New Apparitions Document?

by Jimmy Akin

in Benedict XVI

For the last week or so, I've been following a story that has started to gain traction in the English-language press and blogosphere.

The gist of the story is this: A new document is going to be released from the Holy See governing the way in which Marian and other apparitions (or private revelation in general) is handled. This will be an updating of the guidelines privately circulated to bishops since the 1970s.

The document is reported to be a vademecum (a brief guide, not an exhaustive tome), and it's being presented as something that will create a "crack down" or a "gag order" on visionaries.

There are several reasons to be cautious about this story.

First, even assuming the basic facts of the story are true, it's being represented with an anti-apparition spin that the Holy See would not approve.

The Holy See has always been receptive to genuine apparitions, which are gifts of God's grace. As St. Paul said, we should not despise prophecies, but test everything and hold fast to that which is good. The Holy See in no way would want to send the signal that it wants to "crack down" on legitimate visionaries or put a "gag" on them.

It may well want to discourage false reports of apparitions, and it might institute disciplinary norms requiring greater circumspection on the part of those reporting apparitions (as was the case before the 1960s, when there was a liberalization of the procedures visionaries were obliged to follow in making their reported revelations public). However, the language of "crack downs" and "gag orders" and similar idioms is not the Holy See's intent.

Second, and equally fundamentally, there is a problem with the sourcing on this story.

Basically, the only source on this at present is an Italian website called Petrus.

Petrus would appear to have a source that has at least read a draft or heard a summary of the vademecum, perhaps in the CDF, but who knows?

The problem is that the Italian press is often filled with rumors about that Vatican that turn out to be completely untrue or grossly distorted. There is a lot of gossip in Rome, as there is in every city, and a lot of it isn't reliable.

Reports of a new vademecum on apparitions, especially one to be made public, must therefore be treated with caution, especially when there is such slender sourcing on the claims.

It may well be that there is a new vademecum or other document on the subject. It may be in a draft stage or a final stage. It may possibly include provisions like those described in the Petrus article. It may even be made public in the future.

But we don't know any of that at this point, and people should be cautious in how they handle the subject.

MORE FROM JOHN ALLEN.

EARLY REPORTING ON THE STORY.

TRANSLATION OF ORIGINAL PETRUS PIECE.

ORIGINAL PETRUS PIECE.

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{ 14 comments }

SDG January 15, 2009 at 10:29 am

Thanks for a much needed reality check, Jimmy. I’ve seen some of these reports and it’s good to have some perspective.

Dan Hunter January 15, 2009 at 11:22 am

Bye, Bye Medjugorge [spelling?]

Tominellay January 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm

…agreeing with both SDG and Dan Hunter…

Matheus January 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Bye, Bye Medjugorge…

Not necessarily, dear Dan Hunter. Have you read the entire post?

First, even assuming the basic facts of the story are true, it’s being represented with an anti-apparition spin that the Holy See would not approve.

The Holy See in no way would want to send the signal that it wants to “crack down” on legitimate visionaries or put a “gag” on them.

I don’t know anything about Medjugorje and want it to be given the treatment it deserves, as any other faithful Catholic, but I think it’s really strange that a phony apparition would become this famous.
Let’s remember that there are ├╝bercatholics who dismiss even the Fatima apparition…

Diane at Te Deum January 15, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Jimmy you make some very good points about the article itself and some of the reporting.
When I first saw the article, and being that I had to use a google translater to decipher it, I didn’t really see the speculative nature of it. I was also unfamiliar with Italian media and Petrus itself, so the information you provide is helpful.
If the report of a vademecum to help bishops follow a more procedural approach, comes to pass, I think it will be very good for the Church.
With all that I have studied and experienced with Medjugorje, even having lived just 20 minutes away from 1980 before the “visions” began, through 1983, it was very hard for me to not make connections between things supposedly covered in the handbook and complaints made by many – including respectable authors like Donal Anthony Foley – about this particular apparition. With the 1978 criteria for discernment of apparitions, bishops did not have the kind of leverage that it would seem this will give them…. if it all pans out as Petrus reports.
Calling it a crackdown, as the original Petrus article did (literally translated as “tightening of the screw” from what I am told), was a little misleading. I can see in my own write up of this where it would seem that there is a clamp-down on apparition claims themselves when in reality, this sounds more like a tightening of procedures to root out false mysticism before it can get away from the Church. Once a cult-following is developed, before a reasonable a level of validation, it’s hard to get things back in the box, so to speak, when something suspect turns up.
I think the most important element would be the silence that should be imposed right out of the shoot. This makes sense. If something is coming from God, it will bear with this imposition of silence patiently, through tremendous grace.
If this handbook is truly coming, it would be sweet for it to be released on a Marian feast day of significance, such as that of an approved private revelation.

