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Vatican to unveil new guidance on supernatural phenomena

Autor: Devan Markham

(NewsNation) — The Vatican will offer new guidance Friday regarding supernatural phenomena and other apparitions, presenting new provisions of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

As described in the Encyclopedia of the Bible, an “apparition” refers to the appearance of a spiritual or supernatural visitor, most likely with instances involving a divine entity such as the Virgin Mary or a saint.

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, Monsignor Armando Matteo and Sr. Daniela Del Gaudio are expected to speak at a news conference at noon local time. The updated document will also be published Friday, and a livestream of the conference will be available through the Vatican’s YouTube.

Previously, Fernández said the dicastery is “in the process of finalizing a new text with clear guidelines and norms for the discernment of apparitions and other phenomena,” per Fox News. The last time the Vatican revised its doctrine for evaluating “apparitions” and other supernatural events was in 1978, per the Catholic News Service.

Catholics and the supernatural

Historically, the church has been opaque about how apparitions and other supernatural events were handled, so much so that the guidance issued in 1978 was done secretly and not made public for many years after the fact.

Typically, investigations of supernatural events have been left to local bishops, in no small part because the Vatican doesn’t have enough resources to investigate every possible event. Based on previous guidance, local authorities were urged to be cautious and diligent but also resolve cases quickly.

A methodical approach is more difficult in the age of social media, especially when the Vatican has historically taken decades to determine if apparitions are legitimate. In the case of Medjugorje, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, six people claimed to have visions of Mary beginning in 1981.

However, the case wasn’t investigated until 2010, and by that time, it had already been the subject of online groups, books and movies.

Dangers of supernatural events

One reason Catholic authorities are urged to proceed with caution is the risk of damaging the faith, especially if reports later turn out to be false.

False apparitions may be the result of misunderstandings or psychological problems, but deliberate forgeries and fakes are also a problem for the church as the financial incentive to appeal to believers can be strong.

Sites such as Medjugorje draw millions of visitors. On a more direct level, some have tried to monetize relics directly, such as a man in Maine who tried to sell a piece of toast with the image of Jesus on it on eBay. He failed, but a woman in Florida did successfully sell a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich, which she claimed bore the image of the Virgin Mary, for $28,000. (Neither were recognized by the Catholic Church as legitimate.)

But not all supernatural events the church examines are as benign, and one of the most famous, the rite of exorcism, can also be deadly, adding more reason for the church to take a cautious approach.

A staple of horror movies, exorcism guidelines have been revised by the church repeatedly. Famously, some exorcisms have resulted in deaths, including the 1976 death of Annelise Michel, a German woman who died from dehydration and malnutrition after 10 months of exorcism.

What’s behind the new guidelines?

As of now, the Vatican hasn’t provided a reason for updating the guidance on apparitions and other supernatural events. One obvious reason could be the changing times; the 1978 guidelines were issued in response to the rise of mass media and easier global travel.

The internet and social media have radically reshaped communications since then, including how quickly news of apparitions, relics and supernatural events can circulate, regardless of authenticity.

In an earlier interview, Fernández suggested there needed to be guidance on handling cases of psychological and sexual abuse related to false mysticism due to the serious nature of that abuse.

Some have also suggested a less earthly reason, saying interest in UFOs may be part of the push, as a new film, “God vs. Aliens,” is set to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

While the new guidelines are not directly expected to talk about UFOs, there are many in the UFO community — including GOP Tennesee Rep. Tim Burchett, theologians and ancient astronaut theorists — who believe one possible explanation is aliens and angels are one and the same.

In his exclusive NewsNation interview last summer, David Grusch also claimed the Vatican was in on a 90-year UFO cover-up.

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