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THE CHURCH'S POSITION ON MARIAN APPARITIONS

In the Vatican II document “Lumen Gentium,” paragraph 12, we read:

"These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. [...] but judgment as to their genuinity and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good. (cf. 1 Tes 5, 19-21)"


Pope Paul VI, on Feburary 24th, 1978, approved norms established by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on how to proceed in the discernment of supposed apparitions and Marian revelations.


Supernatural phenomena present difficult situations in the life and mission of the Church, as was noted by the pastoral solicitude of the Bishops from the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October, 2008. This same concern was expressed by the Holy Father Benedict XVI in an important passage of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, placing it within the context of the plan of salvation.

The Congregation considered it convenient to publish the afore-mentioned norms, including a translation into various important languages.

Norms regarding the manner of proceeding in the discerment of presumed apparitions or revelations - Sacred congregation for the doctrine of the faith

Churches approval

Fundamentally, the procedure by which an apparition may be approved is fairly simple and generally follows these steps:
 
1.    The parish priest is informed of a private apparition/revelation.
2.    The parish priest does a preliminary investigation and decides whether or not to bring the matter to the attention of the local Ordinary, that is, the bishop, with sufficient evidence to guarantee the bishop’s attention.   
3.    The bishop decides, based on the given evidence, if the event merits further investigation.
4.    The bishop forms a commission for investigation.
5.    If he considers the results of the commission valid, then:
a.    If the apparition/revelation no longer occurs, then the bishop approves it, declaring it “worthy of faith” and presents the documentation to the Vatican.
b.    The Vatican designs a commission to revise the bishop’s report before the event is labeled “worthy of belief.”
6.    If the apparition/revelation has not ended o the event is one of great magnitude (in Garabandal, for example, with 1800 apparitions), the bishop may leave the case “open” to receive new information, which means it is a temporal approval, pending the completion of his study.
7.    If the results of the commission indicate an event which is not supernatural, or is supernatural but of demonic origin, then the bishop will issue a document to officially reject the event and to encourage the faithful and clergy to avoid it.

From this, it follows that it is technically impossible for the Church to give a final approval of the events of Garabandal (as for example is the case in Medjugorje) because there are prophesies which have not been fulfilled, but which could be (which would put the process at step 6).

The criteria for the approval of a Marian apparition are:
1.    APPROVAL OF THE EXPRESSION OF FAITH: the local bishop fosters, or at least tolerates, the diverse manifestations of faith (mass, prayer, devotion, confessions, conversions), which are produced in relation to the supposed apparition.
1.1    When it is “explicitly” approved CONSTAT DE SUPERNATURALITATE, the apparition and its approved messages have the assurance of not going against theological, doctrinal or biblical criteria.  The faithful are not personally obliged to approve them, but they are obliged to not publicly declare them invalid if the authorities have officially declared them valid. (Fatima, Lourdes)
2.    NEGATIVE DECISION: the decisions of this nature include both:

2.1    NO CONSTAT DE SUPERNATURALITATE: can be a negative decision of provisional character, pending new results or the re-opening of the case.  It is a “no” open to a possible “yes.”
2.2    CONSTAT DE NO SUPERNATURALITATE: this decision is a “no” of a final and definitive character.  It is a “no” of “never.”


Therefore, the first representative of the Church who has to examine the matter is the local bishop, in this case, of Santander.  He has the responsibility to study the case and issue a judgment on the apparitions.  Normally, the judgment of the bishop, that is his confirmation or rejection, resolves the issue.  This was the case in Lourdes and in Fatima.  But it does not always happen this way.  On the occasion of the closure of the Jubilee in Fatima, in October 1942, the Patriarch of Lisboa, Cardenal Cerejeira, referring to the approval of the apparitions in Fatima given by the bishop of Leiria-Fatima in October, 1930, observed: “The approval is not irrefutable; the Holy See can confirm or annul it.”

The local bishop acts as judge in the first instance.  But there is a higher ecclesial authority, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly called the Holy Office, which acts as a Court of Appeals.  This is an administrative organism that represents the Pope in matters of faith and morals.  However, not even it has the last say; this is reserved for the Pope, the supreme judge.

In the case of the apparitions of Garabandal, the Congregation could intervene and take the responsibility for investigating the apparitions; in this case, it would be out of the bishop of Santander’s hands.  However, the Congregation has persistently refused this possibility of stepping outside of the normal process, arguing that no important event had occurred in recent times and, therefore, the Congregation had no reason to intervene.  It concluded by leaving the matter in the hands of the bishop, including the issuance of guidelines, and praising him for the zeal that he had manifested in this subject.  It can be inferred that when the announced Warning or the Miracle occur, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could change its decision.

So, at least for the moment, the Congregation will be content with what it has frequently done in the past: to accept the status quo and wait for results.  A long history of experience in matters of this nature has taught it that when something comes from God, in the end it overcomes any opposition.  In other words, the Congregation has chosen the only practical option it has, to leave the preliminary judgments in the hands of the local bishops until it can be sure to count on sufficient and effective representatives in order to personally take responsibility.