The Roman Catholic Church has set up an exorcism hotline.

''We receive a lot of requests for names, addresses and phone numbers. That's why we have set up a switchboard in our [offices].''

Church leaders have taken the action of setting up a phone line - which is manned in the afternoons from Monday to Friday - in response to claims in Milan that there has been an increase in demonic possession.

Chief exorcist Mons Angelo Mascheroni said: ''We receive a lot of requests for names, addresses and phone numbers. That's why we have set up a switchboard in our [offices].''

But he said: ''Genuinely diabolical cases [of possession] are, in my experience, very rare.''