Vatican overhauls rules on supernatural phenomena to adapt to internet age

The Vatican on Friday issued new procedures for evaluating purported faith-based supernatural events in the digital age.

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In a document published Friday, the Vatican’s doctrine office outlined its new rules for evaluating phenomena such as apparitions or visions of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary.

Under the new procedures, bishops will not be able to confirm supernatural phenomena, a practice that the Vatican said sometimes came into conflict with its stance that the faithful do not have to believe in such phenomena.

Instead, bishops will be allowed to reach any of six possible conclusions about purported supernatural phenomena without “affirming with moral certainty that it originates from a decision willed by God in a direct way,” officials said. The conclusions range from “Nihil obstat” — meaning “nothing hinders” — which would allow for popular devotion, to a declaration that the phenomena is not supernatural, according to The Guardian.

Bishops will also be required to consult the Vatican before investigating phenomena, Reuters reported.

The new rules overhaul ones put in place in 1978 and made public in 2011. They come after officials spent five years trying to revamp the procedures before they determined that all changes were “inadequate” and decided to start fresh.

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the head of the Vatican doctrine office, said that often supernatural events “have led to a great richness of spiritual fruits, growth in faith, devotion, fraternity, and service.”

However, he added, “At the same time, in some events of alleged supernatural origin, there are serious critical issues that are detrimental to the faithful.”

The Vatican noted Friday that in the internet age, word of supernatural phenomena travels quickly, The Associated Press reported. Such reports can lead to hoaxes aimed at manipulating the faithful or making money off their beliefs, according to the news agency.

Under the new rules, the Vatican said, “The use of purported supernatural experiences or recognized mystical elements as a means of or a pretext for exerting control over people or carrying out abuses is to be considered of particular moral gravity.”

The new procedures will take effect Sunday.

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