Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Some thoughts on the CDF"s release of the 1978 norms for discernment of presumed apparitions and revelations

Richard Chonak sent me a link to this last week as we headed into Memorial Day weekend.  I decided to hold off posting on it until now.  You may have read this news elsewhere as it is now in full circulation in most Catholic news outlets.  I'll offer a few thoughts below, especially as they pertain to Medjugorje since I am among those who believe these norms will be referenced in any declaration on that alleged apparition. I like Chonak's introduction, so I share that here, in part (my comments bracketed in red).

Thanks to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has just published its 1978 document of guidance for bishops discerning private revelations.

Yes, you read that right. It's 2012, and we're talking about the publication of a 1978 document. If anything proves the old quip "Roma eterna, sed civitas Vaticana sempiterna" ("Rome is eternal, but Vatican City is almost eternal"), it's this.

The document, usually known as Normae Congregationis from the first words of its title, was issued in 1978 and sent to bishops. It contains principles and general procedures for bishops on how to judge a claimed private revelation. It was issued with the intimidating marking sub secreto, a warning that it was not to be published: not because it contained anything startling, but probably because it hadn't undergone the full review process a public document would receive. [I had always believed it was because the Holy See did not want it's discernment process in the hands of people who could use it to their advantage in a fraudulent way.  Let's face it, there can be big money in the "apparition" business.]  

But "information wants to be free", as the saying goes, and from 1994 to 2010 various writers, from Japan to France, and from Canada to Italy, have published it in Latin and in vernacular versions. It appeared in at least one canon-law dissertation, and I even contributed to its spread a little by publishing an English translation made with two colleagues (and yes, the leader of the project did have permission from his bishop). Most recently, the vaticanist Andrea Tornielli got a copy by simply asking the CDF for it, and his copy had no instructions about keeping it secret, so he published the Latin text and an Italian translation in February 2012.

Let's look at the beginning of the preface written by CDF chief, Cardinal Levada.

1. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is competent in questions regarding the promotion and safeguarding of the teaching of faith and morals. It is also competent to examine difficulties regarding the proper understanding of the faith, such as cases of pseudo-mysticism, presumed apparitions, visions and messages attributed to supernatural sources. In regard to these very delicate tasks, more than thirty years ago this Dicastery prepared the Normae de modo procedendi in diudicandis praesumptis apparitionibus ac revelationibus. This document, formulated by the Members of the Plenary Session of the Congregation, was approved by the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI, on 24 February 1978, and subsequently issued on 25 February 1978. At that time the Norms were sent to Bishops for their information, without, however, being officially published, as the norms were given for the direct aid of the Pastors of the Church.

I'm glad pseudo-mystyicism is included, as well as presumed apparitions, visions and messages attributed to supernatural sources.

I'm going to skip past paragraph two which deals with what is already explained by Richard above, that the Norms were circulating and the Congregation sees this as an "opportune" time to make it public officially.  I am among those who believe that the timing has everything to do with a much anticipated statement on Medjugorje by the Holy Father in the coming months.  Back on March 17, 2010 Archbishop D'Errico, the papal nuncio in Bosnia-Herzegovina said that for Pope Benedict XVI, Medjugorje was, "a question for which he as supreme head of the Church feels responsible to pronounce a clear message".  The release of these norms now gives people on all sides of the controversy an opportunity to carefully read them whether it is for the first time, or for review.

2. Over the years this document has been published in various works treating these matters, in more than one language, without obtaining the prior permission of this Dicastery. Today, it must be recognized that the contents of these important norms are already in the public domain. Therefore, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith believes it is now opportune to publish these Norms, providing translations in the principle languages.

The next part of Cardinal Levada's Preface is interesting.  I'm going to quote all of Section 3 (emphasis mine in bold; my comments bracketed in red).

