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Vatican tightens procedures on supposed ‘supernatural events’


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Vatican tightens procedures on supposed ‘supernatural events’

HOLY SEE. Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience in Saint Peter Square at the Vatican, May 15, 2024.

Ciro De Luca/REUTERS

New Vatican rules strip bishops of the power to recognize the 'supernatural' nature of apparitions and other purportedly divine events, leaving it to the pope and central Vatican offices to make the call

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican on Friday, May 17, tightened procedures for evaluating reported supernatural events such as weeping Madonnas and blood-dripping crucifixes that have for centuries whipped up the Catholic faithful.

In a document replacing rules drawn up in 1978, the Vatican’s doctrinal office (DDF) said bishops could no longer act independently when faced by reports of such phenomena and had to consult it before investigating.

It also stripped bishops of the power to recognize the “supernatural” nature of apparitions and other purportedly divine events, leaving it to the pope and central Vatican offices to make the call.

Pope Francis has seemed skeptical in the past of such events, telling Italian TV RAI last year that Virgin Mary apparitions are “not always real” and that he likes seeing her as “pointing to Jesus” rather than drawing attention to herself.

Incidents reported by the faithful, including the appearance of “stigmata”, or Jesus’ crucifixion wounds, on the hands and feet of saintly people, have frequently become the basis of shrines and pilgrimages.

The head of the DDF, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, told reporters these sorts of event should be assessed very cautiously, as they may be fraudulent and exploited for “profit, power, fame, social recognition, or other personal interest.”

’70 excruciating years’

The DDF document said that as a rule, bishops should normally issue a “nihil obstat” – essentially a go-ahead for worship that leaves open the issue of whether the phenomenon might be formally recognized by the Vatican as “supernatural”.

Such recognition is, however, “very exceptional”, Fernandez said.

Bishops can reach five other conclusions on purported supernatural events, the DDF said, including their formal rejection, or steps to ban or limit the worship of controversial or manifestly fake phenomena.

Friday’s document mentioned, as an example of past confusion, alleged supernatural appearances by the Virgin Mary in Amsterdam in the 1940s and 1950s which were eventually ruled invalid in 2020, after several conflicting verdicts.

“It took about 70 excruciating years to bring the whole matter to a conclusion,” the DDF said.

The DDF norms noted that many places of pilgrimage were linked to purported supernatural events that have not been authenticated by the Vatican, but added that this posed no serious problems for the faith.

Though not mentioned in Friday’s document, one example is the popular shrine of Medjugorje in Bosnia where repeated apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been reported since 1981, and on which a Vatican investigation is pending.

“We think that with these rules it will be easier to arrive at a prudential conclusion (on Medjugorje),” Fernandez said.

The proliferation of supposed religious phenomena, some obviously fake, was one factor behind a split in Christianity and the emergence of Protestantism in Europe in the 16th century. –

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