Spirit Daily


Discernment Of Supernatural Is Left To Bishops, Who Must Be Strictly Followed

By Michael H. Brown

We're constantly asked to discern this or that apparition, locution, stigmata, weeping statue, or vision, and while expressing our interest in many cases, we always try to defer judgment. We're not the Church -- and it is the Church we must obey, however much, at times, we like or dislike its judgment.

In fact, obedience is a test of life. The saints knew this (Padre Pio answered without complaint to an archbishop who was blatantly unfair to him), and Scripture tells us that obedience is greater than sacrifice. Such is important to remember at a time when, in the common perception, our bishops have been excluding too many cases of what appear to be the miraculous. Indeed, in many cases in North America, the hierarchy is the greatest opposition to what the faithful see as signal graces -- more skeptical even than the secular media. The first reaction of most bishops is to dismiss or tone down miraculous claims. It is the opposite of how such matters have been handled in the past (and are handled in other nations).

But we have seen case after case where bishops have rejected situations in a way that protects the faithful. Knowingly or unknowingly, they often rule against a situation that may be precarious and even demonic below the surface. The Holy Spirit often guides these men intuitively. While the standard rejection states that there is no evidence or final proof that something is miraculous and while there are often reasons to question the grounds of such a rejection, there are cases where the supernatural is apparent but the spirit is not a good one.

Therefore, in the end, the bishop, in distancing the faithful from a circumstance, made the proper decision.

Just because the supernatural is displayed does not mean a situation is of the Holy Spirit.

At the same time, just because one is rejected doesn't mean it is of an evil spirit.

There are basically three forms of negative Church rulings. One is a "rejection" or dismissal (known in the vernacular as constat non supernaturalitas), whereby the bishop rules that there is no evidence or proof of the supernormal, and in fact that it has been established a situation is not supernatural. This is the most common form of disapproval. The highest form of rejection is anything announced as a "notification" in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's newspaper.

Next is what might be called "formal diocesan disavowal." This is when the authorities not only reject a locution or apparition but add that elements of the alleged revelation contradict Church teachings. Such a situation must be clearly avoided.

Last is "condemnation," which is the strongest negative judgment and means that the Church is openly concerned about the spiritual well-being of those attending such events, and that doing so -- following such an apparition -- is prohibited. Such occurred in the U.S. at a place known as Bayside in Queens, New York. There have been cases where those who promote a condemned apparitions have been threatened with excommunication.

We believe that once the supernaturality of a situation has been rejected, it should no longer be treated or quoted as authentic -- although it may be discussed in the context of its rejection as long as the Church ruling is prominently quoted. There are times when the Church has reversed itself, but such situations are rare. Usually the matter rests with the bishop -- whose determination, unless usurped by the Vatican (as happened with Medjugorje), is final. If Medjugorje or any other major apparition is ever formally rejected, it will be a blaring red headline on this website.

When a locution or apparition has been granted an imprimatur, does that constitute formal approval?

No. An imprimatur means only that a bishop, his vicar, or a diocesan censor has reviewed the material and determined that there is nothing contrary to the faith. The alleged revelation does not contradict Church doctrine. An imprimatur is not a statement saying that the message came from a supernatural source, but it is certainly a positive sign. Such occurred in the case of locutions granted to an Ohio woman calling herself "Mariamante," who has remained anonymous (a good sign) and has put these messages in a book, now out of print, called The Apostolate of Holy Motherhood (which we frequently quote in our daily "meditation").

In these messages, which were granted an imprimatur by Bishop Albert H. Ottenweller of Steubenville in 1991, the seer quoted the Blessed Mother of saying: "I want all my children who are receiving extraordinary gifts or experiencing extraordinary phenomena to be fully under the protection of proper spiritual direction under the auspices of the Holy Mother Church of which I am the prototype. Witness my obedience to the will of God throughout my life. Let this be your example. The Church and her rightful authorities and representatives are whom you must answer to in regard to all facets of the spiritual life. This must be clearly understood, particularly now when there is so much confusion among the faithful as to what is happening to them in regard to spiritual happenings, that is, events that they themselves cannot fully understand or explain in the ordinary cause of events. This is not unusual, as it has occurred throughout the ages within the Church and among the people of the Old Testament... I wish to stress this point for all my children to understand once and for all: that I wish only priests to be involved with the discernment of spirits and things of this nature. I have given them the abilities and faculties necessary to accomplish this task, but this is not granted to all My children and should not be the practice of lay people."

Priests, in their turn, must strictly obey the determinations of local bishops. And bishops must adhere to the discernment of Rome, if, as in rare cases, the Vatican expresses an opinion.

This issue came up in a special way with the famous apparitions at Medjugorje, which were eventually accepted by the parish priests, and initially also by the local bishop, but then rejected by the same bishop, whose authority to rule on the matter, however, was then removed by Rome. Many are confused by this -- believing that the apparition has been rejected because the bishop usually possesses such authority. However, we must realize that the Vatican is the highest authority, and that when it rules on a matter, or removes a bishop's authority, that is the final ruling and where we owe our obedience. Right now Medjugorje is in the hands of a national commission and its status is non constat supernaturalitas: meaning the supernatural may be present but has not yet been established. Pilgrimages are allowed but not as official parish events.

What is the status of other alleged apparitions? And locutions?

We'll discuss these in future articles.

[Resources: Medjugorje and the Church, The Day Will Come]

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