Updated Church Guidelines on Miracles: Vatican Tightens Rules on Supernatural Events

The Catholic Church has a long history of supposedly apparating saints or statues that cry tears of blood. In recent years, news of miracles has spread faster than ever across the planet, so new sanctuaries are being created

by Sededin Dedovic
Updated Church Guidelines on Miracles: Vatican Tightens Rules on Supernatural Events
© Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

The Vatican has updated its guidelines regarding supernatural events, acknowledging that excessive imagination and "lies" risk harming believers, reports Reuters. After 36 years, the Vatican has released new guidelines on dealing with alleged supernatural phenomena, such as statues of the Virgin Mary that weep or crucifixes that bleed.

Pope Francis is skeptical about such occurrences, stating last year on Italy's national television RAI that Marian apparitions are not always real. The new standards, issued by the Holy See's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, favor a more "cautious" interpretation of unexplained phenomena.

"In certain circumstances, not everything is black and white. Sometimes a possible divine occurrence is mixed with human thoughts and fantasies," Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, head of the dicastery, told reporters on Friday.

The history of the Catholic Church is marked by episodes of strange or unexplained phenomena involving weeping statues of the Virgin Mary and testimonies of apparitions. The new guidelines come two months after the Church announced that some occurrences were fake, including the "miracle" of a statue of the Virgin Mary influencing the increase in pizza size.

These rules, updated for the first time since 1978, provide means and tools for bishops, who until now had relative freedom to determine the authenticity of such visions on a case-by-case basis. Only six cases of alleged supernatural events have been "officially resolved" by the Vatican since 1950, according to the document.

"Today, we are convinced that we must always avoid complicated situations that create confusion among believers," Fernandez stated. The new rules call for greater cooperation between different dioceses and the Vatican regarding these events.

The final decisions of bishops will be subject to the dicastery's approval.

Pope Francis attends a Mass for the feast of the Epiphany at St.

Peters Basilica© Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

This is crucial because some testimonies or mysterious occurrences can be associated with "crimes, manipulation of people, attacks on the unity of the Church, which could cause scandal and undermine the Church's credibility," the guidelines state.

This includes believers who, "driven by certain events, believe it is a divine initiative, but it is actually only the product of fantasy, a desire for novelty, mythomania, or a tendency to falsify," the document adds. The Vatican's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) has issued a new document replacing the 1978 guidelines.

The new rules state that such allegedly supernatural phenomena should be very carefully assessed to prevent fraud against believers or the creation of personal cults.

Nihil obstat

The dicastery wrote that in such cases, bishops should generally issue a "nihil obstat" (which in Latin means "nothing stands in the way"), which is essentially permission for believers to visit these places and hold masses there.

However, even with a nihil obstat, the Vatican does not recognize the phenomenon as supernatural. "Possible manipulations, harm to the unity of the Church, unjustified financial gain, and serious doctrinal errors that could cause scandals and undermine the Church's credibility" are explained by the DDF as dangers of such phenomena.

According to the new document, in addition to nihil obstat, bishops can issue five other decisions regarding the report of supernatural phenomena, including rejecting the supernatural nature of the event and introducing measures to prohibit or restrict veneration for phenomena that are controversial or clearly false.

Social networks are almost daily filled with unexplained phenomena that believers attribute to divine intervention. The Catholic Church has a long history of alleged saint apparitions or statues crying bloody tears. In recent years, news of miracles has spread faster than ever, leading to the creation of new shrines.

For example, the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Fatima (Portugal) and Lourdes (France) have brought great popularity to these places, with tens of thousands of believers visiting annually. At the same time, high-ranking church officials who have experienced stigmata, such as Pope Pius and Saint Francis of Assisi, have inspired millions of Catholics.

Even Pope John Paul II bowed to a statue of the Virgin Mary that shed bloody tears in the garden of a family in Civitavecchia, although this miracle was never officially recognized by the Vatican. At the same time, similar cases have led to scandals.

This happened in 2007 when the Vatican excommunicated members of the "Army of Mary" group from Quebec after its founders claimed to have had visions of Christ's mother. Pope Francis himself has confirmed that he believes in similar phenomena, clearly stating that he believes in the greatest apparitions of the Virgin Mary, which the Church has approved.

"We must believe that these events are possible, but we also need a level of healthy skepticism. The best advice is from the Bible - Test everything, retain what is good," says Robert Fastiggi, who teaches theology in Detroit.

The Vatican has refrained from interfering, leaving local priests to verify just under 20 Marian apparitions in the last few centuries. However, last year, a special commission was announced to address this issue. "It is very important to clarify the matter because often in alleged messages during apparitions, there is confusion, spreading of apocalyptic scenarios, or even accusations against the Pope or the Church," says Father Stefano Cecchini, head of this commission.