The protesters said the exorcism, though admittedly heavy on symbolism, was a genuine Roman Catholic rite.
"It's not a fake exorcism," said Frank Maimone of the Catholic Coalition to Save Our Faith, which has protested outside the archdiocesan offices every Wednesday for the last four months. "The ultimate aim is to expel the diabolic infestation of the building."
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was en route to Denver for the Pope's visit at World Youth Day '93.
The rite was not directed at any individual, Maimone said, but at the ''evil we see manifesting itself in the decisions that come out of that building. There is an unhealthy, unholy fascination with wealth. The archdiocese has adopted the policies of corporate America as their own."
The archdiocese - which is closing nine churches and five parish schools in North Philadelphia, and merging six inner-city parishes into one in Chester - released a statement after the protest, citing examples of its commitment to poor neighborhoods and accusing the protesters of "distortion and deception."
"Today's outrageous action clearly illustrates that this group's objective is not as advocates for the poor, but rather as personal adversaries of the archdiocese and its people," the archdiocese said.
"Even more abhorrent" than the actions of the protesters, according to the statement, was the news media coverage, which wrongly portrays the protesters as "representative of a majority of Roman Catholics in the archdiocese."
"The vast majority of Catholics do not agree . . . particularly with this latest action to subvert Catholic ritual for publicity's sake."
Preparations for the exorcism began shortly before noon, as protester Richard Withers lit the incense and mixed holy water he said was from two area churches, one batch of which was transported in a Tropicana orange juice jar.
The Rev. Dexter Lanctot, a priest in residence at St. Michael's Church who also is chaplain at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, performed the rite, reading from the Roman Ritual of Exorcism.
"We are about to undertake the expulsion of diabolic infestation," he said. " . . . We exorcise you, each unclean spirit, each power of Satan, each infestation of the Enemy from Hell, each Legion, each Congregation, each Satanic sect!"
About 20 protesters recited a chorus. They were former members of North Philadelphia parishes and members of the Catholic Worker, a lay group in North Philadelphia that works with the poor. Some archdiocese employees watched the ceremony, both from the front steps and from the windows above.
After reading the ritual, much of which was drowned out by passing trucks and buses, Father Lanctot used evergreen branches to sprinkle the building with holy water. Protesters then joined in a circle to recite the Lord's Prayer.
Father Lanctot, ordained as a priest in 1976, was a member of the Epiphany
Plowshares, four members of which were arrested on Jan. 6, 1987, at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station after damaging planes and helicopters in protest of U.S. nuclear arms and Central America policies.
He and another priest were suspended by the archdiocese after their arrests, but reinstated in a year. Father Lanctot pleaded guilty to trespassing and served 100 days in jail.
Asked if his role in the exorcism might offend the archdiocese, he said, ''I don't see why it should. They should be grateful that people are praying to deliver them from evil."
The archdiocese said the ceremony performed by the protesters was a ''mockery of a legitimate, although uncommon, religious ritual."
It was not considered an official exorcism, a spokesman said, because that must be performed by a priest appointed by a bishop.
Yesterday's statement was the archdiocese's harshest reaction yet to the weekly protests, which have included a call for a boycott of a church fund- raising campaign, a fast on its doorsteps, and a demand for an audit of administrative finances.