NewsVatican tightens rules on supernatural events, limits bishops' role

Vatican tightens rules on supernatural events, limits bishops' role

New guidelines from the Vatican. They tighten procedures.
New guidelines from the Vatican. They tighten procedures.
Images source: © Getty Images | Vatican Pool

5:32 PM EDT, May 17, 2024

The Holy See has updated its guidelines regarding assessing reported supernatural events, such as weeping statues and bleeding crucifixes. The new regulations aim to tighten procedures for evaluating these phenomena, which have stirred emotions among the faithful for centuries.

According to the new guidelines, bishops no longer have the autonomy to act independently when receiving reports of such phenomena. Instead, they must consult the Vatican before proceeding with investigations.

Furthermore, bishops have lost the authority to recognize apparitions' "supernatural" nature and other supposedly divine events. This role now falls to the Pope and Vatican offices.

Pope Francis himself said last year on Italian television RAI that Marian apparitions "are not always true" and that he prefers to see her as "pointing to Jesus" rather than drawing attention to herself.

Reports of phenomena such as the appearance of "stigmata," the wounds of Christ's crucifixion, on the hands and feet of holy people often became the basis for the creation of shrines and pilgrimages.

Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez emphasized that such events must be evaluated very cautiously because they can be false and exploited for "profit, power, fame, social recognition, or other personal interests".

The new Vatican regulations state that bishops should issue a "nihil obstat"—essentially approval for worship. This leaves the question of whether the Vatican can formally recognize the phenomenon as "supernatural." Such a declaration, however, would be "very exceptional," said Fernandez.

Bishops have five different options for decisions

Bishops have the option to reach five other conclusions regarding alleged supernatural events.

Among them is the official rejection or taking steps to prohibit or limit the worship of controversial or false phenomena.

An example mentioned is the supernatural apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Amsterdam in the 1940s and 1950s, which were ultimately rejected in 2020 after several conflicting assessments.

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