(Credit: Rudolf Gehrig/EWTN News)

    Cardinal Victor Fernandez, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the Vatican Press Room at noon today, May 17, in Rome. Fernandez presented new Vatican regulations for evaluating apparitions and other mystical phenomena which will take place on Sunday, May 19, the Feast of Pentecost… He also made a reference to the French theologian Pasquier Quesnel. Why?

     Above, two views of a part of a crowd of 70,000 people near Fatima, in Portugal, on October 13, 1917.

    At first there was a heavy rain. Then the rain stopped, the sun appeared, and seemed to nearly everyone in the crowd to “dance” in the sky for about 15 minutes — a sign of a spiritual power, a celestial “miracle”…

    Below, the three shepherd children of Fatima, Jacinta, Lucy and Francisco, who said that the Virgin Mary spoke to them in six visions during 1917, while the First World War raged, and Russia was falling to a communist revolution.

    The apparitions occurred on May 13, June 13, July 13, August 19 (because the town’s mayor had put them in prison on August 13, and the children were thus physically prevented from going to the place of the apparitions), September 13 and October 13.

    The crowds who heard of these visions became larger as the months went by, and 70,000 people were present on October 13, 1917, to see “The Miracle of the Sun.”

    Jacinta and Francisco died not long after, still young children.

    Lucy lived until 2005. She died on February 13 that year.

    I was permitted in March 2005, by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, just before Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, after meeting with him in Rome in mid-March to tell him about a two-week trip I had just made to Russia, to travel to Coimbra, where Sister Lucy has been living, and to visit the cell where she died.

    I made that trip.

    The Mother Superior showed me the bed where Lucy had died a few weeks before.

    Outside her cell window were lemon trees in bloom.

    I, wishing to see if she had left behind any diaries and writings, was permitted to look in her desk, and to open each drawer.

    In one drawer, I found a leather case, which I asked if I might open.

    The Mother Superior said yes.

    Inside were needles and thread Lucy had used daily to thread the beads of many rosaries.

    She made hundreds of them with her own hands…

    Fr. Pasquier Quesnel (born in Paris in 1634, ordained an Oratorian priest in 1659, condemned as a heretic in 1708, died in Amsterdam in 1719 at the age of 85).

    A learned scholar, his doctrines were condemned by Pope Clement XI in 1708 in the bull Unigenitus, in which Jansenism, which Quesnel supported, was condemned (see below for a discussion of Quesnel’s teachings).

    Today Cardinal Fernandez, in his introduction to the new regulations on dealing with apparitions and visions, referred to Quesnel and said Quesnel’s teachings were an example of the distortion of the full Gospel teaching… suggesting that this distortion was similar to danger of certain pious practices which often emerge in the circles which form around visionaries, suggesting that these modern dangers echo the dangers of the 350-year-old Jansenist teaching…

    The Holy Spirit, who flows from the heart of the risen Christ, works in the Church with divine freedom and offers us many valuable gifts that aid us on the path of life and encourage our spiritual growth in fidelity to the Gospel. This action of the Holy Spirit can also reach our hearts through certain supernatural occurrences, such as apparitions or visions of Christ or the Blessed Virgin...” —Cardinal Victor Fernandez, in his introductory presentation of the text of a new 9-page document made public today in Rome, concerning new rules regulating how the Church evaluates and approves, or disapproves, of apparitions and other mystical phenomena. He begins by validating the possibility of authentic apparitions and visions, that is, of appearances and realities that are “above nature” (that is, are “supernatural”) becoming present and active within nature, in space and time…

    Many times, these events have led to a great richness of spiritual fruits, growth in faith, devotion, fraternity, and service. In some cases, they have given rise to shrines throughout the world that are at the heart of many people’s popular piety today. What life and beauty the Lord sows beyond our human understanding and procedures!—Cardinal Fernandez, in the same text. He is bearing witness to the fact that “many times” these apparitions and visions have brought “a great richness of spiritual truths”… In other words, since they do bring good fruit, we must regard them as in some way fundamentally… good…

