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A red substance, that believers claimed to be blood, drips from the eyes of a statue of the Virgin Mary on the outskirts of Sacramento, California, in 2005 (OSV News/Kimberly White, Reuters)

In a new crackdown aimed to prevent scams and heresies, the Vatican has updated its guidelines for reviewing apparitions, visions and alleged revelations, reaffirming that only a pope can formally deem something to be “supernatural”. Source: NCR Online. 

The document, “Norms for Proceeding in the Discernment of Alleged Supernatural Phenomena”, was released by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on Friday.

It tasks bishops with investigating such cases, but mandates that they receive Vatican approval before ruling on the validity of alleged supernatural events.

The guidelines outline six potential conclusions that may be reached and that even the highest level of approval from the Vatican office – Nihil obstat (“nothing hinders”) – does not express certainty about the event itself, but grants permission for the bishop to promote its pastoral value.

The new rules, which have been in development since 2019, replace the Vatican’s 1978 norms.

The update comes at a time when social media has led to an explosion of new claims of supposed apparitions or visions – including Jesus appearing on food and weeping statues of the Virgin Mary – and at a moment when even traditional Catholic devotions, such as Our Lady of Fatima, have become increasingly politicised and the source of seemingly endless conspiracy theories.

While the document affirms that there have been historical cases where spiritual phenomena have led to spiritual flourishing – consider devotions to Our Lady of Guadalupe or Our Lady of Lourdes, which have received approval from the Church – it also acknowledges that many claims have led to confusion or even harm.

“There are serious critical issues that are detrimental to the faithful; in these situations, the Church must respond with utmost pastoral solicitude,” wrote Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, in the introduction to the new norms.

“In particular, I am thinking of the use of such phenomenon to gain ‘profit, power, fame, social recognition, or other personal interest’,” he continued, “even possibly extending to the commission of gravely immoral acts or the use of these phenomena ‘as a means of or pretext for exerting control over people or carrying out abuses’.”


Vatican cracks down on ‘supernatural’ occurrences in new apparition rules (By Christopher White, NCR Online