1978 CDF Document On Apparitions

by Jimmy Akin

in Theology

In 1978 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an instruction containing norms for the evaluation of reported apparitions.

This document has generally not been circulated publicly, but it seems that someone in France got a copy of it, and I found an unofficial English translation online.

Reading the document, it struck me as having the ring of authenticity. This is written the way that the CDF would have done such a document, and I assume that it’s genuine.

I’ve placed the translation in the below-the-fold section of this post and may be able to interact with it some in future posts. For now, I’d like to see what kinds of questions it raises in folks’ minds.

Preliminary Note: Origin and character of these norms.

At the time of the Annual Plenary Congregation during November 1974, the Fathers of this Sacred Congregation studied the problems relating to apparitions and supposed revelations, and the consequences which often result from these, and they arrived at the following conclusions:

1. Today more than formerly, the news of these apparitions is spread more quickly among the faithful thanks to the means of information ("mass media"); in addition, the ease of travel supports more frequent pilgrimages. Also, the ecclesiastical authority was itself brought to reconsider this subject.

2. Similarly, because of current instruments of knowledge, the contributions of science, and the requirement of a rigorous criticism, it is more difficult, if not impossible, to arrive as speedily as previously at judgements which conclude, as formerly happened, investigations into this matter (“constate de supernaturalitate, non constat de supernaturalitate”); and because of that, it is more difficult for the Ordinary to authorize or prohibit public worship or any other form of devotion of the faithful.

For these reasons, so that the devotion stirred up among the faithful by facts of this kind can appear as a disposition in full communion with the Church, and bear fruit, and so that the Church itself is able to ultimately distinguish the true nature of the facts, the Fathers consider that it is necessary to promote the following practice in regard to this matter.

So that the ecclesiastical authority is able to acquire more certainty on such or such an apparition or revelation, it will proceed in the following way:

a) Initially, to judge the facts according to positive and negative criteria (cf. below, n.1).

b) Then, if this examination appears favorable, to allow certain public demonstrations of cult and devotion, while continuing to investigate the facts with extreme prudence (which is equivalent to the formula: “for the moment, nothing is opposed to it”).

c) Finally, after a certain time, and in the light of experience, (starting from a particular study of the spiritual fruits generated by the new devotion), to give a judgement on the authenticity of the supernatural character, if the case requires this.

I. Criteria of judgement, concerning the probability at least, of the character of the apparitions and supposed revelations.

A) Positive criteria:

a) Moral certainty, or at least great probability, as to the existence of the fact, [revelation] acquired at the end of a serious investigation.

b) Particular circumstances relating to the existence and the nature of the fact:

1. Personal qualities of the subject—in particular mental balance, honesty and rectitude of moral life, habitual sincerity and docility towards ecclesiastical authority, ability to return to the normal manner of a life of faith, etc.

2. With regard to the revelations, their conformity with theological doctrines and their spiritual veracity, their exemption from all error.

3. A healthy devotion and spiritual fruits which endure (in particular, the spirit of prayer, conversions, signs of charity, etc).

B) Negative criteria:

a) A glaring error as to the facts.

b) Doctrinal errors that one would attribute to God himself, or to the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Holy Spirit in their manifestations (taking into account, however, the possibility that the subject may add something by their own activity—even if this is done unconsciously—of some purely human elements to an authentic supernatural revelation, these having nevertheless to remain free from any error in the natural order. Cf. St Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises, n. 336).

c) An obvious pursuit of monetary gain in relation with the fact.

d) Gravely immoral acts committed by the subject, or his associates, at the time of the facts, or on the occasion of these facts.

E) Psychic disorders or psychopathic tendencies concerning the subject, which would exert an unquestionable influence on the allegedly supernatural facts, or indeed psychosis, mass hysteria, or other factors of the same kind.

It is important to consider these criteria, whether they are positive or negative, as indicative standards and not as final arguments, and to study them in their plurality and in relation with the other criteria.

II. Intervention of the competent local Authority

1. As, at the time of a presumed supernatural fact, worship or an ordinary form of devotion is born in a quasi spontaneous way among the faithful, the competent ecclesiastical Authority has the serious obligation to inform itself without delay and to carry out a diligent investigation.

2. At the legitimate request of the faithful (when they are in communion with their pastors and are not driven by a sectarian spirit), the competent ecclesiastical Authority can intervene to authorize and promote various forms of worship and devotion if, assuming the criteria given above having been applied, nothing is opposed to it. But there must be vigilance nevertheless, to ensure that the faithful do not regard this way of acting as an approval by the Church of the supernatural character of the event in question (cf. above, Preliminary Note, c).

3. By virtue of his doctrinal and pastoral duty, the competent ecclesiastical Authority can intervene immediately of his own authority, and he must do so in serious circumstances, for example, when it is a question of correcting or of preventing abuses in the exercise of worship or devotion, to condemn erroneous doctrines, to avoid the dangers of a false mysticism etc.

4. In doubtful cases, which do not involve the welfare of the Church, the competent ecclesiastical Authority may refrain from any judgement and any direct action (more especially as it can happen that, at the end of a certain time, the supposedly supernatural event can lapse from memory); but he should not remain less vigilant about the event, in such a way as to be in a position to intervene with swiftness and prudence, if that is necessary.

