(Catholic Culture) The Vatican has officially released a document providing guidelines for bishops in judging reports of apparitions.
The guidelines were issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1978, and approved by Pope Paul VI. They were not made public at the time, the Vatican explained, because the guidelines were “principally intended as a direct aid for the pastors of the Church.” However, since portions of the CDF advice have leaked into the public realm, the Vatican decided to make the entire document public.
In a new introduction to the 1978 document, Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, notes that the 2008 meeting of the Synod of Bishops underlined the need to “help the faithful to distinguish the Word of God from private revelations.” Private revelations may spur devotion, but do not require the assent of faith, he said. “The criterion of judging the truth of a private revelation is its orientation to Christ Himself.”
In the 1978 norms, the CDF said that ecclesiastical authorities—in nearly all cases, the bishop of the diocese in which an apparition is reported—“should discern quickly” whether the phenomenon is genuine. However, the CDF went on, “critical scientific investigation render it more difficult, if not almost impossible, to achieve with the required speed the judgments that in the past concluded the investigation of such matters.”
In judging a report, the CDF norms direct pastors to take into consideration the character of the people who report them, especially noting their “psychological equilibrium, honesty and rectitude of moral life, sincerity and habitual docility toward ecclesiastical authority, the capacity to return to a normal regimen of a life of faith, etc.” Next, authorities are to ascertain whether the messages promoted in connection with the reported apparitions contain “true theological and spiritual doctrine.” Finally, the Church asks whether the alleged apparitions have borne “abundant and constant spiritual fruit.”
A negative judgment is indicated, the CDF wrote, if the apparitions contain any clear error, especially doctrinal error; if there is evidence that the apparitions may be promoted for the sake of personal profit; if someone involved commits gravely immoral acts; or if there are signs of psychological disorders in those involved.
Bishops should respond to honest inquiries from the faithful, and provide pastoral guidance on reported apparitions, the CDF document says. If there is no clear need for an authoritative judgment, bishops may decide that it is best to withhold a judgment and watch for further developments that could resolve the question.
The 1978 document states that the diocesan bishop should render the authoritative judgment in most cases. The Vatican, through the CDF, could intervene in “more grave cases, especially if the matter affects the larger part of the Church.” In such cases, the document says, the CDF would assess the diocesan bishop’s investigation of the phenomenon, and if necessary open an entirely new investigation.