Church sued over 'exorcism'

Church sued over 'exorcism'

Woman claims damages for trauma of alleged exorcism by two priests and helpers at Novena Church

Wednesday • August 30, 2006

— Channel NewsAsia

NOVENA Church, two priests and seven helpers are being sued for an alleged act of exorcism, in an incident believed to have taken place two years ago.

Ms Amutha Valli Krishnan, 50, an athlete in the 1980s, claimed that attempts to exorcise her later led to chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. A writ of summons was served last Thursday.

In the writ, Ms Amutha Valli claimed that on August 10, 2004, she went to Novena Church to pray with her son, daughter and a close friend. She fainted while she was there.

She is alleging that two priests from the church, Father Simon Tan and Father Jacob Ong, claimed she had been possessed by a spirit, and then performed an act of exorcism, helped by seven others.

The ritual is said to have lasted two-and-a-half hours, during which time Ms Amutha Valli claimed she had resisted furiously. She claimed she was strangled, pinned down and verbally abused.

When contacted, Father Tan claimed Ms Amutha Valli did not faint in church. In fact, he said, she had walked in asking for help, saying she was possessed.

Father Tan also denied any act of exorcism. He said he, Father Ong and seven helpers only said prayers over her.

Ms Amutha Valli's claims against the defendants include trespass, assault, false imprisonment and negligence. She is also asking for damages for loss of income and injuries.

Mr Suppiah Jeyabal, her husband, said: "Before, she was an athlete and ... a very tough person, you know, who (liked) to exercise; she must run and exercise. She also used to coach children — a very tough and active person.

"But now, she's more like a vegetable."

A medical report by a Changi General Hospital psychiatrist states that Ms Amutha Valli's symptoms — which are persistent, severe and extremely disabling —- are a direct result of the traumatic incident she experienced at the church.

According to the report, this has affected her ability to cope with self-care, demands at home and relationships with family members. The doctor added that she would require long-term treatment and follow-up, and is unlikely to fully recover.

Ms Amutha Valli's lawyer said it is still too early to comment, but he believed this is the first such case in Singapore.

The lawyer for the defendants says his clients deny liability and will file their defence by Sept 16. The civil suit is estimated to cost at least $1 million.

Just incidentally, last Sunday's papers quoted a Novena priest describing an exorcism in which a very shy girl suddenly having immense strength. Are priests allowed to share such things?

Back to this case, the Church takes exorcisms extremely seriously, so I doubt that the priests would have performed an exorcism so wantonly. Also, I don't see any reason that the priests should lie. However, there is enough evidence to say that something happened, and that this lady suffered for it. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Did the priests do something wrongly? Is this women a pathelogical liar? Will people be afraid to go the Novena Church now?

With the Catholic Church being in the public limelight yet again, I do hope that we do nothing to affect our public image negatively, and I do hope that we actually put a positive light to this sorry incident. It is times like this where I wonder if the church should have a full time publicist. I hope that the evidence reassures the public that we do not abuse and exorcise people like so, and I also hope that the women receives fair recourse and all the help that she needs. Even if the church wins this case, which it should I think, it must be careful not to come across as having condemned this women as a madwomen and putting her down just as a liar.

In my view, the church has not given a good account of itself in the public eye in recent times. There was the vague response to the tsunami. There was silence on the Nguyen (btw, there is another drug trafficker due for execution) and casino issues when other churches were more clear on their stances. The Da Vinci Code has surely damaged some opinion, and the Joaquim Kang case got a lot of publicity, but scarcely a squeak from the church. Through it all, I do feel that a normal person will just be that slight bit less inclined to find out about the church and know Christ through all the negative perceptions in the public eye. To do justice to our faith, we need to project a good impression of our faith.


John Goh said...

When I first heard the news on the radio, I was muttering to myself about how once again filth has been thrown at our Church in Singapore. What worried me was whether the Church government was going to respond in the right manner and whether it would be too slow.

I am of the view that there should be a someone in charge of the public relations in the Archdiocese, someone who has had experience in corporate communications. With what little I know of such matters, I feel that the first thing that should have been done would be to be in contact with the media on the emergence of such an issue. The media must know who to direct their queries. Otherwise, they would just go for any priest for comment. Contrary to what one sees on the TV or movie, "No comment" is about the worst response one can give to the media.

