2024.05.16 Preghiera ok Editorial

Open to the Mystery, caring for the faith of ordinary people

Our Editorial Director reflects on the New Norms on Alleged Supernatural Phenomena released by the Dicastery for the Doctine of the Faith.

By Andrea Tornielli

“The Church’s Magisterium protects the faith of simple believers... That is its democratic mission. It is meant to give a voice to those who have none.” These words of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger come to mind after reading the new norms on alleged supernatural phenomena, published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.


This document reflects the pastoral approach that characterizes Pope Francis’ pontificate and addresses the need to resolve difficulties, dead ends, and open contradictions that have arisen over the past 50 years, with sometimes conflicting pronouncements on the same phenomenon.

The faith of simple believers is protected, firstly, because the text clearly states that the Revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle, and that no believer is obliged to believe in apparitions or other alleged supernatural phenomena, even in cases in which they were approved and explicitly declared supernatural by the ecclesiastic authority.

At the same time, there is an acknowledgement that in many cases, these exceptional manifestations resulted in an abundance of spiritual fruits and growth in the faith. Thus, the authority of the Church should not have an a priori negative judgment, as if God and the Virgin Mary needed the authorization of the curia or a Vatican Dicastery to manifest themselves.

The intention of protecting the faith of simple believers from illusions, fanaticism, fraud, and religious marketing, as well as from the obsession with chasing apocalyptic messages and forgetting the essentials of the Gospel, is also very clear.

The decision to no longer make demanding declarations regarding the authenticity and supernaturalness of phenomena  — except in very rare cases involving the authority of the Successor of Peter — is striking. This too is a way to protect the faith of the People of God, allowing them more freedom to express their devotions and participate in pilgrimages when there are no reasons to advise against them. It involves continuing to study the phenomena, supporting visionaries without leaving them alone and adrift (as has unfortunately happened) and conducting pastoral and catechetical activities that help bring about good spiritual fruits.

The new norms introduce six categories of final judgments on alleged phenomena, replacing the previous three. Under the old 1978 norms, the judgment could conclude with a declaration of supernaturalness (constat de supernaturalitate), a negative declaration but one that is open to possible further developments (non constat de supernaturalitate), or a clearly negative declaration when non-supernaturalness was evident (constat de non supernaturalitate). There are now more possibilities and nuances, always aimed at protecting the faith of simple believers. The most positive final judgment in the new norms is the nihil obstat, a clearance that does not force the Church to pronounce herself on supernaturalness, but attests that positive elements prevail, making it a phenomenon to be promoted.

What happened in recent decades also helps explain why, from now on, the involvement of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith will always be required, and the diocesan bishop will always make pronouncements in agreement with the Holy See. This measure became necessary because of contradictory pronouncements in the recent past and the now-evident impossibility of confining these phenomena to the local level.

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17 May 2024, 12:00