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Vatican Cracks Down on Fake Miracles with New Supernatural Guidelines


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Kenya Catholic Bishops during a past press conference

Starting this Sunday, May 19, the Catholic Church will have new rules to tackle the rising tide of claims related to supernatural phenomena after the Vatican issued new guidelines urging caution and stringent scrutiny.

The updated document, crafted by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), sets out to refine the Church’s approach to reports of miraculous occurrences, such as weeping statues and divine apparitions.

Unveiled during a media briefing on Friday, the guidelines will replace the previous norms established in 1978 and will come into effect on Sunday, May 19, coinciding with the feast of Pentecost. This new framework calls for a more thorough investigation into such claims to prevent fraudulent or financially motivated incidents from misleading the faithful.

Highlighting the potential risks, the document warns against actions that could “damage the unity of the Church” or cause “scandals and undermine the credibility of the Church.” The guidelines reflect concerns that in the age of social media, the dissemination of misinformation and rumours regarding supernatural events has increased significantly.

Under the revised rules, bishops are advised to issue a “nihil obstat” – meaning no obstacle – in cases of purported supernatural phenomena. This declaration does not confirm the events as miraculous but indicates there is no objection to them from a doctrinal perspective. The Vatican emphasises that formal recognition of supernatural events remains exceptionally rare.

Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, head of the DDF, stated that the updated guidelines are designed to modernise the Church’s response to the proliferation of online claims of apparitions and miracles. The aim is to enable quicker decisions while still respecting popular devotion.

Previously, local bishops had the autonomy to rapidly declare the supernatural nature of phenomena, sometimes leading to conflicting conclusions by the Vatican or subsequent bishops. The new directives centralise this authority, making it clear that declarations of supernatural occurrences are now primarily reserved for the Pope.

Members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops

Members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops

At the press conference, Cardinal Fernandez acknowledged the positive impact of genuine spiritual phenomena, citing Lourdes in France as an example. However, he also cautioned against events driven by “profit, power, fame, social recognition, or other personal interest,” which can exploit the faithful and even lead to abuse.

The guidelines delineate a structured process for bishops to follow. They must investigate claims thoroughly, consulting theologians, canonists, and other experts. The focus is on determining the authenticity and doctrinal soundness of the phenomena, as well as evaluating any potential risks.

Positive criteria for validation include the credibility of the claimants, doctrinal orthodoxy, the unpredictable nature of the events, and the spiritual fruits they produce. Conversely, negative criteria encompass the possibility of error, doctrinal inaccuracies, divisiveness within the Church, financial exploitation, and psychological or pathological influences.

The document outlines six possible conclusions for assessing alleged supernatural phenomena. These range from a “nihil obstat,” encouraging pastoral value, to a “declaratio de non supernaturalitate,” declaring the phenomenon non-supernatural based on concrete evidence.

Despite the bishop’s conclusions, the Vatican stresses ongoing vigilance over such phenomena and the individuals involved. The updated guidelines are intended to balance pastoral care with caution, ensuring the Church’s credibility and the spiritual well-being of its followers.

By establishing these norms, the Vatican aims to navigate the complexities of supernatural claims in the digital age, preserving the sanctity and unity of the Catholic faith.


Pope Francis addressing members apostles in Hong Kong, September 2023.
Pope Francis



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