     “At the same time, in some events of alleged supernatural origin, there are serious critical issues that are detrimental to the faithful; in these situations, the Church must respond with utmost pastoral solicitude. In particular, I am thinking of the use of such phenomenon to gain “profit, power, fame, social recognition, or other personal interest” (II, Art. 15, 4°)—even possibly extending to the commission of gravely immoral acts (cf. II, Art. 15, 5°) or the use of these phenomena “as a means of or pretext for exerting control over people or carrying out abuses” (II, Art. 16).–Cardinal Fernandez, in the same text. He is saying that apparitions and visions can also be emotional, dangerous and false, and so cause harm to people. In this regard, the purpose of his new document is to call for all bishops, and the Vatican itself, to exercise greater care in watching for any abuse or falsification in connection with these mystical phenomena

    Letter #13, 2024, Friday, May 17: Apparitions

    Cardinal Victor Fernandez, 62, today presented a new Vatican document on how apparitions and visions — like the apparitions of La Salette, Fatima and Lourdes — should be studied and evaluated by the Church.

    Point 1: The essential point of this reformed procedure seems to be that the Church will no longer publicly affirm that any phenomenon of this type is of “supernatural” origin.

    In the past, the Church would study a phenomenon and say either that it was:

    not of supernatural origin, or

    — that it could not be determined whether or not it was of supernatural origin, or

    — that it was of supernatural origin, and so, worthy of belief

    Still, even if the Church sometimes did judge that there was something “supernatural” about an apparition, no such phenomenon has ever been proposed to the faithful as a point of faith they are required to believe.

    Now, under the new rules, the highest level of approval that will be granted to any such phenomenon is “nihil obstat,” that there is “nothing standing in the way,” or “nothing blocking” or “nothing impeding” belief in the vision or apparition as an authentic encounter with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, or with the Virgin Mary, or with some other saint or prophet from Church history or from salvation history.

    The Church will not say “this apparition is of supernatural origin” but rather “there is nothing standing in the way” of believing that the apparition or vision has a supernatural origin, and so, may be — may be— taken as an authentic and holy spiritual message to be taken into account by all the faithful.


    Point 2: The second point is that the authority of the Holy See, procedurally, is strengthened, and the authority of the local bishop weakened.

    Under the new rules, the Holy See will always be involved in whatever study and evaluation is made by any such spiritual phenomena.

    Thus, Rome will henceforth have an even tighter control over approving or disapproving of popular devotion developing around such phenomena.


    Point 3: Third, a curious point.

    In his introduction to the new procedures at today’s press conference, Fernandez mentioned, as a negative example to be avoided, the thought and writing of the French theologian, Pasquier Quesnel (1634-1719).


    Pasquier Quesnel — a brilliant theologian from more than 300 years ago who strongly supported the thought of Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), after whom the Jansenist heresy took its name.

    Jansen was a great critic of the Jesuits, for their alleged moral laxity.

    And Jansen’s thought was condemned by the Church as heretical.

    What did it mean that Fernandez spoke about Quesnel at today’s press conference?

    What’s it all about?


    The fight against “Jansenism” as a key to this pontificate

    Well, for some time, a number of Catholic observers of this pontificate have said that a key to the pontificate of Pope Francis is to realize that he is persuaded that there is among the traditionalist Catholics a spirit reminiscent of… Jansenism.(!)

    A representative article on this topic appeared on August 22, 2014, almost 10 years ago now, written by Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter. (link, and see link)

    Winters was reacting to an article by Damian Thompson of The Spectator in which Thompson had argued that Francis was ignorant of the situation of the Catholic Church in the English-speaking world, blinded by his Latin American experience.

    Thompson had written: “‘The Pope is hungry to spread the Gospel and in Latin America he sees that being done most effectively by left-wing priests in the slums,’ says a Vatican insider. ‘What he doesn’t realise is that in North America and other English-speaking countries, it’s the conservatives who have fire in their bellies, who evangelise, often with minimal encouragement from their bishops.’ And no one is likely to explain it to him.”

    And Winters responded, bringing in a reference to Jansenism:

    “It is surely the case that there is a kind of conservative Catholic in the English-speaking world with fire in the belly. But, here is where Thompson’s analytical skills fail him. Having identified the Pope’s being a Jesuit as a key to understanding the man, Thompson fails to see that the Holy Father, above all, is engaged in an old struggle for the Society of Jesus: He is confronting the Jansenists of our day (emphasis added), the very same conservative Catholics in the English-speaking world whom Thompson thinks have the fire of the Gospel in their bellies. It is not the Gospel, but a hyper-moralistic concern against spiritual contagion that animates the conservatives Thompson champions. And, quite clearly, this is not what animates Pope Francis.”

