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Evaluation Apparitions

Note: (See Normae Congregationis)

In 1978 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly of the Holy Office) issued "Norms of the Congregation for Proceeding in Judging Alleged Apparitions and Revelations" containing the following provisions:

  • The diocesan bishop can initiate a process on his own initiative or at the request of the faithful to investigate the facts of an alleged apparition. The bishop may refrain from looking into it if he chooses, especially if he thinks that not much will come of the event.
  • The national conference of bishops may intervene if the local diocesan bishop refers it to him or if the event becomes important nationally or at least in more than one diocese.
  • The Apostolic See (the Vatican) can also intervene at the request of the local bishop himself, at the request of a group of the faithful, or on its own initiative.

The steps of the investigation are mandated as follows: An initial evaluation of the facts of the alleged event, based on both positive and negative criteria:

Positive Criteria

  1. Moral certainty (the certainty required to act morally in a situation of doubt) or at least great probability as to the existence of a private revelation at the end of a serious investigation into the case
  2. Evaluation of the personal qualities of the person in question (mental balance, honesty, moral life, sincerity, obedience to Church authority, willingness to practice faith in the normal way, etc.)
  3. Evaluation of the content of the revelations themselves (that they do not disagree with faith and morals of the Church, freedom from theological errors)
  4. The revelation results in healthy devotion and spiritual fruits in people's lives (greater prayer, greater conversion of heart, works of charity that result, etc.)

Negative Criteria

  1. Glaring errors in regard to the facts
  2. Doctrinal errors attributed to God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or to the Holy Spirit in how they appear
  3. Any pursuit of financial gain in relation to the alleged event
  4. Gravely immoral acts committed by the person or those associated with the person at the time of the event
  5. Psychological disorders or tendencies on the part of the person or persons associated

After this initial investigation, if the occurrence meets the criteria, positive and negative, an initial cautionary permission can begranted that basically states: "for the moment, there is nothing opposed to it". This permits public participation in the devotion in regard to the alleged apparition.

Ultimately, a final judgment and determination needs to be given, giving approval or condemnation of the event.

Local diocese approval

If the local bishop authorizes devotion inspired by an apparition to proceed, based on an initial assessment, that permission is to bedistinguished from formal approval, which recognizes an event as being supernatural in origin. Such approval may follow years or even centuries later. A recent example of such a delay is the case of Our Lady of Laus, in which devotion was approved by the local diocese in 1665, but which obtained formal recognition as a supernatural event only in 2008.

Moreover, Marian apparitions often involve complications at the local diocese, and a letter of approval or disapproval from a local bishop, does not automatically signal approval or denial. A recent example is the apparitions of Our Lady of Kibeho in the 1980s in Kibeho, Rwanda. In 1982 the teenagers who saw the visions reported truly gruesome sights and said that the Virgin Mary asked everyone to pray to prevent a terrible war. Some today regard the visions as an ominous foreshadowing of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, and particularly in that specific location in 1995, where some teenagers died a decade after their vision. The apparitions were accepted by the local bishop (accused by many of complicity in the genocide himself), but have not been given final approval by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


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