Today's Straits Times featured Fr William Goh was quoted as saying that an official exorcism has never happened here. He also said, amongst other things, that the praying was not an exorcism but an act of deliverance,and that "it helps with inner healing", done commonly and does not have any side effects.

I think an official press statement, carefully crafted, would have been more appropriate than having a person give an account in person, as the media would tend to ask questions that may provoke an unprepared response. I am not sure whether Fr Goh has had any training on how to handle the media, but bosses in big corporations all go through such a training. It is a skill that has to be learnt, not something that can be gained through age.

I received an email from a fellow Catholic and there was word document attached containg an urgent notice from the Novena Church RCIA coordinators. The notice explained the course of events, presenting the facts of the matter and served to allay any of the fears of those in the RCIA, especially the enquirers, whilst leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions and not condemning any party involved. I thought that it was very professional of the coordinators and I hope that the Church authorities respond in a similar fashion to address the Catholic population in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

John, will you be able to share that RCIA email here? Rgds, Chris.

Nick Teo said...

When I read the news, I too wanted to share it here. But I was wondering if our thoughts might turn detrimental on the perceptions of the Church.

Likewise, I share the sentiments that the church lacks a proper PR person to be the spokesperson. Come to think of it, it's always the Archbishop whom we know isn't exactly the best person for the job as can be seen during the Tsunami Catastrophe and Casino Stand.

I was discussing this issue with my dad, and he wondered if the lady is a Catholic or a frequent go-er to Novena Church (St Alphonsus) because there seems to be some suspicious assertions there.

But what John and Chris said is right, whether we like it or not, it's time for someone to speak on behalf of the Church to the public. Such drama is indeed disconcerting to Catholics, and especially to new enquirers.

John Goh said...


Some of you may have heard or read the news of a legal suit instituted by a lady against Fr. Simon, Fr. Jacob Ong and 7 other attendees of the Novena Church. Some of the attendees are members of the music ministry.

This note to you is to assure you of the integrity of the conduct of the 2 priests and the 7 others named in the suit and to dispel any speculation that may arise from the allegations.

On the 10th August 2004, a lady and her family was at the Novena Church premises at around 10.30pm. She was in hysteria and her family members sought help. Frs Simon and Jacob with the help of the 7 prayed over her and after she recovered she left the premises.

Unfortunately, without going into specifics, bizarre allegations by the lady have now been levelled against the 2 priests and 7 attendees for trespass, assault and battery, and false imprisonment. She had also lodged a police report but after the police investigated they took no further action as they found no wrong doing. In the last two years the lady and some of her family members through their lawyers have attempted to negotiate a monetary settlement with the 2 priests. As Frs. Simon & Jacob had at all times conducted themselves properly in line with their responsibilities and duties as Redemptorists priests of the Novena Church, they flatly refused to entertain any settlement for allegations that were untrue. In her suit she is now claiming damages in excess of $250,000.00.

The original lawyers that acted for the lady in attempting to effect a monetary settlement with the priests is no longer acting for her. The lady’s new lawyers took over and commenced a civil suit and served the suit on Fr. Simon and Fr, Jacob last week and the media got wind of the suit. Denis, one of our facilitators has informed me that the press will not have access to the details of suits filed unless they are informed and furnished a copy of the suit. We leave you to draw your own conclusions.

I can understand the concerns some of you may feel and particularly the enquirers, and possibly, their family members. Please reassure them of the integrity of our Redemptorist priests and in particular our Spiritual Director, Fr. Simon.

Milly Chia/Clarice Wong
RCIA Novena Church


Anonymous said...

An excellent notice. Worthy of an official statement by the Archdiocese. Thanks, John. -chris

Norman said...

A lawsuit needs not end up in a trial and may be settled before that or abandoned. If it is frivolous it will be apparent before the trial. Let us pray for a speedy resolution.

Jeremy said...

Its a pity that our seperated brethren lost the Rite of Exorcism. An exorcism can only be performed with the permission of the Apostle of the Land, and it follows rather strict rubrics. I myself have a copy of the Dominican Rite of Exorcism in English and Latin, and it is really very beautiful. It is also a real pity that many Catholics mistake 'Praying Over' and 'Prayers of Deliverance' for exorcism. Like the Mass, Exorcism is a case of 'doing the red and reading the black'. With 'creative liturgy' in the Mass however, many Catholics have been left confused.

war in the pocket said...