    And the fact that Fernandez today publicly cited Quesnel, one of Jansen’s strongest colleagues and supporters, as someone who — like certain modern visionaries(!) — “narrowed the Gospel down” (in Fernandez’ words) to a rather “rigorist” and “faith and prayer-centered” (as opposed to charitable action-centered) spiritual life, seems to give us a glimpse into the mental world of both Francis and Fernandez.

    We may imagine Fernandez and Francis talking, in a recent conversation in the Vatican, about the possible dangers of seers and visionaries who inspire people to renew an intensive life of prayer, but not so much to work on behalf of the poor, as a recrudescence of… Jansenism.

    Hence — one might argue — Fernandez’ mention today of Quesnel.


    What did the Jansenists believe?

    According to the custom adopted by the humanists of the Renaissance, Cornelius Jansen Latinized his name to Cornelius Jansenius. His teacher, Jacques Janson, taught the doctrine of the theologian Michael Baius (Michel de Bay), who had died at Leuven in 1589.

    According to the latter, humans are affected from birth by the sin of Adam.

    Human instincts lead necessarily to evil.

    An individual can be saved only by the grace of Christ, accorded to a small number of the elect who have been chosen in advance and destined to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

    This doctrine, inspired by certain writings of St. Augustine, attracted Jansen and another student who had come to study at Leuven, a Frenchman named Jean Duvergier de Hauranne, who was to become a leader of the Jansenist movement. The two young men became friends in Paris, where Jansen went in 1604. They decided to revive theology, which they believed the theologians of the Sorbonne had reduced to subtle and vain discussions among Scholastics. Jansen and Duvergier thought that it was necessary to render to God the homage owed by humanity and that the pride of the Renaissance savants had alienated Christians from the Jesus who loved the simple and the humble.    

    Quesnel was a brilliant French priest and spiritual writer from a prominent French noble family. In 1657, he joined the French Oratory, a religious society of secular priests, and was ordained in 1659.

    However, his Jansenist sympathies led to his banishment from Paris in 1681, and three years later he was expelled from the Oratory for refusing to accept its anti-Jansenist decrees.

    Quesnel’s essential outlook may he summarized in the thesis of “the double contrary love.”

    Quesnel wrote (and in what follows I have added the italics for emphasis):

    “There are only two loves, from which all our volitions and all our actions spring: the love of God (charity properly so called) which refers everything to God and which God rewards; and the love of self and of the world, which is evil as it does not refer to God what should be referred to Him” (prop. 44).

    Quesnel believed that all repentance which does not arise from pure charity was useless, for “fear restrains only the hands; the heart remains attached to sin, as long as it is not led by the love of justice” (prop. 61); and “he who refrains from evil only through fear of punishment has already sinned in his heart” (prop. 62).

    In other words, there was a “totalizing” aspect to Quesnel’s thought which diminished to insignificance the sincere but inevitably imperfect attempts of men and women to move toward holiness, saying that only God’s grace could accomplish what our fallenness could not begin to achieve.

    This led in some to a sense of fatality and despair in the search for the moral perfection of holiness.

    In his 2014 article, Winters wrote: “The Jansenists of our day, like their predecessors, and like the Donatists before them, see the essence of Christian life in preserving their own moral purity. It is easy to see how this concern can lead to a spiritual pride — ‘I thank thee God that I am not like other men’ — and has proven ill-suited to attracting converts to the faith. Of course, every Christian should be concerned about their spiritual purity, but the essence of the Gospel lies elsewhere.(!?!)

    On September 14, 2014, Joseph Shaw, head of the Latin Mass Society in England, responded to Winters (link):

    “The Jansenists were an 18th century group of Catholics, eventually condemned by the Pope, and who eventually formed a schismatic Church in the Netherlands, characterised by a kind of crypto-Calvinism. This manifested itself in the rejection of free will and the notion of cooperation with grace, on which subject they quickly became locked in a ferocious pamphlet war with the Jesuits. The Jansenists included some brilliant polemicists, notably recruiting Blaise Pascal to their cause. The notion of unscrupulous Jesuits working out how to avoid the moral law owes more to these guys than to English or German Protestant polemicists of the 16th and 17th century.

    “The attack on Jesuit ‘laxism,’ which fitted in so well with earlier critiques of Catholic laxity by Protestants, was only part of their schtick, however. Their biggest effect on the Church has been their attack on popular devotions and the liturgical tradition. In this they were taken up by Enlightenment rulers in various places, notably the Habsburg Grand Duke of Tuscany who called the (false) Synod of Pistoia. This called for a radically simplified liturgy, said aloud, in the vernacular. Other Jansenists wanted to increase the amount of dialogue in the liturgy, getting the people to respond ‘Amen’ at the end of each prayer of the Canon.”

    In other words, for Shaw, the Jansenists had nothing in common with the modern Catholics who wish to hold fast to the old Mass and the tradition of the Church.

    In 1712 in Rome, the Holy Office of the Inquisition began to prepare a papal bull to condemn the Jansenists. The result was the famous Bull Unigenitus Dei Filius at Rome on September 8, 1713. (What follows is drawn from a Catholic Encyclopedia article on Unigenitus, link.)

    “The Bull begins with the warning of Christ against false prophets, especially such as ‘secretly spread evil doctrines under the guise of piety and introduce ruinous sects under the image of sanctity’; then it proceeds to the condemnation of 101 propositions which are taken verbatim from the last edition of Quesnel’s chief work. The propositions are condemned respectively as ‘False, captious, ill-sounding, offensive to pious ears, scandalous, pernicious, rash, injurious to the Church and its practices, contumelious to Church and State, seditious, impious, blasphemous, suspected and savouring of heresy, favouring heretics, heresy, and schism, erroneous, bordering on heresy, often condemned, heretical, and reviving various heresies, especially those contained in the famous propositions of Jansenius.’

    “The first 43 propositions repeat the errors of Baius and Jansenius on grace and predestination, such as: grace works with omnipotence and is irresistible; without grace man can only commit sin; Christ died for the elect only… The last 30 propositions (72-101) deal with the Church, its discipline, and the sacraments: the Church comprises only the just and the elect; the reading of the Bible is binding on all; sacramental absolution should be postponed till after satisfaction; the chief pastors can exercise the Church’s power of excommunication only with the consent, at least presumed, of the whole body of the Church; unjust excommunication does not exclude the excommunicated from union with the Church. (link)


    Summing up

    Fernandez today at the press conference said that Quesnal had distorted the content of the Gospel teaching on salvation, limiting it to “faith and prayer,” adding that Jesus in the Gospels and Paul in his Epistles taught that Christian faith was characterized, not by the “religious” activity of “faith and prayer” but by “love of God and of one’s neighbor.”

    Fernandez suggested that many apparitions and visions seem to lead people to view their faith as something to cling to, in prayer, and to de-emphasize the need to “love one’s neighbor.”

    Just as Quesnel needed to be corrected, so bishops must be vigilant to correct the alleged messages received in apparitions and visions, Fernandez said.

    This gives a certain context to the reason this reform was made now, at this moment in this pontificate.


    Here below is a link to a video of today’s press conference, an article about the document from Catholic News Agency, and the full text of the document itself, so that you may have the actual text easily at hand… —RM


    Here is the full text of Fernandez wrote to introduce the new Vatican document on apparitions. The entire text may be found here.





Listening to the Spirit

Who Works in the Faithful People of God

By Cardinal Victor Fernandez

    God is present and active in our history.

    The Holy Spirit, who flows from the heart of the risen Christ, works in the Church with divine freedom and offers us many valuable gifts that aid us on the path of life and encourage our spiritual growth in fidelity to the Gospel.

    This action of the Holy Spirit can also reach our hearts through certain supernatural occurrences, such as apparitions or visions of Christ or the Blessed Virgin, and other phenomena.

    Many times, these events have led to a great richness of spiritual fruits, growth in faith, devotion, fraternity, and service.

    In some cases, they have given rise to shrines throughout the world that are at the heart of many people’s popular piety today.

    What life and beauty the Lord sows beyond our human understanding and procedures!

    For this reason, the Norms for Proceeding in the Discernment of Alleged Supernatural Phenomena that we now present here are not intended to control or (even less) stifle the Spirit.

    In fact, in the best cases involving events of alleged supernatural origin, “the Diocesan Bishop is encouraged to appreciate the pastoral value of this spiritual proposal, and even to promote its spread” (I, par. 17).

    St. John of the Cross recognized “the lowliness, deficiency, and inadequacy of all the terms and words used in this life to deal with divine things.”[1]

    Indeed, no one can fully express God’s inscrutable ways: “The saintly doctors, no matter how much they have said or will say, can never furnish an exhaustive explanation of these figures and comparisons, since the abundant meanings of the Holy Spirit cannot be caught in words.”[2]

    For “the way to God is as hidden and secret to the senses of the soul as are the footsteps of one walking on water imperceptible to the senses of the body.”[3] Indeed, “since he is the supernatural artificer, he will construct supernaturally in each soul the edifice he desires.”[4]

    At the same time, in some events of alleged supernatural origin, there are serious critical issues that are detrimental to the faithful; in these situations, the Church must respond with utmost pastoral solicitude. In particular, I am thinking of the use of such phenomenon to gain “profit, power, fame, social recognition, or other personal interest” (II, Art. 15, 4°)—even possibly extending to the commission of gravely immoral acts (cf. II, Art.15, 5°) or the use of these phenomena “as a means of or pretext for exerting control over people or carrying out abuses” (II, Art. 16).

    When considering such events, one should not overlook, for example, the possibility of doctrinal errors, an oversimplification of the Gospel message, or the spread of a sectarian mentality.

    Finally, there is the possibility of believers being misled by an event that is attributed to a divine initiative but is merely the product of someone’s imagination, desire for novelty, tendency to fabricate falsehoods (mythomania), or inclination toward lying.

    Therefore, in its discernment in this area, the Church needs clear procedures. The Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations, in use until now, were approved by Pope St. Paul VI in 1978, more than four decades ago. They remained confidential until they were officially published in 2011, thirty-three years later.

    The Recent Revision

    After the 1978 Norms were put into practice, however, it became evident that decisions took an excessively long time, sometimes spanning several decades. In this way, the necessary ecclesiastical discernment often came too late.

    The revision of the 1978 Norms began in 2019 and involved various consultations envisioned by the then Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CongressoConsultaFeria IV, and Plenaria). During the subsequent five years, several proposals for revision were made, but all were considered inadequate.

    In the Congresso of the Dicastery on 16 November 2023, it was acknowledged that a comprehensive and radical revision of the existing draft was needed. With this, the Dicastery prepared a new and entirely reconsidered draft that clarified the roles of the Diocesan Bishop and the Dicastery.

    The new draft underwent review in a Consulta Ristretta on 4 March 2024. Overall, the experts had a favorable opinion of the text, though they made some suggestions for improvement, which were subsequently incorporated into the document.

    The text was then studied in the Dicastery’s Feria IV of 17 April 2024, during which the Cardinal and Bishop Members gave it their approval.

    Finally, on 4 May 2024, the new Norms were presented to the Holy Father, who approved them and ordered their publication. He established that these Norms will take effect on 19 May 2024, the Solemnity of Pentecost.

    Reasons for the New Norms

    In the Preface to the 2011 publication of the 1978 Norms, the then Prefect, His Eminence, William Cardinal Levada, clarified that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has the competence to examine cases of alleged “apparitions, visions and messages attributed to supernatural sources.” Indeed, the 1978 Norms had also established that “it is up to the Sacred Congregation to judge and approve the Ordinary’s way of proceeding” or “to initiate a new examination” (IV, 2).

    In the past, the Holy See seemed to accept that Bishops would make statements such as, “Les fidèles sont fondés à la croire indubitable et certaine”: Decree of the Bishop of Grenoble, 19 September 1851) and “one cannot doubt the reality of the tears” (Decree of the Bishops of Sicily, 12 December 1953).

    However, these expressions conflicted with the Church’s own conviction that the faithful did not have to accept the authenticity of these events.

    Therefore, a few months after the latter case, the Holy Office explained that it had “not yet made any decision regarding the Madonna delle Lacrime” ([Syracuse, Sicily] 2 October 1954).

    More recently, in reference to Fatima, the then Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained that ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation highlights that “the message contains nothing contrary to faith or morals” (26 June 2000).

    Despite this clear stance, the actual procedures followed by the Dicastery, even in recent times, were still inclined toward the Bishop making a declaration that the event was “supernatural” or “not supernatural”—so much so that some Bishops insisted on being able to make a positive declaration of this type.

    Even recently, 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.

    In dealing with such cases, and especially when preparing an official statement, some Bishops sought the necessary prior authorization from the Dicastery.

    Then, when granted that permission, Bishops were asked not to mention the Dicastery in their statement.

    This was the case, for example, in the rare instances that concluded in recent decades, in which the Dicastery included provisions such as “Sans impliquer notre Congrégation,” Letter to the Bishop of Gap [France], 3 August 2007) or “the Dicastery shall not be involved in such a pronouncement” (Congresso of 11 May 2001, regarding a request from the Bishop of Gikongoro [Rwanda]).

    In these situations, the Bishop could not even mention that the Dicastery had given its approval.

    Meanwhile, other Bishops, whose Dioceses were also affected by these phenomena, were also seeking an authoritative opinion from the Dicastery to attain greater clarity.

    This way of proceeding, which has caused considerable confusion, shows how the 1978 Norms are no longer adequate to guide the actions of the Bishops and the Dicastery.

    This has become even more of a problem today since phenomena rarely remain within the boundaries of one city or Diocese.

    This concern was already noted during the 1974 Plenary Assembly of the then Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where the members acknowledged that an event of alleged supernatural origin often “inevitably extends beyond the limits of a Diocese and even of a Nation and […] the case automatically reaches proportions that can justify intervention by the supreme Authority of the Church.”

    Meanwhile, the 1978 Norms recognized that it had become “more difficult, if not almost impossible, to achieve with the required speed the judgments that in the past concluded the investigation of such matters (constat de supernaturalitatenon constat de supernaturalitate)” (Preliminary Note).

    The expectation of receiving a declaration about the supernatural nature of the event resulted in very few cases ever reaching a clear determination.

    In fact, since 1950, no more than six cases have been officially resolved, even though such phenomena have often increased without clear guidance and with the involvement of people from many Dioceses.

    Therefore, one can assume that many other cases were either handled differently or just not handled at all.

    To prevent any further delays in the resolution of a specific case involving an event of alleged supernatural origin, the Dicastery recently proposed to the Holy Father the idea of concluding the discernment process not with a declaration of “de supernaturalitate” but with a “Nihil obstat,” which would allow the Bishop to draw pastoral benefit from the spiritual phenomenon.

    The idea of concluding with a declaration of “Nihil obstat” was reached after assessing the various spiritual and pastoral fruits of the event and finding no substantial negative elements in it. The Holy Father considered this proposal to be a “right solution.”

    New Aspects

    Based on the factors mentioned above, with the new Norms, we are proposing a procedure that is different from the past but is also richer as it involves six possible prudential conclusions that can guide pastoral work surrounding events of alleged supernatural origin (cf. I, pars. 17-22).

    These six possible determinations allow the Dicastery and the Bishops to handle in a suitable manner the issues that arise in connection with the diverse cases they encounter.

    As a rule, these potential conclusions do not include the possibility of declaring that the phenomenon under discernment is of supernatural origin—that is, affirming with moral certainty that it originates from a decision willed by God in a direct way.

    Instead, as Pope Benedict XVI explained, granting a Nihil obstat simply indicates that the faithful “are authorized to give [the phenomenon] their adhesion in a prudent manner.”

    Since a Nihil obstat does not declare the events in question to be supernatural, it becomes even more apparent—as Pope Benedict XVI also said—how the phenomenon is only “a help which is proffered, but its use is not obligatory.”[5]

    At the same time, this response naturally leaves open the possibility that, in monitoring how the devotion develops, a different response may be required in the future.

    Moreover, it should be noted that reaching a declaration affirming the “supernaturalness” of an event, by its very nature, not only requires a suitable amount of time to carry out the analysis but it can also lead to the possibility that a judgment of “supernatural” today might become a judgment of “not supernatural” years later—and precisely this has happened.

    An example worth recalling is a case involving alleged apparitions from the 1950s.

    In 1956, the Bishop issued a final judgment of “not supernatural,” and the following year, the Holy Office approved the Bishop’s decision. Then, the approval of that veneration was sought again. In 1974, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared the alleged apparitions to be “constat de non supernaturalitate.” Thereafter, in 1996, the local Bishop positively recognized the devotion, and in 2002, another Bishop from the same place recognized the “supernatural origin” of the apparitions, leading to the spread of the devotion to other countries. Finally, in 2020, at the request of the Congregation, a new Bishop reiterated the Congregation’s earlier “negative judgment,” requiring the cessation of any public disclosures regarding the alleged apparitions and revelations. Thus, it took about seventy excruciating years to bring the whole matter to a conclusion.

    Today, we have come to the conviction that such complicated situations, which create confusion among the faithful, should always be avoided.

