NewsVatican unveils new norms for evaluating supernatural phenomena

Vatican unveils new norms for evaluating supernatural phenomena

Pope Francis
Pope Francis
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1:38 PM EDT, May 19, 2024

On Sunday, the Vatican's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith's document "Norms for the Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Supernatural Phenomena" comes into effect. According to the Press Office of the Bishops' Conference, it includes the possibility of six different evaluations in discerning supernatural phenomena, ranging from positive to negative opinions.

It was explained that the reason for changing the norms in the Catholic Church was, among other things, the difficulty in limiting phenomena to the local level, which in some instances attain national or even global dimensions.

The Vatican document on supernatural phenomena

Approved by Pope Francis, the document of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Norms for Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Supernatural Phenomena," includes the possibility of six different evaluations in discerning supernatural phenomena, from "nihil obstat" (Latin for "nothing stands in the way") to "prae oculis habeatur," which means a positive recognition of the signs with the necessity of doctrinal clarification of some aspects of the phenomenon, "curatur," indicating it is advised against issuing a prohibition so as not to disturb the faithful but requiring the bishop not to promote the phenomenon, all the way to a negative opinion.

The document allows for faster pronouncements on the supernatural character of a phenomenon.

However, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith will have to approve the bishop's final decision and have the right to intervene at any time. In recent decades, in many cases where individual bishops spoke out, the Holy Office was involved, though its intervention remained behind the scenes and was not made public.

New document and obligations of the bishop

According to the document, the bishop must investigate cases and submit their assessment to the dicastery for approval." However, he is to refrain from public declarations concerning the authenticity or supernatural character of phenomena and should strive to avoid confusion and "fueling a climate of sensationalism."

The commission appointed by the ordinary to investigate should include at least one theologian, canonist, and expert, chosen based on the nature of the phenomenon.

Among the criteria indicating that a phenomenon is not supernatural are, among others, doctrinal errors, "A sectarian spirit that breeds division in the Church, evident An overt pursuit of profit, power, fame, social recognition, or other personal interest closely linked to the event, gravely immoral actions (…), Psychological alterations or psychopathic tendencies in the person that may have exerted an influence on the alleged supernatural event. Also, any psychosis, collective hysteria, and other elements traceable to a pathological context should be considered."

The Vatican dicastery began revising the norms in 2019. The document comes into effect on Sunday, May 19, on the Feast of Pentecost.

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