Pope Paul and Vatican officials have reaffirmed the Church's belief in the Devil and the need for specialised exorcists, following the recent conviction of two German priests on manslaughter charges.
The priests were found guilty of helping to cause the death through starvation of Anneliese Michel after they had spent eight months exorcising her.
Speaking at a general public audience, Pope Paul described the Devil as "the treacherous and cunning enchanter who finds his way into us by way of the senses, the imagination, lust, utopian logic or disorderly social contacts in the give and take of life."
He said: "The question of the Devil and the influence he can exert on individual persons as well as on communities, whole societies and events is a very important chapter of Catholic doctrine, which is given little attention today."
A Cardinal member of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said: "Unless there is belief in the devils, a multiplicity of devils or demons, there could be no Christian faith because the gospels refer constantly to Christ's struggle with and ousting of the Devil."
Another prelate in the doctrinal congregation said: "Every dioceses is supposed to have an exorcist priest whose identity is known only to the Bishop." But he thought that "some so-called modernminded bishops might not follow this rule.'
He added that all exorcists should obtain the permission of the diocesan bishop before exorcising and said: "The Bishop should take the elementary precaution of having a doctor, known only to him, who would spend a little time with the sufferer before calling on the priest."
Earlier Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Munich had said: "Evil cannot be omitted without destroying the entire structure of faith." Without evil there could be no good, he said.