Diane at Te Deum January 15, 2009 at 3:45 pm

oops – forgot to end an italics. Sorry.

Diane January 15, 2009 at 3:47 pm

One more attempt to end italicization.

Johannes January 16, 2009 at 2:43 pm

By my opinion this was an excellent analysis of the serious problems of the vademecum document – antiapparition spin and lack of credible sources…
Indeed, now it even seem, that a Vatican CDF official denied that they are working on such document, as it is stated here:
http://www.medjugorje.ws/en/articles/church/benedict-vademecum/
Sounds quite convincing. But I think there is still a small chance some new document may be prepared, albeit in slightly different tone and purpose.

Barb January 17, 2009 at 11:32 am

Is it “anti-apparition” if it militates against true AND false apparitions, or just if it goes against false apparitions?
It seems to me that there are indeed many “apparitions” that are extremely suspect in many ways. We were warned in scripture that many false prophets would appear and that we must discern the spirits behind them. Isn’t such a precaution that is so mentioned be a good thing to do just that to protect the faith of all?

Johannes January 17, 2009 at 1:59 pm

It would be good to have such document or something else to protect people from those apparitions and visions, which are fraudulent and in some cases more strong intervention of Church.
The alleged new document, at least as presented in articles such are translations of Petrus article, content on Diane’s Te Deum blog and other pages, could help smash some false and fraudulent apparitions, but also some eventually true apparitions, although more controversial. Also, the now approved apparitions were often very controversial during its history.
The content, tone and presentation of the new alleged document of Vatican as presented in these articles is suspicious. That is why it raises valid doubts, whether it is in the end prepared at all. Hopefully, there will be soon further confirmations, whether the Pope plans to create and release such or similar document or not in next days. Afterwards, it may be more useful to discuss it.

Dan Hunter January 19, 2009 at 7:44 am

Here is a piece from the National Catholic Catholic Register saying that a Vatican official is denying this document:
“False Rumors About Apparitions
Wednesday, January 14, 2009 8:49 PM
A Vatican official has denied a document is being prepared about how to deal with alleged Marian apparitions and visions, such as those at Medjugorje.
According to some reports that have circulated in the last few days, Pope Benedict has instructed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to prepare a vademecum, or handbook, on the matter. It reportedly would require individuals who said they have experienced appearances or visions of the Virgin Mary to remain silent while their claims are investigated carefully by Church authorities.
The document was also rumored to specify that local bishops should set up commissions composed of psychiatrists, psychologists, theologians and priests to investigate the claimed apparitions.
But according to a Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith official who spoke with Register correspondent Edward Pentin, there is no truth to these reports. The official stated emphatically that no work is underway on a vademecum or on any other type of document regarding the question of how to handle claims of apparitions.”

Diane January 19, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Sorry if this ends up here twice, but the first time I attempted to post, was on my cell phone and got an error.
With regards to the Register and their contact with a “vatican official” who denies the CDF is working on this, I would like to offer the following.
1) There is no doubt, and never has been any doubt, that the Petrus article was unsubstantiated on the basis that they did not quote a source and we see nothing official out of the Vatican.
2) At the same time, the National Catholic Register is playing down the report originating out of Petrus through an unnamed “Vatican official”. Does this person work for the CDF? If this person does work for the CDF do they have intimate knowledge of every assignment and 100% of the workflow?
I find it odd that in order to refute a story using an unnamed source the Register is itself using an unnamed source.
Why wouldn’t the CDF simply issue an statement for all news sources to have stating that the report of a handbook to be issued on apparition discernment is bogus?
This doesn’t make any sense to me.

Johannes January 20, 2009 at 8:10 am

Diane, these were nice doubts and questions!
Yes, a week point of this refusal really is ‘a Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith official’… perhaps too humble to let appear his name on blogs :-)
Can even lead to suspicion if such a Vatican official in the end exists at all :-) . On the other hand name Edward Pentin and his profile and also the National Catholic Register seem quite credible.
However, if such person really exists I would guess it is quite probable he can be quite sure whether document exists or not, if he ‘vehemently denied’. The ‘Vademecum’ may be eventually be a one of more frequently asked questions there, if rumors appeared already before some months.
In case, apparitions ‘vademecum’ is not and never was planned to release, perhaps CDF will not issue any official statement for media (and bloggers), maybe they do not want show that they care about refuting heresay news.
We will see.

Judith M. January 27, 2009 at 2:33 pm

It makes perfect sense to ask a visionary to not spread word of their experience until it has been evaluated by the Holy See. Even great Saints like John of the Cross experienced a vision that was from Satan rather than God. I don’t see why any true visionary would have a problem with such a stipulation.

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