III. Other Authorities entitled to intervene

1. The foremost authority to inquire and to intervene belongs to the local Ordinary.

2. But the regional or national episcopal Conference may intervene:

a) If the local Ordinary, after having fulfilled the obligations which fall to him, resorts to them for a study of the event in its entirety.

b) If the event assumes national or regional importance.

3. The Apostolic See can intervene, either at the request of Ordinary himself, or at the request of a qualified group of the faithful, or directly by virtue of the immediate right of universal jurisdiction of the Sovereign Pontiff (cf. above, IV).

IV. Intervention of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

1. a) The intervention of the Sacred Congregation can be agreed to be necessary either by the Ordinary, after he has fulfilled the obligations falling to him, or by a qualified group of the faithful. In this second case, vigilance is necessary so that the recourse to the Sacred Congregation is not motivated by suspect reasons (for example to force, in one way one or another, the Ordinary to modify his legitimate decisions, or to confirm the sectarian drift of a group, etc.)

b) It belongs to the Sacred Congregation to intervene of its own accord in serious cases, in particular when the event affects a broad portion of the Church; but the Ordinary will always be consulted, as well as the episcopal Conference, if the situation requires it.

2. It belongs to the Sacred Congregation to discern and approve the way of acting of the Ordinary, or, if it proves to be necessary, to carry out a new examination of the facts distinct from that which the Ordinary carried out; this new examination of the facts will be done either by the Sacred Congregation itself, or by a commission especially established for this purpose.

The present norms, defined in the plenary Congregation of this Sacred Congregation, were approved by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Paul VI, on February 24 1978.

At Rome, the Palace of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, February 27, 1978.

Francis, Cardinal Seper, Prefect, Fr. Jerome Hamer, O.P., Secretary.

SOURCE.

If you liked this post, you should join Jimmy's Secret Information Club to get more great info!


What is the Secret Information Club?I value your email privacy

{ 9 comments }

Mark Scott Abeln July 7, 2006 at 5:30 am

I understand that before the Council, episcopal permission was required to publish apparitions. That seems very prudent.

Joy Schoenberger July 7, 2006 at 5:34 am

It seems like Međugorje is in serious trouble if these are the criteria.
A)b.1. the rampant disobedience associated with the suppoed apparition
B)a. conflicting stories among seers, unfulfilled prophesies of the supposed apparition
B)c. Monetary gain

