Vatican issues updated guidance on the ‘discernment of supernatural phenomena’

The Catholic Church is instructing its ranks to use “extreme prudence” when investigating supernatural occurrences, announcing an update on its guidance for investigating such “phenomena.”

The Vatican published a document on Friday that was also addressed in a presentation by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández about the “discernment of alleged supernatural phenomena.”

Guidance from 1978 was updated to inform the Church how to proceed when investigating incidents “that seem to exceed the bounds of ordinary experiences and present themselves as having a supernatural origin (such as alleged apparitions, visions, interior or exterior locutions, writings or messages, phenomena related to religious images, and psychophysical phenomena.)”

“When spiritual experiences are accompanied by physical and psychological phenomena that cannot be immediately explained by reason alone, the Church has the delicate responsibility of studying and discerning these occurrences carefully,” the document states.

“The procedure allows for faster decisions while respecting popular devotion,” Vatican News reported. “As a rule, the Church’s authority will no longer be engaged to officially define the supernatural nature of a phenomenon, a process that can require large amounts time to thoroughly study an event.”

When investigating alleged supernatural occurrences, the Church will now consider the following: “(a) whether signs of a divine action can be ascertained in phenomena that are alleged to be of supernatural origin; (b) whether there is anything that conflicts with faith and morals in the writings or messages of those involved in the alleged phenomena in question; (c) whether it is permissible to appreciate their spiritual fruits, whether they need to be purified from problematic elements, or whether the faithful should be warned about potential risks; (d) whether it is advisable for the competent ecclesiastical authority to realize their pastoral value.”

Cardinal Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), announced the updates in a Vatican press conference on Friday.

He explained that “in some events of alleged supernatural origin, there are serious critical issues that are detrimental to the faithful; in these situations, the Church must respond with utmost pastoral solicitude.”

“In particular, I am thinking of the use of such phenomenon to gain ‘profit, power, fame, social recognition, or other personal interest’ (II, Art. 15, 4°)—even possibly extending to the commission of gravely immoral acts (cf. II, Art.15, 5°) or the use of these phenomena ‘as a means of or pretext for exerting control over people or carrying out abuses’ (II, Art. 16),” he added.

Alleged supernatural phenomena must be addressed by local bishops in their dioceses and then forwarded to Rome where the DDF will investigate the claims further.

“As a rule, neither the Diocesan Bishop, nor the Episcopal Conferences, nor the Dicastery will declare that these phenomena are of supernatural origin, even if a Nihil obstat is granted,” the DDF stated. “It remains true, however, that the Holy Father can authorize a special procedure in this regard.”

Frieda Powers

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