Vatican tightens rules on evaluating supernatural events

The Vatican has updated procedures for evaluating reported supernatural events, such as weeping Madonnas and blood-dripping crucifixes, which have historically stirred the Catholic faithful. A new document from the Vatican’s doctrinal office (DDF) replaces rules from 1978 and requires bishops to consult with the Vatican before investigating such phenomena. The authority to recognize the “supernatural” nature of these events now rests solely with the pope and central Vatican offices.

Pope Francis has previously expressed skepticism about such apparitions, emphasizing that the Virgin Mary should point to Jesus rather than drawing attention to herself. Reported phenomena, including stigmata—Jesus’ crucifixion wounds appearing on individuals—often lead to the creation of shrines and pilgrimage sites.

Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, head of the DDF, stressed the need for caution, noting that some events might be fraudulent and exploited for personal gain. The DDF document advises bishops to issue a “nihil obstat,” a provisional approval for worship that leaves open the question of whether the event will be formally recognized as supernatural by the Vatican. Such recognition is considered “very exceptional.”

The document outlines five possible conclusions bishops can reach about purported supernatural events, including formal rejection or restrictions on worship of dubious phenomena. It cites the example of the alleged Virgin Mary apparitions in Amsterdam in the 1940s and 1950s, which were ruled invalid in 2020 after decades of conflicting verdicts.

The DDF norms acknowledge that many pilgrimage sites are linked to unverified supernatural events but state this does not pose significant issues for the faith. One notable example is the Medjugorje shrine in Bosnia, where reported Virgin Mary apparitions since 1981 are still under Vatican investigation. Cardinal Fernandez expressed hope that the new rules would facilitate prudent conclusions on such cases.