By Becky Sindelar
“The buddy-priest action-comedy-horror hybrid we didn’t know we wanted has finally landed.” That’s what The New York Times said about “The Pope’s Exorcist,” a film released in April 2023, for which Fr. Eddie Siebert, SJ, served as an executive producer.
The film stars Russell Crowe and was inspired by the life and ministry of the late Pauline Father Gabriele Amorth, a longtime and well-known exorcist for the Diocese of Rome. Known as “the James Bond of exorcists,” Fr. Amorth, who chronicled his work in two memoirs, performed tens of thousands of exorcisms until his death in 2016 at age 91.
Born in Modena, Italy, in 1925, Fr. Amorth served with the Italian resistance during World War II, earned a law degree and worked as a journalist before being ordained a priest of the Society of St. Paul in 1954. Appointed chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, he founded the International Association of Exorcists and served as its president until retiring in 2000.
Although Hollywood had been after the movie rights to Fr. Amorth’s story, in the end, it was a small, Jesuit-run, production company that ultimately prevailed.
Fr. Siebert, who founded Loyola Productions in 2000, says that while he had no interest in making an exorcism movie, he found Fr. Amorth’s books to tell a compelling story of good and evil.
The Society of St. Paul (Paulines) in Rome owned the rights to Fr. Amorth’s story, and although they had refused many other offers, they were intrigued when a faith-based production company came calling. But getting them to agree was only half the battle.
“In 2018, when the Paulines finally said yes, I had to hire a lawyer here in LA and a second one in Milan to negotiate the contracts before hopping on a last-minute flight to Milan to meet the fathers. We are a nonprofit, not a well-capitalized production company, and I was just watching the dollars add up.”
While negotiating with the Paulines, Fr. Siebert and his colleague, Michael Kaczmarek, were simultaneously shopping the project with Hollywood studios before eventually getting the green light from Sony Pictures’ Screen Gems. Then, as so often happens in Tinseltown, the project stalled for two years. Fr. Siebert wondered if he would ever recoup the money he invested when, out of the blue, an executive shuffle at Sony meant that the once-dead movie would live to see another day.
That is when the fun began. With Sony now paying the bills, Fr. Siebert could enjoy the many creative aspects of moviemaking. From helping to select the scriptwriter, director, cast and locations, he had input on every aspect of the production.
Last summer, Fr. Siebert was on set when principal photography began in Rome, but he stayed home in LA while the film was in postproduction in Australia. When he is not making what the New York Times called a “head-spinning genre mash-up” of a movie, Fr. Siebert has two very busy day jobs: He is the rector of the Jesuit community at Loyola Marymount University and a professor at LMU’s School of Film and Television.
“This was a great opportunity for me to work with a group of pros. The movie wasn’t so much about raising the bar on horror films as it was about showing a priest who talks about what’s important — reconciliation, prayer and God’s love. And the fact that he also gets to annihilate a few demons, that just makes it more fun.”