3. In the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God held in October 2008, the issue of the problems stemming from the experience of supernatural phenomena was raised as a pastoral concern by some Bishops. Their concern was recognized by the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, who inserted the issue into the larger context of the economy of salvation, in a significant passage of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini. It is important to recall this teaching of the Pontiff, which is an invitation to pay appropriate attention to these supernatural phenomena [and watch where he lands at the end of this first paragraph]: 
“In all of this, the Church gives voice to her awareness that with Jesus Christ she stands before the definitive word of God: he is ‘the first and the last’ (Rev 1:17). He has given creation and history their definitive meaning; and hence we are called to live in time and in God’s creation within this eschatological rhythm of the word; ‘thus the Christian dispensation, since it is the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Tim 6:14 and Tit2:13)’. Indeed, as the Fathers noted during the Synod, the ‘uniqueness of Christianity is manifested in the event which is Jesus Christ, the culmination of revelation, the fulfilment of God’s promises and the mediator of the encounter between man and God. He who ‘has made God known’ (Jn 1:18) is the one, definitive word given to mankind.’ [Pay attention here] Saint John of the Cross expresses this truth magnificently: ‘Since he has given us his Son, his only word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything at once in this sole word – and he has no more to say… because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has spoken all at once by giving us this All who is his Son.  Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely on Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty’ (Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 22).” [This is the very quote I have had in my right sidebar for some time now.  Desiring visions or revelations opens the door to Satan who is ever ready to appear in any form desired.  Also noteworthy is that Cardinal Levada wrote this preface on the Feast of St. John of the Cross, December 14, 2011]
Bearing this in mind, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, notes the following:
“Consequently the Synod pointed to the need to ‘help the faithful to distinguish the word of God from private revelations’ whose role ‘is not to complete Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history.’ The value of private revelations is essentially different from that of the one public revelation: the latter demands faith; in it God himself speaks to us through human words and the mediation of the living community of the Church. The criterion for judging the truth of a private revelation is its orientation to Christ himself. [If an entity is constantly chatting about itself, it raises a red flag]. If it leads us away from him, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit, who guides us more deeply into the Gospel, and not away from it. [In approved apparitions the Blessed Virgin Mary leads us to Christ]. Private revelation is an aid to this faith, and it demonstrates its credibility precisely because it refers back to the one public revelation [!!!]. Ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation essentially means that its message contains nothing contrary to faith and morals; it is licit to make it public and the faithful are authorized to give to it their prudent adhesion. A private revelation can introduce new emphases, give rise to new forms of piety, or deepen older ones. It can have a certain prophetic character (cf. 1 Th 5:19-21) and can be a valuable aid for better understanding and living the Gospel at a certain time; consequently it should not be treated lightly [it would be imprudent to speak out publicly against an approved private revelation]. It is a help which is proffered, but its use is not obligatory [another red flag is when a presumed apparition uses attempts to force belief, especially in a threatening way.]. In any event, it must be a matter of nourishing faith, hope and love, which are for everyone the permanent path of salvation.”[1]

Myself, and several other people on the internet, have often referred to Normae Congregationis when discussing alleged private revelation or apparitions and certain red flags.  We were using the very criteria used by the Church.

After the Preface we get to the 1978 Norms in the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations.  I found this part, after the introductory statement, interesting.

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.

Consider that this was written back in the 70's, before the internet era.  Now, it's real easy for people to get caught up on a wave of enthusiasm and take to the internet with some claim where it blooms exponentially in ways not seen in the past.  In the past, these things moved by word of mouth and some things wouldn't have made it past the local town.  The bishop normally payed no attention to it, so as not to lend credibility, and merely observed from a distance unless crowds swelled.  Today, it is easy for a claim to literally get away from the Church very quickly.  Poorly catechized people and, faithful Catholics who have been deprived of time-tested spiritual aids in the wake of a broad scale perversion of Vatican II, gravitate to visions that promote Marian and Eucharistic devotion.  History has shown us that even false visions can include some good fruits.  Followers don't often see the bad fruits also on the same tree, or inconsistencies in facts or events.  For this reason, Holy Mother Church goes through a process of analysis using these norms.

Continuing with the next point in the introduction:

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. [There is actually a third category, constant de non supernaturalitate.  I get into some discussion of that in this post].

For these reasons, in order that the devotion stirred among the faithful as a result of facts of this sort might manifest itself in full communion with the Church, and bear fruits by which the Church herself might later discern the true nature of the facts, the Fathers judged that in this matter the following procedure should be promoted.

Note the ordering of two words in the above: "Facts" before "fruits".  In translations we were using, I think the word "events" was used instead of "facts." The way it is ordered is that the facts connected with the case, or events, are always judged before fruits are examined.  The false apparition known loosely as, "Bayside," was condemned as not supernatural.  If you study Normae Congregationis carefully, then look at  the "facts" of the Bayside case, you will find many things that fly in the face of supernaturally, as would be discerned by an application of the norms.

