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Vatican aiming to protect people from false visionaries

Presentation of the International observatory on Marian apparitions and mystical phenomena by the Pontifical International Marian Academy

Anna Kurian / I.MEDIA

Presentation of the International observatory on Marian apparitions and mystical phenomena

I.Media - published on 05/08/23

The Vatican’s Marian Academy is launching an observatory on Marian apparitions and mystical phenomena to help people better understand these events.

At the beginning of April the Vatican’s Pontifical International Marian Academy (PAMI) announced that it would be launching an “International observatory on Marian apparitions and mystical phenomena.” In a press conference held on May 3, 2023, the director of the Observatory,  Sister Daniela del Gaudio, gave more details about this group’s purpose, highlighting that they want to help develop a “critical consciousness,” in order to protect vulnerable people from false seers and swindlers. 

The Observatory’s function

The Observatory is made up of about 20 experts from varying fields such as medicine, biology, law, and theology. Its aim is to study supernatural phenomena, without taking the place of the Church hierarchy, said Sister del Gaudio. She explained the organ will focus on providing an “intellectual” contribution to the research being carried out. 

The Observatory will also focus on a second aspect: that of forming the public, especially journalists, through courses on the various mystical phenomena. All of this is aimed at developing “critical awareness,” said Paolo Cancelli, a lawyer specializing in the protection of vulnerable people against abuse. It is when this critical awareness is lacking that “illegality” flourishes, he added.

Sister del Gaudio highlighted that although the new organism can provide important information, its mission is not to make judgements on the veracity of the apparitions. “From a scientific point of view, we analyze the phenomena when they are finished,” she warned.

The Observatory will thus not issue opinions on the apparitions in progress.

Catholics are not “required” to believe any private revelation, even approved ones. But apparitions and messages may be approved by the Church for local or universal devotion. This approval is done for the benefit of the faithful, declaring “worthy of belief” those private revelations that can be helpful to Christians striving toward the ultimate goal of Heaven.

An international outlook

The Scientific Committee of the International Observatory is composed of about 15 experts. This includes an imam, Nader Akkad, co-president of the International Muslim and Christian Marian Commission, as well as researchers from Brazil, Croatia, Japan, Portugal, Canada, the United States and Costa Rica.

In the long term, the Observatory’s leaders hope to create a network of national observatories on mystical phenomena. In 2020, the Pontifical International Marian Academy had already created a department called “liberate Mary from mafias,” focused on fighting against the use of popular piety for non-Catholic purposes.

The “apparitions of Trevignano Romano”

This new structure to fight against mystical frauds was created while a controversial supposed apparition case was making headlines in Italy. An alleged seer in Trevignano Romano, a city an hour from Rome, is suspected of being a fraud. Sister del Gaudio called for “prudence” on this matter as she explained there are “thousands” of similar cases in Italy and only a small number of them are true.

Basing herself on the norms of discernment on apparitions published in 1978 by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Italian nun gave some advice. She recommended verifying whether or not the private revelations conform to Church doctrine, the “profit-making” surrounding the event, and finally, taking note of the “mental health” of the seers – “humility” and “discretion” being positive signs.

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