THE TRAGIC STORY OF:
Sep. 21, 1952, Germany
Jul. 1, 1976, Germany
a German Catholic woman who was said to be possessed by demons and subsequently underwent an exorcism. Two motion pictures, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Requiem, are loosely based on Michel's story.
Michel experienced what is recognized by medical professionals as severe psychiatric disturbances from the age of 16 to her death, at age 23, as a direct or indirect result of an exorcism ritual. Both priests who performed the exorcism and Michel's parents were convicted of negligent homicide. The Roman Catholic Church, which had authorized the exorcism, reversed its position and declared Anneliese Michel a case of mental illness.
Anneliese Michel was born in 1952 at Leiblfing, a small village in Bavaria. She was raised in the small Bavarian town of Klingenberg am Main, where her father operated a saw mill. Her parents were devout Catholics, and she grew into a deeply religious person. In 1968, Michel apparently began having seizures and was diagnosed as epileptic at the Psychiatric Clinic in Würzburg.
A stay at an unnamed psychiatric hospital did not improve Michel's health. Moreover, she began to suffer from depression. Having centered her life around devout Catholic faith, Michel began to attribute her condition to demonic possession. She grew increasingly frustrated with medical intervention as it did not improve her condition. Long-term medical treatment proved unsuccessful; her condition, including her depression, worsened with time. Michel became intolerant of sacred places and objects, such as the crucifix, which she attributed to her own demonic possession. Throughout the course of the religious rites Michel underwent, she took powerful psychotropic drugs prescribed to her by her doctors.
In June 1970, Michel suffered a third seizure at the psychiatric hospital she had been staying in and was prescribed her first anticonvulsant. The name of this drug is not known, and it did not bring about any immediate alleviation of Michel's symptoms; she also continued to talk of what she called "devil faces" seen by her during various times of the day. Michel became convinced that conventional medicine was of no help as it did not make her feel better in the least. Growing increasingly adamant that her illness was of a spiritual kind, she appealed to the Church to perform an exorcism on her. Although she was fervent about the potential help that an exorcism could offer her, Michel was denied by the Church. That same month, she was prescribed another drug, Aolept (pericyazine), which is a phenothiazine with general properties similar to those of chlorpromazine: pericyazine is used in the treatment of various psychoses, including schizophrenia and disturbed behaviour.
In November 1973, Michel started her treatment with Tegretol (carbamazepine), which is an antiepileptic drug. Michel took this medicine frequently, until shortly before her death, when she was unable to swallow anything. On July 1, 1976, Anneliese Michel died in her sleep. The autopsy report stated that her death was caused by the malnutrition and dehydration that was caused by almost a year of semi-starvation during the rites of exorcism.
After an investigation, the state prosecutor maintained that Michel's death could have been prevented even one week before she died. He charged all four defendants—Pastor Ernst Alt and Father Arnold Renz as well as the parents—with negligent homicide for failing to call a medical doctor.
The trial started on March 30, 1978, in the district court and drew intense interest. Before the court, the doctors claimed the woman was not possessed, although Roth, who was asked for medical help by Father Alt, allegedly said after the exorcism he witnessed on May 30, 1976, that "there is no injection against the devil, Anneliese".
The priests were defended by church-paid lawyers, whereas the parents were defended by one of Germany's most well-known lawyers, Erich Schmidt-Leichner, a lawyer who had defended numerous persons in Nazi war crimes trials. Schmidt-Leichner claimed that the exorcism was legal and that the German constitution protected citizens in the unrestricted exercise of their religious beliefs.
The defense played tapes recorded at the exorcism sessions, sometimes featuring what was claimed to be "demons arguing", as proof that Michel was indeed possessed. Both priests presented their deeply held conviction that she was possessed and that she was finally freed by exorcism just before she died.
Ultimately, the accused were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence and were sentenced to a six months suspended sentence and three years probation. It was a far lighter sentence than anticipated by most people. Yet, it was more than demanded by the prosecution, who had asked that the priests only be fined and that the parents be found guilty but not punished.
During the trial, the major lingering issues were related to the church itself. A not-guilty verdict could be seen as opening the gate to more exorcism attempts—and possibly unfortunate outcomes. But for the most part, experienced observers believed the effect would be the opposite—that merely bringing charges of negligent homicide against priests and parents would provoke changes and more caution.
Before the trial, the parents asked the authorities for permission to exhume the remains of their daughter. They did so as a result of a message received from a Carmelite nun from the district of Allgäu in southern
The official reports (to date undisputed by any authority) state that the body bore the signs of consistent deterioration. The accused exorcists were discouraged from seeing the remains of Michel. Father Arnold Renz later stated that he had been prevented from entering the mortuary.
Bishop Josef Stangl, who approved the exorcism and corresponded by letter on the case with the two priests a dozen times, also was investigated by state authorities. It was decided not to indict him or summon him to appear at the trial due to his age and poor health. The bishop stated that his actions were all within the bounds of canon law. The courtroom case, called the Klingenberg Case, became the basis of Scott Derrickson's 2005 movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The film significantly deviates from the actual events (for example, the film is set in the
Today, Michel's grave in Klingenberg am Main remains a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics who consider Anneliese Michel a devout believer who experienced extreme sufferings to assist departed souls in purgatory.
Doctors started to assume that she might have had multiple personality disorder. Some doctors have suggested that many of Michel's symptoms are consistent with, and suggestive of, mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) section on dissociative disorders, and/or with behaviors observed in patients with these disorders, such as the temporary adoption of bizarre, rigid body postures (dystonia); the use of the first-person plural pronoun we to describe one's self; the markedly dilated pupils not explained by any external stimuli; full or partial amnesia; the emergence of distinct personalities among the demons; the pervasive psycho emotional numbness Emily describes in The Exorcism of Emily Rose; Michel's feeling as though her body was acting outside her volition (depersonalization); fear or rejection of sexuality; the persistence of these symptoms despite medical treatment, and in absence of any known medical cause; and many others.
The Public Image Limited song "Annalisa", from their debut LP in 1978, was inspired by Michel's exorcism and death. The song "Anneliese", from the album In Solitude (2006) from the band Worwyk, also refers to Michel's story.
THERE WAS A BOOK WRITTEN ABOUT HER BY FELICITAS GOODMAN AND A FILM CALLED THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE MADE IN 2005.
Listen to the actual Exorcism (WARNING IT MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME)