How the church determines a true Marian apparition

IMAGE: CNS/Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When it comes to Marian apparitions,
the Catholic Church takes a prudent approach that focuses more on the message
than the miracle.

Supernatural phenomena, like the alleged miracle of the sun in Fatima, Portugal, nearly 100
years ago, are not the primary factors in
determining an apparition is worthy of belief.

In that particular case, the bishop of Leiria — where
Fatima is located — deemed the apparitions, but not the miracle of the sun, were
worthy of belief. His
ruling came in 1930, more than a dozen years after Mary’s final apparition to
Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto.

More than 1,500 visions of Mary have been reported around
the world, but in the past century, fewer than 20 cases have received church
approval as worthy of belief.

The Vatican’s “Norms regarding the manner of
proceedings in the discernment of presumed apparitions or revelations” were
approved by Pope Paul VI in 1978. An official English translation was released
in 2011.

with Fatima, responsibility for determining an apparition’s veracity lies with
the local bishop, according to the norms established by the Vatican
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

process is never brief, with some cases taking hundreds of years.
Visionaries and witnesses must be questioned and the fruits of the apparitions,
such as conversions, miracles and healings, must be examined.

According to the norms, the local bishop should set up a
commission of experts, including theologians, canonists, psychologists and
doctors to help him
determine the facts, the mental, moral and spiritual wholesomeness and
seriousness of the visionary, and whether the messages and testimony are free from theological
and doctrinal error.

A bishop can come to one of three conclusions: He can
determine the apparition to be true and worthy of belief; he can say it is not
true, which leaves open the possibility for an appeal; or he can say that at
the moment, he doesn’t know and needs more help.

In the last scenario, the investigation is brought to the
country’s bishops’ conference. If that body cannot come to a conclusion, the
matter is turned over to the pope, who delegates the doctrinal congregation to
step in and give advice or appoint others to investigate.

the Catholic Church does not require the faithful to believe in apparitions,
even those recognized by the church.

Church recognition
of a private revelation, in essence, is just the church’s way of saying the
message is not contrary to the faith or morality, it is licit to make the
message public “and the faithful are authorized to give to it their
prudent adhesion,” now-retired Pope Benedict XVI said in his 2010 apostolic
exhortation, “Verbum Domini” (“The Word of the Lord”).

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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