New norms for the discernment of apparitions and supernatural phenomena

The norms include six different vows for discerning cases of apparitions and point out that "in the usual way, a positive recognition by the ecclesiastical authority of the divine origin of alleged supernatural phenomena cannot be expected".

Hernan Sergio Mora-May 17, 2024-Reading time: 5 minutes

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has submitted the the Church's norms for discerning the veracity or otherwise of alleged supernatural, underlining the great richness of many of these phenomena and the critical issues of others, thus enabling the Church to act "with all her pastoral solicitude".

At the presentation, the prefect of the Dicastery, Cardinal Victor Fernandez, indicated that these norms of the Dicastery "have the strong support of the Holy Father" and are "a guide for discerning situations that may occur out of the ordinary in the Christian community."

In presenting the topic in the Press Room of the Holy See, Cardinal Fernandez recounted some cases that he knew personally, even amusing ones, which were "particularly solvable", so that in these "we do not proceed further". Without forgetting that "the faithful are never obliged to believe in these phenomena", since the revelation has already been completed in the Holy Scriptures.

In other words, the discernment will not be oriented "towards a declaration of the supernatural character of the event but towards a prudential declaration" unless the Pope considers otherwise, with six possible conclusions, which will thus lead the Church to give answers in a short time.

The document stresses that "these events have often brought about a great wealth of spiritual fruits, growth in faith, devotion, fraternity and service, and in some cases have given rise to various Shrines scattered throughout the world that today form part of the heart of popular piety of many peoples".

"The Rules for proceeding in the discernment of alleged supernatural phenomena that we now present," the Prefect of the Dicastery indicated, "are not necessarily intended to be a control nor, even less, an attempt to quench the Spirit. In fact, "in the most positive cases, of events of presumed supernatural origin, the diocesan bishop is encouraged to appreciate the pastoral value and also to promote the diffusion of this spiritual proposal".

Without ignoring that "in some cases of events of supposed supernatural origin very serious critical issues are detected", being used to "obtain profit, power, fame, social notoriety, personal interest".

The norms that applied until today - explains the introduction of the document - were approved by St. Paul VI in 1978, with revisions in 2019, and with the need for a global revision in 2023, leading to the approval of the bishops and cardinals of the Dicastery in April 2024, and the approval of Pope Francis last May 4, and come into force on May 19, 2024 on the Solemnity of Pentecost.

If in the past the Dicastery intervened "the bishop was asked not even to appoint him", today instead "the Dicastery publicly demonstrates its involvement and accompanies the bishop in the final determination".

Today, a statement of "supernaturalness," as might normally occur, is "substituted by a Nihil obstatwhich authorizes positive pastoral action, or by some other determination appropriate to the concrete situation". This is also because "declaring the supernatural character of an event for many people the visionaries were transformed into 'saints'".

On the other hand, as provided for in the new Norms, the possibility of a declaration of "non-supernaturality" remains unchanged, only when objective signs clearly indicating manipulation underlying the phenomenon appear, for example, when an alleged seer declares to have lied, or when the evidence indicates that the blood on a crucifix belongs to the alleged seer, etc.

The different types of votes

Discernment of the alleged supernatural phenomena may lead to the following conclusions:

1- Nihil obstat - Although no certainty is expressed about the supernatural authenticity of the phenomenon, numerous signs of an action of the Holy Spirit "in the midst" are recognized... For this reason the diocesan bishop is encouraged to appreciate and pastoral value and to promote the diffusion of this spiritual proposal, also through possible pilgrimages to a sacred place.

2- Prae oculis habeatur - Although important positive signs are recognized, some elements of confusion are also noted... If there are writings or messages, a doctrinal clarification may be necessary.

These first two conclusions are sufficient for the faithful to trust

3- Curatur - Several or significant critical elements are detected, but at the same time there is already a wide diffusion of the phenomenon and the presence of spiritual fruits related and verifiable with it. In this sense, a prohibition that could disturb the People of God is not recommended. In such cases, the diocesan Bishop is urged not to encourage this phenomenon.

4- Submandate - The critical problems detected are not linked to the phenomenon itself, which is full of positive elements, but to a person, a family or a group of people...

In these cases, the pastoral guidance of the specific place where the phenomenon occurs is entrusted to the diocesan bishop or to another person delegated by the Holy See, who, when he cannot intervene directly, will try to reach a reasonable agreement.

5- Prohibetur et obstruatur - "Despite the presence of legitimate requests and some positive elements, the critical issues and risks appear serious," then "the Dicastery asks the diocesan bishop to publicly declare that participation in this phenomenon is not permitted."

6- Declaration of non-supernaturalness. In this case, the diocesan bishop is authorized by the Dicastery to declare that the phenomenon is not recognized as supernatural.

Neither the diocesan bishop, nor the Episcopal Conferences, nor the Dicastery, as a general rule, will declare that these phenomena are of supernatural origin. And in the event that the Dicastery should grant a Nihil obstatsuch phenomena do not become an object of faith. Unless the Holy Father wishes to authorize a procedure in this regard.

Procedures to follow

In the first place, "it is up to the diocesan Bishop, in dialogue with the national Episcopal Conference, to examine the cases of alleged supernatural phenomena occurring in his territory and to formulate the final judgment on them, to be submitted to the approval of the Dicastery".

Then, "in the event that the elements collected seem sufficient, the diocesan bishop decides to initiate a phase of evaluation of the phenomenon, in order to propose to the Dicastery a definitive judgment in his Votum".

In addition, a "commission of inquiry" must be set up, whose members include at least one theologian, one canonist and one expert, chosen according to the nature of the phenomenon" and that "a notary is also appointed to attend the meetings and take minutes of the interrogations".

And if there are "videos, audios, photographs" disseminated by the media, which have as author a person involved in the alleged phenomenon, such material must be subjected to a careful examination by experts", as well as submitting the "findings to an organic laboratory related to the extraordinary event".

Among the negative criteria are doctrinal errors, subjective perception of the phenomenon; a sectarian spirit that generates division in the ecclesial fabric; evident search for profit, power, fame, social notoriety; seriously immoral acts, but also "psychic alterations or psychopathic tendencies of the subject, which may have influenced the alleged supernatural event, or psychosis, mass hysteria or other elements attributable to a pathological horizon".

Then the diocesan Bishop, with the help of the Delegate, will prepare a report on the alleged phenomenon. And "taking into account all the facts of the case, both positive and negative, draw up a Votum".

Whatever the approved determination, the diocesan bishop has the duty to continue to monitor the phenomenon and the persons involved, specifically exercising his ordinary power.

Instead, in the case where the alleged supernatural phenomena can be attributed with certainty to a deliberate intention to mystify, the diocesan bishop will apply the canonical penal legislation in force on a case-by-case basis. This does not mean that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith does not have the right to intervene. motu proprioat any time and in any state of discernment, in relation to the alleged supernatural phenomena.

Some specific cases

Regarding some events, such as what happened in Medjugorje, Cardinal Fernandez indicated that "with these norms it is easier to reach a prudential conclusion".

He also considered that the growth of devotion to an event does not depend on a declaration of supernaturalness.

Regarding the 'apparitions' in the town of Trevignano, in the province of Rome, he indicated that the bishop, encouraged by the Dicastery, declared the 'non-supernaturalness'. And if these people want to continue "we have no police, we cannot forbid them to ask for money on a land that is not ours". In the meantime, in order to reach excommunication - he specified - schism is necessary.

The authorHernan Sergio Mora

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