We should not jump to conclusions while facts are obscure. Instead, let us pray that Justice is served.

Daniel said...

I'm quite glad that the media was able to approach Father William Goh on this matter. I suspect that the reason for it is that he's in charge of SACCRE, and that the media was indeed directed to him for queries.

It is indeed a good idea to have a person in charge of PR in the church. However, I wonder if it is possible to always give a good impression about the faith. For example, if this case goes badly for the Church, it will give a bad impression. But if it goes well for the Church, the Church can still be painted as a bully against a small victim.

As lay Catholics, we too must do our part to be informed on what an exorcism really is, and to be able to explain it to our friends and acquaintances, whether it be in person, or via the internet. Let us take this opportunity to turn a negative incident into a positive one. Then we can really give a good impression of our faith.

ChrisYeo said...

"I'm quite glad that the media was able to approach Father William Goh on this matter. I suspect that the reason for it is that he's in charge of SACCRE, and that the media was indeed directed to him for queries."

1. What is SACCRE?
2. And why does being in charge of SACCRE mean that Fr William is the best person to talk to regarding the exorcism case?
3. and why are you glad that Fr William was approached when an official church statement prepared by the archdiocese would have been much more prudent?
4. And, is there any evidence for holding that the media was directed to him?

Ok, to be more obvious in my line of inquiry:

1. SACCRE stands for Singapore Archdiocesan Catholic Charismatic Renewal Experience.
2. SACCRE has nothing clearly to do with Novena church, exorcism, or media affairs.So, there is no obvious reason why the leader of SACCRE should be the right person to talk to.
3. Since an offical prepared statement would have been better, there is no reason why one should be glad that Fr William was quoted.
4. And finally, as far as I know, you have not spoken to Fr William or the media, and do not know if the media was directed to him specifically by the archdiocese or not. Thus, you have no valid reason to "suspect" that that the media was indeed directed to him for queries.

If all the above is true, can you explain, Daniel, why you make such remarks?

cirruslogic said...

Actually I am more concerned with what the consultant psychiatrist from Changi General Hospital, who is well known for Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, put in a statement, "..is a direct result of her experience in the church.."

I wonder how, without witnessing the events in the church, can someone make a statement like that.

Is this deduction based on what the patient said? If the patient had a grudge against church members could not the patient have just made a complaint like that?

This will make people wonder how psychiatrists can make deductions about symptoms they see in patients.

ChrisYeo said...


Just want to direct you to Norman's comments explaining what a writ of summons is, and the fact that a trial might not need to take place.


Daniel said...

There's a nice big article on page 2 of the Sunday Times (Sep 17), Lifestyle section on this matter, with information from a talk that Father William Goh gave at CANA - The Catholic Centre, and an interview the Straits Times had with him.

The reason he was chosen by the media to be interviewed is because he is "a speaker for the diocese and spiritual director for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and Catholic Spirituality Centre" and "is the official spokesman on the matter".

The article describes the differences between demonic possession, demonic obsession, and demonic opposition. It's a good read and a good summary of the talk held at CANA.

Also, with regards to the details of the case especially on the side of the Church, they are not being made known to the public, which I believe is following the advice of their lawyers. It is quite sound advice and good of the Church to make known the truth about what demonic possession is, so as to clear up doubts and confusion among the public... which I personally feel is a better move than explaining the details of the case which will only bring up more questions and is something best left to the courts to judge on.

During the talk, Father William Goh said something interesting. He said that this case is a blessing in disguise because it makes people think of the possibility of the existence of evil, and it gives the Church an opportunity to remind the world that evil does exist.

I think that's very true, because the best way an enemy can attack is by first convincing us that he doesn't exist, and that's what secularism does to people these days.

Catman said...

to jeremy,

not to start a flame war or whatever , but i do think that God has his ways of helping our christian brothers and sisters with an alternative to exorcism. Being a catholic myself infact. I do think the woman was lying though , how could she know what was going on doing the "possession"? Demonic possessions block out the victims mental and volitional contact to reality. But God does allow things to happen i guess , like how the evil one had to ask for Gods permit to harass Job.