Joy Schoenberger July 7, 2006 at 5:38 am
Diane July 7, 2006 at 5:38 am

Thanks for posting this Jimmy. I had often referred to that in my postings when discussing the subject as it is proof that no apparition can be discerned by good fruits alone.
Bad fruits must be weighed, as well, but not until the events have been thoroughly evaluated. The French Bishop’s Commission points this out in their 2002 statement. And, they raise critical questions with regards to Medjugorje, applied against the criteria.
I call it an objective look while supporters often ignore it or call it spin, discounting the French Bishop’s position (usually in favor of Fr. Daniel Ange’s position or Fr. Laurentin, for example).
Note the beginning – the manner in which it is to be discerned sequentially:
BEGIN QUOTE
a) Initially, to judge the facts according to positive and negative criteria (cf. below, n.1).
b) Then, if this examination appears favorable, to allow certain public demonstrations of cult and devotion, while continuing to investigate the facts with extreme prudence (which is equivalent to the formula: “for the moment, nothing is opposed to it”).
END QUOTE
Bishop Zanic had discovered negative fruits, but the cult following was well underway, and any efforts made by the bishop to put a halt to it were stiffled by the local Franciscans. When it was first demanded that the visions cease and the spread of messages,sale of merchandise end, they used a childish loophole: The bishop said the children could no longer have visions in the parish church and should “have them in their home”, but he didn’t state (in the linked letter), that the children could not have visions in the rectory. Guess where the Franciscans guided them after verbal and written directives from Bishop Zanic? The Rectory. This goes against the 1978 criteria in section II where it states:
QUOTE
2. At the legitimate request of the faithful (when they are in communion with their pastors and are not driven by a sectarian spirit), the competent ecclesiastical Authority can intervene to authorize and promote various forms of worship and devotion if, assuming the criteria given above having been applied, nothing is opposed to it. But there must be vigilance nevertheless, to ensure that the faithful do not regard this way of acting as an approval by the Church of the supernatural character of the event in question (cf. above, Preliminary Note, c).
END QUOTE
He intervened alright, and said in that 1985 letter (paraphrased) “the devotions which grew out of these ‘aparitions’ must come to and end”
This too is a fruit. Show me an approved apparition that underwent a trial through ecclesiastical fire where the seer was led to disobedience via loophole when a clear order was given (with documented fact).
Some may take issue with the harshness of Bishop Zanic’s letter. But it had already been going on for several years, with no end in sight. I would have chosen different wording, but not everyone is gifted with great communication skills. It is clear to me, what his intent was – end the visions! End the spread of messages and sale of merchandise. Set aside the new statue. He wasn’t trying to end Marian devotion – he was very Marian. He was trying to end things that would give it cult status. Cult status is not authentic if it is not authorized by the ecclesiastical authority. In the early days, it was more of a local phenomenon, not a significant worldwide issue as it is today. And now, because it is out of control, word must come from the Holy See. Given Pope Benedict’s track record of late, as you previously mentioned, I think it is coming, and perhaps it is why Bishop Peric is suddenly on very vocal.
Speaking of the statue, what did they do since that 1985 directive? They erected a shrine.
What does Bishop Peric say in his June 15, 2006 homily about shrines?
BEGIN QUOTE
1 – Medjugorje is a catholic parish in which liturgical and pastoral activities are carried out, just as in all the other parishes of this diocese of Mostar-Duvno. No-one except the official Church authorities is then authorized to attribute the formal title of “shrine” to this place.
END QUOTE
What is found on the website of the parish of St. James in Medjugorje?
BEGIN QUOTE
>> Spreading of Information from the Shrine and Copyright
As we have already underlined on several occasions, the Shrine of the Queen of Peace in Medjugorje and the Information Centre “Mir” Medjugorje are the only official voice and source of authentic information from Medjugorje.
We appeal to all of you to spread the information from the Shrine, and we encourage all the friends of Medjugorje to use the materials they find on this web page. When you use these materials, (texts, photos and others) it is obligatory to mention the source, i.e. © Information Centre “Mir” Medjugorje, http://www.medjugorje.hr. We kindly ask you to do so.
We thank you for all that you are doing to spread Our Lady’s message of peace!
[END QUOTE]
Will this parish website drop the words shrine?
Will it cease publishing messages?
Will it end the sale of merchandise which promotes the apparitions?
A final note about ecclesiastical fire and discernment of spirits:
If I am proclaiming to be seeing the BVM, the first line of defense for Holy Mother Church, if it is not authentic, is my pastor. He owes it to the Church to throw everything in my path to test the spirits I claim to be seeing. If he is convinced that I am seeing divine creatures, then it’s the Bishop’s turn. I would hope that he would come at me with everything he’s got to test those spirits.
Padre Pio was tested in ecclesiastical fire when his bishop ordered him to cease public mass and confession. What did he do? He humbly obeyed, without complaint – for how many years? If I recall, it was something like 15. That, my brothers and sisters, is a fruit – a positive fruit. It is what I call, extraordinary virtue, and is modeled after the Blessed Mother: “Fiat mihi….” or “Let it be done unto me…”

Diane July 7, 2006 at 5:45 am

One more recent fruit to add, is the total absence of the bishop’s homily – in particular, the second half on any of the leading Medjugorje websites. You can find on some of them, photos of the confirmation and perhaps the first section of his homily dealing with that, but nothing of the second half on apparitions.
Selective coverage is how this got out of control, and it will continue until word comes right from the papal balcony.

Barbara July 7, 2006 at 6:05 am

First I’ll state that I have serious doubts about the athenticity of the reported apparitions. If they ever had any authenticity, it may only have been in the very beginning.
However, since WWII, because there has been, at the least tension, and at the most outright hostility, between the Franciscans and the faithful on one side, and the Bishops on the other, I will not accept the Bishop’s opinion on the matter of the Franciscans. I will only accept whatever the Vatican has to say about them. The Bishop is not an objective third party in the matter.

Diane July 7, 2006 at 7:14 am

Barbara says: The Bishop is not an objective third party in the matter.
He is not a third party at all, but the Ordinary of the place.
A blanket statement that you cannot support this bishop because of issues between the faithful, Franciscans and bishops is not logical. Each case has to be taken separately.
In the case of this particular Franciscan order, there is real chaos.
The Holy See has sided with the Bishop in each specific case.
Supporters would have us believe this long standing “fued” in which the Holy See sided with the Bishop, is not connected to Medjugorje.
However, the “Gospa” supported priests which were being sanctioned by the Vatican.
E) Jan. 1982: The Virgin states that two Franciscan priests, removed from their order and under suspension by the bishop, one of whom later fathered a child by a nun, may continue to say Mass and hear Confessions. Vicka the seer is asked “If the Lady said this, and the Pope says that they cannot…” Vicka answers: “The Pope can say what he wants. I’m telling it as it is.” (from Bishop Zanic’s document, 1990) [source]

Mary July 8, 2006 at 2:14 am

Well said, Diane.

jamie July 11, 2006 at 9:49 am

I will not accept the Bishop’s opinion on the matter of the Franciscans. I will only accept whatever the Vatican has to say about them.
This hints at somewhat of a distorted view of the role of the Holy See vis-a-vis the local ordinary. The rule is that the local ordinary, functioning within the bounds of Church law, has full governing power within his diocese, and the faithful of that diocese are bound to his authority. The Holy See intervenes only in the exceptional case that the local ordinary transgresses Church law. So the general practice should be to give the local ordinary the benefit of the doubt unless and until he is contradicted by the Holy See. (Taking into account, of course, that he is not infallible and the possibility of his being wrong is by no means ruled out.)

Previous post:

Next post: