It was an unusual circumstance, to be sure: Faced with an extraordinarily powerful haunting, the diocese of Pittsburgh assigned a high-ranking priest who in his turn enlisted the help of an alleged Catholic mystic.
The mystic — or “intuitive,” as the priest, Father Ron Lengwin, prefers to call her — was a local woman named Connie Valenti of Aspinwall, part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. She was involved, at least vicariously, in a famous case chronicled in a book called The Demon of Brownsville Road.
By all accounts a good, devout woman who had co-authored a column with Father Lengwin in the diocesan newspaper for twenty-five years, Valenti, now 84, used paranormal skills to “envision” the interior of the house, “view” the spiritual presences there, and advise both Father Lengwin and the homeowner, Robert Cranmer, on how to handle what can only be described as a nightmare (one detailed in the current “special report”).
There is no doubt that on many occasions, Mrs. Valenti, who never visited the home, offered extraordinary, even amazing, descriptions of rooms, furniture, and other characteristics. In some cases, her “visions” were virtually photographic. Parapsychologists call such an alleged ability “remote viewing,” while those in psychic circles call it “clairvoyance.”
The curiosity is not only the deployment of an “intuitive” by the archdiocese, but the advice Mrs. Valenti gave — including her instruction of Father Lengwin, who was vicar general of Pittsburgh, and as a priest has special power over evil, not to go to the home personally.
Well-known through a radio ministry, Father Ron (now a monsignor) would spend countless hours trying to help the homeowners, in some stretches speaking with Cranmer every day. He told them it would be a long, perhaps years-long battle. Communicating indirectly through the priest for almost two years, Mrs. Valenti offered dozens if not hundreds of directives on how to fight what, it became clear, was a major demon.
The demonic crisis was not resolved, however, until, after nearly two years, the archdiocese — then under Bishop Donald Wuerl (who would later head the Washington, D. C. archdiocese) — formally requested the assistance of a well-known New York exorcist named James LeBar — who in one visit was able to dispel a vast proportion of the manifestations. (Pittsburgh itself did not have an official exorcist, though it now does, as well as a “peritus” or counselor who is an expert in the rite.)
The homeowner himself “finished” the exorcism with prayers in a problem-plagued section of the basement. Years of battle, during which he tried everything from Mrs. Valenti’s advice (in one case covering a mirror, for unstated reasons) to playing endless loops of the movie The Passion of the Christ, had up to then proved frustrating, if not terrifying.
The archdiocese of Pittsburgh now has its own official exorcist, who was trained in Rome.
In an interview, Father Lengwin defended his use of Mrs. Valenti. “I was largely the spokesman for a woman whom I believe to be a mystic,” he told Spirit Daily, acknowledging that she had peculiarly instructed him never to go to the house itself. “Yes, she advised that, because I think if what was to be revealed was to be believed, then it should be by people who had never been in the house, in terms of what she was able to explain. So never being in the house was a good thing.” In the book, it was said that the initial reason was that Mrs. Valenti thought the presence of Father Lengwin would stir things up — worsen the situation.
“She has spiritual knowledge,” says the priest. “She is never public about it. She has been given spiritual knowledge with which she helps people, things nobody knows about. She’s able to go back and help people know the place God has in their lives.”
The question is whether involving a non-exorcistic mystic may have prolonged the episode, or even in effect fueled it, instead of bringing about a resolution, as occurred when, after that period of nearly two years (sometimes with daily counseling by Father Lengwin/Mrs. Valenti), an actual exorcist finally visited the home. Other priests who did visit the home courageously battled the entity through repeated liturgies in the home.
Surprisingly, Father Lengwin told Cranmer to expect an extremely long battle, in one case quoting the mystic as saying things would calm down for Christmas before ramping back up after the New Year. The question is whether that programmed matters in a less than productive way.
The priest — now second in command of the archdiocese — says Mrs. Valenti has helped police departments as well as countless individuals with her gift of “spiritual knowledge.” Even after the exorcism by Father LeBar, which occurred in 2004, Father Lengwin says he is not sure the house, which is being turned into a bed-and-breakfast, is totally clear. “When you have a situation like that,” he says, “there is the possibility that things can come back. There are places on earth that are more evil than others because when they fell the fallen angels went there,” he adds. “They can still have evil that is energized by subsequent events.”
A further issue: reincarnation: Mrs. Valenti believes people have had previous lifetimes, says Father Lengwin, who describes it more as “preincarnation”: the existence of souls before coming to earth. “We don’t use the term ‘reincarnation,'” he emphasizes — indeed, the notion of reincarnation is formally rejected by the Catholic Church as well as other Christian denominations. The priest says that while a person may come back in a different physical way, “it’s the same soul. We select what we want to do, what we need to do, coming into each life — to learn more, to serve God better.”
“Let’s put it this way, ‘souls going back to the Father to be renewed,'” says the vicar. “I have had a hard time with this over the years, but let me say: if God says to go back [to earth], guess what I’m going to do? I’m going to go back. We select what we want to do, what we need to do, coming into each life. It’s a matter of spiritual renewal.” Mrs. Valenti declined comment. It is a controversial notion, to say the least. “When we were spiritual beings, we’ve always had to go back to the Father to be renewed spiritually. And that continued even when we took on a physical form. Even today, the soul goes back to be spiritually renewed. I’ve had a hard time with this over the years. We select what we want to do coming into each life, to learn more, to serve God better.”
So strong was this infestation that religious objects were toyed with by unseen hands; rosary beads were inexplicably wound into knots; medal chains fell from the neck to the floor (though no links were broken); the Crucifix on one set of beads looked like it had been “chewed.” Cranmer says he could sense the presence scurrying to other parts of a room when he used Holy Water. But the spirit would not leave.
[resources: Special Report: The Demon of Brownsvville Road]
[You can read an interview SD conducted years ago with Father LeBar here]