When Ecclesiastical Authority is informed of a presumed apparition or revelation, it will be its responsibility:

a) first, to judge the fact according to positive and negative criteria (cf. infra, no. I); [Note that negative facts, or events, are not excluded and that there is no mention of judging "fruits" first.  It must be established that something is more likely happening than not before looking at the fruits]

b) then, if [an if/then statement] this examination results in a favorable conclusion [not whether there is good fruits, but if facts applied against positive and negative criteria do not reveal red flags], to permit some public manifestation of cult or of devotion [a cultus is granted by the local bishop in such cases], overseeing this with great prudence (equivalent to the formula, “for now, nothing stands in the way”) (pro nunc nihil obstare).

c) finally, in light of time passed and of experience, with special regard to the fecundity of spiritual fruit generated from this new devotion, to express a judgment regarding the authenticity and supernatural character if the case so merits.

With regards to Medjugorje it is important to note that no cult of devotion, or cultus, was ever granted by the local bishop, nor by any Commission.  In fact, the opposite happened in both cases.  First, it is good to know what it looks like when a bishop grants a cult of devotion so that he may continue his observations.  Here is then Archbishop Raymond Burke explaining what he learned upon examining correspondence concerning Our Lady of America:

Having reviewed the correspondence between Sister Mary Ephrem and her spiritual director of many years, Monsignor Paul F. Leibold, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, who later became the Bishop of Evansville and, then, Archbishop of Cincinnati, it is clear that the devotion, as proposed by Sister Mary Ephrem, received his approbation. In addition to the correspondence by which Monsignor Leibold declared the approval of the devotion, he also carried out the first of Our Lady of America's requests, made through Sister Mary Ephrem, namely, he had a medal struck with the image of Our Lady of America on one side and the coat of arms of the Christian family on the other.
When the cultus is approved, medals may be struck, devotions under the name (i.e., Our Lady of....) may be used, etc. In the case of Medjugorje, medals were struck; devotions, hymns using the name, Our Lady of Medjugorje, were made and used illicitly (without ecclesial approval).  The Franciscans and lay people just did this on their own. On March 25, 1985, the bishop responded to this illicit activity:

At our meeting, held in the Chancery Office in Mostar on October 31, 1984, I demanded that Medjugorje's occurrences "be toned down and eliminated little by little." [The bishop did not want to shock the people who grew attached to these things through the encouragement of the Herzegovina Franciscans, but to gradually phase out what had illicitly been put into place]. In the meantime, matters remain as they were, and a great disgrace is expected to befall the Church [Will this prove to be a prophetic statement? Time will tell once Pope Benedict XVI has spoken now that the Commission's work is done]. Now, without any delay, after all this, I demand from you that you remove the "visionaries" from public display and put an end to their "visions" in the parish church. They have had "visions" in Mostar, and earlier in Sarajevo, Visoko and Dubrovnik. Let them now have them at their homes: people say that they had them at their homes during 1981. In ten days the new statue of the Gospa ["Gospa" is a Croatian reverential term used for centuries for the Blessed Virgin Mary and it could be translated as "Our Lady"] in front of the main altar ought to be discreetly removed late one evening and replaced by the old one. You must stop talking about apparitions and also cease publicizing messages. The devotions that grew out of the "apparitions" and their messages must be eliminated, sales of souvenirs and printed material which propagate the "apparitions" must also stop.

That is nothing short of busting an illicit cultus which Bishop Zanic had every right to do as Ordinary of the Place, even if he could later be proved wrong.  God has a way of setting wrong things right over time, but the job of clerics and people is to obey their bishops

Fast forwarding to the 1991 Zadar Declaration (the last Commission finding which remains the official position of the Church), it declared a non constant de supernaturalitate (it cannot be affirmed as supernatural). We see that the Bishops Conference of Yugoslavia did not grant a cultus and outright discouraged it. 

Yet the gathering of the faithful from various parts of the world to Medjugorje, inspired by reasons of faith or other motives, require the pastoral attention and care, first of all, of the local Bishop and then of the other bishops with him, so that in Medjugorje and all connected with it, a healthy devotion towards the Blessed Virgin Mary according to the teachings of the Church may be promoted. The Bishops will also provide special liturgical and pastoral directives corresponding to this aim. At the same time, they will continue to study all the events of Medjugorje through the commissions.

To say that the devotions towards the Blessed Virgin Mary be according to the teachings of the Church is something which escapes many followers.  The Rosary belongs to the Church, not to Medjugorje.  On the other hand, Catholic teachings do not contradict one another, so devotions which spring forth illicitly are not considered part of that "healthy devotion".  Catholics with a deep love for Mary should read Marialis Cultus to understand the teachings of the Church in this regard.

Read the preface and the norms before the Holy Father speaks on the question of Medjugorje.  As I expressed earlier, I have little doubt that these norms will be referred to in any statement made in the near future.


Kevin Symonds has some background on the 1978 Norms.  Here is Part One of a two-part article.  I will edit in Part Two when it is available.

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