Timing and criteria for "judging" apparitions

Interview with Monsignor Angelo Amato by Gianni Cardinale (Avvenire, July 9, 2008)

Other languages: English, Italiano

Interview about 1978 document written by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), concerning guidelines for Catholic Bishops in discerning claims to private revelation such as apparitions.

Your Excellency, what can you tell us about this document on how Church authorities should proceed in cases of alleged apparitions or revelations?

The document is entitled "Normae S. Congregationis pro doctrina fidei de modo procedendi in diudicandis praesumptis apparitionibus ac revelationibus". It was considered at the plenary meeting of the dicastery in November 1974; Pope Paul VI approved it on February 24, 1978, and it was dated on the next day. The document has signature of deceased Cardinal Franjo Seper and Abp. Jean Jerome Hamer, who was at that respective time prefect and secretary of the Congregation.

Is it a secret document?

It is a document that was sent to all the diocesan bishops and religious superiors. But it is true it had never been published officially in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis nor in the recent book Documenta, which presents the major texts of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after the Council.

And why?

These norms are designated foremost for the shepherds of the Church, so it was not felt necessary to spread them further.

It's never been updated?

It's a well done document, and remains valid. And so it never became necessary to update it.

What does the document contain?

After a preliminary note on the origin and character of the norms, the document lists the criteria by which bishops and ordinaries equivalent to them should judge alleged apparitions and revelations. These criteria are positive, for example, the personal qualities of the visionary/visionaries (mental balance, honesty and integrity, sincerity and habitual docility to church authorities...), or the fact that the "revelations" are free from theological errors and produce healthy devotion and abundant, constant spiritual fruits. Or negative criteria, such as doctrinal errors attributed to the Lord or the Blessed Virgin or other saints, questions of realization of monetary gain related to visionaries, gravely immoral acts committed by the visionary or visionaries, mental illnesses, psychopathic tendencies, psychosis, or collective hysteria.

In the light of these criteria how should church authorities act?

This is the subject of the second chapter of the Norms. Shepherds, after careful evaluation, can allow some forms of cultus or devotion, pointing out that this does not yet mean Church recognition of a supernaturality of the events. Or can ban them, if it considers that there are reasons. In cases of doubt, the authorities may decide not to intervene, waiting for facts to fade, but must always remain watching them, to be able to intervene promptly if necessary.

But what are the competences of bishops and of the bishops' conferences regarding these phenomena?

This question is answered in the third paragraph of the Norms. The primary responsibility is on the Ordinary. The regional and national bishops' conferences may, however, intervene if asked by the Ordinary, or with consent of the local bishop, if the phenomena are relevant on regional or national level. Added to this, is that the Holy See can intervene at the request of the local bishop or at the request of a qualified group of the faithful, or because of the universal jurisdiction of the Supreme Pontiff.

And the Holy See intervenes through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

That's right, and this is dedicated to the fourth and final part of the norms. In it is explained that our Congregation should be careful when intervening at the request of the faithful, that there are no suspicious reasons behind the request, such as forcing the Ordinary to change it's legitimate decisions or approve some sectarian group.

At the end of these proceedings, what may be statements regarding position of the authority?

There may be approval, the constat de supernaturalitate, as it was recently done by the bishop of Gap for the apparitions of Laus. Or disapproval, the non constat de supernaturalitate, such as for not a few pseudo-mystical manifestations.

But can be considered the "non constat de supernaturalitate" a wait-and-see judgment, compared to the negative, which would be the "constat de non supernaturalitate"?

In the Norms we are talking about is mentioned only constat de and non constat de. There is no mention of constat de non.

Recently a pair of cardinals have called for proclamation of a new Marian dogma proclaiming the Virgin "co-redeemer" and "Mediatrix of all graces." Is here this possibility?

It is a long-standing request. As I have said, the title of "co-redeemer" is neither biblical nor theological nor patristic and was rarely used by any pope in discourses and only in minor speeches. The Second Vatican Council has deliberately avoided the title. Remember that in theology, you can use the principle of analogy, but not that of equivocality. And in this case it is not analogical, but ambiguous. In reality Mary is "redeemed in the most perfect way," she is the first fruit of the redemption of his Son, redeemer of humanity. To go beyond seems to me unwise.

Translation from the Italian original to English: Medjugorje WebSite

Angelo Amato, S.D.B. (born 8 June 1938) is an archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church and currently serving (since 2008) as the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.[1] He previously served as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2002 to 2008.

He was professor of dogmatics at PSU, and for twelve years (from 1981 to 1987 and then 1993 to 1997) was dean of the Faculty of Theology.

He served as a consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity as well as for the Congregation for Bishops.

On 19 December 2002, Pope John Paul II appointed him as Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and titular archbishop of Sila. He was consecrated bishop on 6 January 2003 by Pope John Paul II with archbishops Leonardo Sandri and Antonio Maria Vegliò serving as co-consecrators.

In addition to his role as CDF secretary Amato served as a consultor to the Pontifical Councils for Christian Unity and, Interreligious Dialogue. After the 2005 Papal conclave, Amato was the first person received in private audience by the new Pope Benedict XVI, who until his election had been Prefect of the Congregation of which Amato continued to be Secretary until 9 July 2008, when Pope Benedict named him prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

He is a member of Vatican's commission on Medjugorje created on March 2010.


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