since Francis laid hands on the head of a young man in a wheelchair after celebrating Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square. The young man heaved deeply a half-dozen times, shook, and then slumped in his wheelchair as Francis prayed over him.
The television station of the Italian bishops' conference reported that it had surveyed exorcists who agreed there was "no doubt" that Francis had performed an exorcism or a prayer to free the man from the devil.
The Vatican has responded that Francis "didn't intend to perform any exorcism" and was "praying for someone who was suffering who was presented to him."
Francis frequently mentions Satan in his homilies. Experts said Francis' frequent invocation of the devil is a reflection both of his Jesuit spirituality and his Latin American roots, as well as a reflection of a Catholic Church weakened by secularization.