    This can be accomplished by ensuring a quicker and clearer involvement of this Dicastery and by preventing the impression that the discernment process would be directed toward a declaration of “supernaturalness” (which carries high expectations, anxieties, and even pressures).

    Instead, as a rule, such declarations of “supernaturalness” are replaced either by a Nihil obstat, which authorizes positive pastoral work, or by another determination that is suited to the specific situation.

    The procedures outlined in the new Norms, which offer six possible final prudential decisions, make it possible to reach a decision in a more reasonable period, helping the Bishop to manage a situation involving events of alleged supernatural origin before such occurrences—without a necessary ecclesial discernment—acquire very problematic dimensions.

    Nevertheless, the possibility always remains that the Holy Father may intervene exceptionally by authorizing a procedure that includes the possibility of declaring the supernaturalness of the events. Yet, this is an exception that has been made only rarely in recent centuries.

    At the same time, as stipulated in the new Norms, the possibility of declaring an event as “not supernatural” remains, but only when there are objective signs that clearly indicate manipulation at the basis of the phenomenon.

    For instance, this might occur when an alleged visionary admits to having lied or when evidence shows that the blood on a crucifix belongs to the alleged visionary.

    Recognizing an Action of the Holy Spirit

    Most of the shrines that today are privileged places of popular piety for the People of God have never had an official declaration of the supernatural nature of the events that led to the devotion expressed there.

    Rather, the sensus fidelium intuited the activity of the Holy Spirit there, and no major problems have arisen that required an intervention from the pastors of the Church.

    Often, the presence of the Bishop and priests at certain times—such as during pilgrimages or celebrating certain Masses—has served as an implicit acknowledgment that there are no serious objections and that the spiritual experience had a positive influence on the lives of the faithful.

    Nevertheless, a Nihil obstat allows the pastors of the Church to act confidently and promptly to stand among the People of God in welcoming the Holy Spirit’s gifts that may emerge “in the midst of” these events.     

    The phrase “in the midst of”—used in the new Norms—clarifies that even if the event itself is not declared to be of supernatural origin, there is still a recognition of the signs of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural action in the midst of what is occurring.

    However, in some cases, alongside this recognition of the signs of the Holy Spirit’s action, there is also a need for certain clarifications or purifications.

    It may happen that the Holy Spirit’s action in a specific situation—which can be rightly appreciated—might appear to be mixed with purely human elements (such as personal desires, memories, and sometimes obsessive thoughts), or with “some error of a natural order, not due to bad intentions, but to the subjective perception of the phenomenon” (II, Art. 15, 2°).

    After all, “an experience alleged to be a vision simply cannot compel one either to accept it as accurate in every detail or to reject it altogether as a human or diabolical illusion or fraud.”[6]

    The Involvement and Accompaniment of the Dicastery

    It is important to understand that the new Norms clarify a significant point about the competence of this Dicastery.

    On the one hand, they affirm that discernment in this area remains the task of the Diocesan Bishop. On the other hand, recognizing that, now more than ever, these phenomena involve many people from various Dioceses and spread rapidly across different regions and even countries, the new Norms establish that the Dicastery must always be consulted and give final approval to what the Bishop decides before he announces a determination on an event of alleged supernatural origin.

    While previously the Dicastery had intervened but the Bishop was asked not to mention it, today, the Dicastery openly manifests its involvement and accompanies the Bishop in reaching a final determination. Now, when the Bishop makes his decision public, it will be stated as “in agreement with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

    At the same time, as already envisioned in the 1978 Norms (IV, 1 b), the new Norms also indicate that, in some instances, the Dicastery may intervene motu proprio (II, Art. 26). Once a clear determination is made, the new Norms specify that “the Dicastery, in any case, reserves the right to intervene again depending on the development of the phenomenon in question” (II, Art. 22, § 3) and request the Bishop to continue “to watch over the phenomenon” (II, Art. 24) for the good of the faithful.

    God is always present in human history and never stops bestowing his gifts of grace upon us through the workings of the Holy Spirit, daily renewing our faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

    It is the responsibility of the pastors of the Church to keep their faithful always attentive to this loving presence of the Most Holy Trinity in our midst, as it is also their duty to protect the faithful from all deception.

    These new Norms are but one way in which the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith places itself at the service of the pastors of the Church in docile listening to the Spirit at work in the faithful People of God.

Víctor Manuel Card. Fernández

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