Father Salvatore Perrella, CDF Expert on Medjugorje: "The pope wants a decisive conclusion made"

Is seeing believing? How the church faces claims of Marian apparitions

By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When the bishop of Green Bay, Wis., recently recognized a series of Marian apparitions from 1859, it marked the first time apparitions in the United States received official approval.

That's quite an achievement considering that more than 1,500 visions of Mary have been reported around the world, but in the past century only nine cases have received official church approval as being "worthy of belief," said an expert in Marian apparitions.

The church has made very few judgments on apparition claims. "It's not always possible to ascertain if they are true or false because the phenomenon is much bigger than us," said Marianist Father Salvatore Perrella, assistant dean at the Pontifical Theological Faculty Marianum and a theologian who also serves as an expert for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The enormous job of determining the veracity of an apparition falls to the local bishop, said Father Perrella.

To help with that task, the Vatican's doctrinal congregation established a set of norms in 1978 to guide the process of discernment and the investigation of reported apparitions and revelations.

The process "is never brief," said Father Perrella. For example, the Green Bay apparitions received approval 151 years after the first apparition was reported, but that's just half of the nearly 300 years it took the church to approve the apparitions of Our Lady of Laus in France, he said.

The process is lengthy because visionaries and witnesses must be questioned and "the fruits of the apparitions, such as conversions, miracles and healings" must be examined, he said.

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