My recent post on Akita
has got me thinking, and as I was reading a few articles on the net I realise some clarification is needed with regard to reported apparitions. The Church is very careful when it comes to reports of supernatural activity, and apparitions and visions are examined with great prudence. Ironically it seems to be easier to discern and deal with demonic activity and preternatural events than heavenly and mystical manifestations.
Normally when an alleged apparition is reported, the Church takes a neutral stance, she cautions her bishops and priests, and observes. Officially these events do not have approval and so no cult can be established in the Church, although the devotion of the faithful is not curbed, but rather prudence is advised. The Church tends not to forbid the faithful from attending alleged apparitions.
When the visions cease, the local bishop may appoint a commission to examine the events, the message and any reports of miracles. The local bishop has the competence to deal with this investigation and the Vatican
tends to leave the investigation to him. His decision is usually accepted by the Church, so an investigation by the Vatican
is not necessary. Sometimes, in grave circumstances, the Vatican may intervene and remove a bishop's competence - this may occur if the bishop's investigation has not been conducted in accordance with the regulations or has been biased. The Vatican may then ask the episcopal conference to conduct a new investigation or conduct one itself.
The commission reports back to the bishop with its findings, and he releases the decision. This decision will fall into one of three categories established by the Church, and it is here that we have alot of confusion among the faithful and even controversy. These categories are constat de supernaturalitate, constat de non supernaturalitate, and non constat de supernaturalitate.
The first, constat de supernatualitate,
means it is established that these events are supernatural: with this decision the local bishop or the Vatican
recognises that the apparitions or visions are authentic and worthy of belief. The cult associated with these apparitions is permitted and considered praiseworthy. Apparitions which fall into this category are Lourdes
, Fatima and
Guadalupe. It is to be understood that while these apparitions are approved, they are still only private revelations, and so no one is bound to accept them, though if an apparition has been approved by the bishop or the Vatican
prudence dictates those who do not believe not do engage in a campaign to have the decision reversed.
The second, constat de non supernaturalitate
, means that it is established that the events are not supernatural. This is a negative judgement, and the faithful are bound to respect it: unlike the positive judgement, the faithful are not free to accept it even in a private capacity as to do so may be imprudent and damaging to the faith. Such apparitions may manifest hostile attitudes to the Church or certain Church teachings. Among those reported apparitions to have received this definitive negative judgement are the claims of "Mama Rosa" in San Damiano in Italy
, the claims of Veronica Leuken in Bayside, USA
, among others.
The third, non constat de supernaturalitate, is perhaps the most confusing the most misunderstood. This one means that it is not established that the events are supernatural, this, however, is not a negative judgement, but rather a decision which allows the Church more time and space to continue her careful discernment. What must be understood is that when a reported apparition has received this judgement there seems to be something in the events which cautions the Church against a negative judgement. With this judgement the Church permits the faithful to go to the site of apparitions and allows priests to provide spiritual care for them. Official pilgrimages are not permitted - an official pilgrimage being one organised and led by a bishop or priest, yet bishops and priest are permitted to go in a personal capacity and they must maintain officially that prudence and reserve the Church herself is exercising. Further study is to be expected. Normally this judgement is given if an investigation has been conducted while the alleged apparitions are ongoing and are not detrimental to the faith. Alleged apparitions which fall into this category are Garabandal and Medjugorje.
Looking at a number of articles and websites a number of people are maintaining that this third judgement, non constat de supernaturalitate, is a negative one, and those who go to the apparition sites are being disobedient to the Church, and priests who go there are leading the faithful into scandal. This is not true: until a constat de non supernaturalitate is given, the faithful may, with prudence, go on unofficial pilgrimage to such sites. Such misunderstandings themselves give scandal since they erroneously disturb the consciences of the faithful.
A word on visionaries. Not all visionaries have become saints. In fact, if you look at the approved apparitions of the Church only a minority of visionaries have been beatified or canonised. The fact that a visionary has not become a saint is not a good indication of whether a vision is authentic or not. In a few cases the visionaries turned out to have problematic lives afterwards, as with the visionaries of La Salette.
Some also believe that if a vision is authentic then the visionaries must enter priesthood or religious life. Again this is not the case. Few of those who received approved apparitions entered religious life or priesthood, most married and lived ordinary lives. In fact as far as I know, among the approved visionaries who were not in religious life at the time of the apparitions, only three entered religious life: Sr Lucia of Fatima, Sr Adele Brise of Green Bay, and St Bernadette of Lourdes, and it is known that Bernadette entered at the request of others and some have speculated that she may not have had a religious vocation at all. The Ven. Benoite Rencurel of Laus became a Third Order Dominican which, strictly, is not religious life.