Vatican releases new norms on alleged supernatural phenomena

17th May 2024. Reading Time: 5 minutes General, Paranormal Events, Famous Paranormal Cases. 891 page views. 0 comments.

On Friday the 17th of May, in an unexpected turn of events, the Vatican released new norms on alleged supernatural phenomena and how they will be evaluated and concluded by the church.

When the announcement of a press conference was first made, paranormal enthusiasts started to speculate all sorts of crazy things.  Was this a step to disclosure?  Was there some sort of paranormal event we were about to become privvy to?  Was there a reason behind all the exorcism movies hitting our screens?  As the hours went by, the conspiracy theories started to grow and we wondered just what would make the Vatican make such an extraordinary move?

Now of course we aren't talking about the reports we see on social media or viral YouTube videos.  The term "presumed apparitions or revelations" was last addressed by the church in the 1970's.  It refers to phenomena like crying statues or prophet apparitions such as the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima.  The most famous in this case occurred in 1917 when 3 young Shepard children from the Portuguese town of Fatima reported seeing a series of prophetic visions of the Virgin Mary. 

Fátima visionaries
Lucia dos Santos (right) with her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto in 1917. The three children claimed to have been visited several times by the Virgin Mary in Fátima, Portugal.
Mary Evans Picture Library/AGE fotostock

In order for the church to recognise such acts, there is an official process that is followed.  It wasn't until 1930 that the church officially recognised the reports of Our Lady of Fatima as legitimate.

In 1978, the Vatican released: Norms regarding the manner of proceeding in the discernment of presumed apparitions or revelations

The "norms" examined the problems relative to presumed apparitions and the revelations often connected with them.  

1. Today, more than in the past, news of these apparitions is diffused rapidly among the faithful thanks to the means of information (mass media). Moreover, the ease of going from one place to another fosters frequent pilgrimages, so that Ecclesiastical Authority should discern quickly about the merits of such matters.

2. On the other hand, modern mentality and the requirements of critical scientific investigation render it more difficult, if not almost impossible, to achieve with the required speed the judgments that in the past concluded the investigation of such matters (constat de supernaturalitate, non constat de supernaturalitate) and that offered to the Ordinaries the possibility of authorizing or prohibiting public cult or other forms of devotion among the faithful.

Mass media also meant that a person's intention for reporting the phenomena must also be considered as some were likely seeking fame or money.  It then went on to list criteria in order to evaluate the claims before a local Bishop would comment on whether they deemed it to be supernatural.  Given the above and the changes in mass media and more social media over the last 50 or so years, it was certainly time for an update.  Differences of opinion between the Bishops and the Church also needed to be addressed.

Norms for discerning alleged supernatural phenomena 2024

Here is the official release from the Vatican

The changes come into play on Sunday, May 19, the feast of Pentecost.

The main change here is:

"As a rule, neither the local bishop nor the Holy See will declare that these phenomena are of supernatural origin, but will only authorize and promote devotion and pilgrimages."

The reasoning given is that in the past, a local bishop would declare the supernatural origins of an event to later have a different conclusion drawn from the holy office.  In other cases, a Bishhop would have one stance while his successor would have the opposite opinion.  So in short, much like the paranormal field, the religious field can't seem to agree on the paranormal either!  They will allow pilgrimages, but will stop short of declaring an apparition to be supernatural in origin!  More and more claims are distributed via social media so they needed to tighten the guidelines.

The new possible conclusions of paranormal phenomena according to the church

 It is up to the diocesan bishop to examine cases and submit their judgment to the Dicastery for approval while the local Bishop is not to make public statements or conclusions.  The following are the 6 possible conclusions that will be drawn: 

- Nihil Obstat: Without expressing any certainty about the supernatural authenticity of the phenomenon itself, many signs of the action of the Holy Spirit are acknowledged. The bishop is encouraged to appreciate the pastoral value and promote the dissemination of the phenomenon, including pilgrimages;

- Prae oculis habeatur: Although important positive signs are recognized, some aspects of confusion or potential risks are also perceived that require the diocesan bishop to engage in a careful discernment and dialogue with the recipients of a given spiritual experience. If there were writings or messages, doctrinal clarification might be necessary;

- Curatur: Various or significant critical elements are noted, but the phenomenon is already spread widely, and verifiable spiritual fruits are connected to it. Therefore, a ban that could upset the faithful is not recommended, but the local bishop is advised not to encourage the phenomenon;

- Sub mandato: The critical issues are not connected to the phenomenon itself but to its improper use by people or groups, such as undue financial gain or immoral acts. The Holy See entrusts the pastoral leadership of the specific place to the diocesan bishop or a delegate;

- Prohibetur et obstruatur: Despite various positive elements, the critical issues and risks associated with this phenomenon appear to be very serious. The Dicastery asks the local bishop to offer a catechesis that can help the faithful understand the reasons for the decision and reorient their legitimate spiritual concerns;

- Declaratio de non supernaturalitate: The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith authorizes the local bishop to declare that the phenomenon is found to be not supernatural based on concrete facts and evidence, such as the confession of an alleged visionary or credible testimonies of fabrication of the phenomenon.

So while the World may be buzzing with conspiracies and who knows what goes on behind closed doors, however in my eyes anyway, this is an updated set of guidelines that are more in line with 2024 and with the current state of phenomena that is 'hyped' on social media it makes sense.  On the other hand,  is also a fascinating insight as to what the Catholic church deems as paranormal or supernatural.  Their views on what constitutes an apparition are quite different to your average ghost hunter!

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