PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Is demonic possession real or the manifestation of mental illness?
In assisting priests in nearly 100 exorcisms, Adam Blai has become a true believer in good and evil, God and the devil.
"If you've seen the things in the Gospels played out in front of you, it ceases to become faith. It's knowledge," says Blai.
Former Allegheny County commissioner Bob Cranmer says he shares that same knowledge. He says his home was possessed.
"I've seen it; I've seen crucifixes bent in half repeatedly. I've seen Rosary beads torn apart. That doesn't happen," said Cranmer. "That's an evil. That's not Casper the friendly ghost."
While Bishop David Zubik, of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, has never seen an exorcism or any demonic apparition, he says possession - though very rare - is also very real.
"We should be reassured that this is very, very rare; and we should also be reassured that the church takes it seriously and reaches out to people who are possessed," said Bishop Zubik.
Bishop Zubik says the Diocese investigates all cases.
"Is it in fact possession or is it some psychiatric struggle?" he says.
While some psychologists would argue that the vast majority of these cases involve psychiatric disorder - schizophrenia or Tourette's syndrome - the Diocese relies on Blai, who holds a Master's degree in psychology, to make the determination.
Blai says true cases of possessions have clear characteristic, such as a man in rural Pennsylvania with a high school education who spoke in languages he did not know.
Blai: "French, German, Latin and Lithuanian."
KDKA's Andy Sheehan: "Really?"
There is also the reaction to religious artifacts like crosses or holy water, the knowledge of hidden things and superhuman strength, which does not diminish hour after hour of restraining a person.
Above all, when he comes face to face with evil , Blai says he knows it.
"Their heart is so black and lacking of any hesitation or compassion that you know they would tear you apart and be smiling the entire time," he says. "There's a sense of evil with a demon that is so far beyond any human I've ever met it's impossible to convey it to you in words."
No one at the Pitt or CMU psychology departments said they felt qualified to discuss the matter, and since demonic possession hasn't been closely studied, the debate is far from settled.
But Bishop Zubik says these cases reaffirm the church's basic beliefs.
"Whether were talking about demonic possession or infestation, there really is a devil, and I think that an awful lot of people will poopoo to think that's fable or fiction and it isn't."
Local Psychologist A Former Skeptic, Now Trains Priests In Exorcisms (2/10/14)
Ex-County Commissioner Authors Book About Dark Forces Haunting His Home (2/11/14)
More Reports by Andy Sheehan
for more features.