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An exorcism — on Mother Teresa?

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CALCUTTA, — Mother Teresa had an exorcism performed on her while she was hospitalized in 1997, the Archbishop of Calcutta said Wednesday.

The disclosure by Archbishop Henry D'Souza came as hundreds of people in this eastern Indian city paid homage to the renowned caregiver on the fourth anniversary of her death.

But the Rev. Richard McBrien, a Notre Dame theology professor, called the exorcism and the archbishop's explanation for it "bizarre."

D'Souza said the exorcism would not affect the nun's candidacy for sainthood.

"No way. Mother was not possessed . . . it did not hurt her sanctity," D'Souza told The Associated Press.

He said the exorcism took place in a hospital where the nun was admitted because of heart trouble before her death on Sept. 5, 1997, at age 87.

The doctor treating Mother Teresa reported that she was having trouble sleeping, he said.

"There was no medical reason for that," the archbishop said. "It struck me that there could be some evil spirit which was trying to disturb her."

He said he asked — with the nun's consent — for a priest in one of the churches to perform an exorcism. Along with the priest, Mother Teresa participated in a "prayer of protection" and "slept peacefully after that," he said.

Catholic experts said it would be highly unusual for Mother Teresa to have undergone an exorcism.

Exorcism is extremely rare in the Catholic church and is used only when no psychological or physical explanation can be found for dramatic changes in behavior, said Scott Appleby, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

McBrien, who teaches at the South Bend, Ind., university, said exorcism is used only when the person is thought to be possessed by the devil.

"I cannot believe they would have allowed that to happen," McBrien said. "They could have performed the rite of the anointing of the sick. That's one of the sacraments. Exorcisms aren't sacraments."

McBrien agreed that an exorcism likely would not affect Mother Teresa's candidacy for sainthood. However, he questioned whether Mother Teresa was truly able to give her consent to such a procedure.

"People would challenge wills made by people in that circumstance," McBrien said.

After Mother Teresa died, Pope John Paul II waived the customary five-year waiting period to start the process leading to possible sainthood.

The Calcutta archdiocese's formal investigation into Mother Teresa's life and virtues was completed last month and submitted to the Vatican.

On Wednesday, Sister Nirmala, the nun's successor, said she had not heard anything from the Vatican about the process.

"All of us are praying for an early sainthood of our mother," she told nuns and volunteers who gathered to offer morning prayer at Mother Teresa's tomb. "We feel her absence very much physically. But spiritually she is always with us and guiding us in our work."