Swear You Saw Stigmata? Vatican Has New Guidelines

Church officials update norms to confirm Virgin Mary visions, other supernatural claims
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 17, 2024 12:13 PM CDT
Vatican to Issue New Guidance on Supernatural Claims
Pilgrims say prayers at the "Hill of Appearance" in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on June 25, 2010, where it's believed that the Virgin Mary showed herself and conveyed messages of peace to six children on June 25, 1981.   (AP Photo/Amel Emric, File)

The Catholic Church has a long and controversial history of the faithful claiming to have had visions of the Virgin Mary, of statues that purportedly wept blood tears, and of stigmata that erupted on hands mimicking the wounds of Christ. On Friday, the Vatican will announce new norms to help determine whether and when these seemingly supernatural events are authentic. It's stepping in amid a boom in claims and concern that apocalyptic prophesies are spreading online faster than ever before, causing confusion among the faithful, per the AP. When confirmed as authentic by church authorities, these otherwise inexplicable divine signs can lead to a flourishing of the faith, with new religious vocations and conversions.

Church figures who claimed to have experienced the stigmata wounds, including Padre Pio and Pope Francis' namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, have inspired millions of Catholics. But the phenomena can also become a source of scandal: The Vatican in 2007 excommunicated a Quebec-based group, the Army of Mary, after its founder claimed to have had Marian visions and declared herself the reincarnation of the mother of Christ. Francis himself has weighed in, making clear that he's devoted to the main church-approved Marian apparitions, such as Our Lady of Fatima, whose believers say appeared to three shepherd children in 1917, but expressing skepticism about more recent events.

On Friday, the Vatican's doctrinal office will issue a revised set of norms for discerning apparitions "and other supernatural phenomena," updating a set of guidelines first issued in 1978. The Vatican has generally refrained from intervening, leaving it in the hands of local bishops and offering its approval to fewer than 20 reported apparitions over several centuries, per Michael O'Neill, who runs the online apparition resource the Miracle Hunter. Last year, however, it announced the creation of a special commission within the Pontifical International Marian Academy to study the phenomenon and provide consulting services to bishops. More here.

(More Vatican stories.)

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