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New Vatican norms centralize decisions on apparitions

May 17, 2024

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CWN Editor's Note: The Vatican has released new norms for discerning the authenticity of Marian apparitions and other reports of supernatural phenomena.

A document released on May 17 by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) gives that Vatican office the role of issuing a final pronouncement on reported apparitions, after an investigation by the bishop of the diocese in which the phenomena are reported.

The DDF document states that no such pronouncements will affirm with certainty that the phenomena are of supernatural origin and merit the belief of the faithful. The DDF explains that no private revelations command that belief. Instead a positive judgment will state that the phenomena appear to be of supernatural origin.

In a statement released along with the new document, Cardinal Victor Fernandez, the prefect of the DDF, explains that new norms were necessary for several reasons:

  • because under existing norms, investigations often took years or decades, allowing lingering uncertainty over the authenticity of reports;
  • because when diocesan bishops judged the phenomena to be of supernatural origin, that determination placed an undue burden on faithful Catholics who were not persuaded of their authenticity;
  • because some phenomena that appeared to be supernatural are accompanied by special beliefs or devotions that may be injurious to the Catholic faith, and therefore deserve cautious treatment.

Cardinal Fernandez, in his introductory statement, explained that reported apparitions frequently involved “serious critical issues that are detrimental to the faithful.” He mentioned the possibility that people might exploit such reports for “profit, power, fame, social recognition, or other personal interest.”

Regarding the judgments that have until now been made by diocesan bishops, the cardinal remarked that “some bishops have wanted to make statements such as, “I confirm the absolute truth of the facts” and “the faithful must undoubtedly consider as true…”. These expressions effectively oriented the faithful to think they had to believe in these phenomena, which sometimes were valued more than the Gospel itself.”

The necessity for new norms is greater, the DDF observed, because of the rapidity with which reports are spread through modern means of communication. The document states that “the pastors of the Church are responsible for handling these phenomena with care by recognizing their fruits, purifying them of negative elements, or warning the faithful about potential dangers arising from them.”

”At the same time,” the DDF cautions, “it should also be acknowledged that some phenomena, which could have a supernatural origin, at times appear connected to confused human experiences, theologically inaccurate expressions, or interests that are not entirely legitimate.”

The new norms issued by the DDF allow for a range of judgments, including various degrees of caution, rather than simply declaring that the phenomena are or are not of supernatural origin.

In a reversal of the decentralization that Pope Francis has touted as a model for Church governance, the DDF document takes a responsibility that had been left to diocesan bishops, and gives it to the Vatican—with a provision that the Roman Pontiff might intervene personally in a decision. The document reports that in practice, diocesan bishops have often consulted with the DDF before rendering their judgments—although those consultations have been informal, and therefore not officially recorded.

The above note supplements, highlights, or corrects details in the original source (link above). About CWN news coverage.

 


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  • Posted by: bruno - May. 18, 2024 9:18 AM ET USA

    So, on its surface, this appears to be a formalization of the typical behavior of ordinaries in dealing with claims of supernatural phenomena. Outside of Medjugorje, I'm having trouble recalling a case of great controversy, so someone else might help me here. However, that having been said, I think we need to pay attention to who is issuing this decree and ask if there is another motive for which authentic devotion is only an ancillary concern.