The other day I offered some fairly conventional thoughts about the possible outcomes of the new international study commission on the Medjugorje phenomenon.
In that piece I suggested that the study could lead to possible verdicts of “constat de non supernaturalitate“, or “non constat de supernaturalitate“, or merely a decision to wait and let things go on with no verdict. But I may have been wrong about the possibilities. One of those may no longer be an option.
I learned earlier today about a 2008 interview with Abp. Angelo Amato, then secretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, about the discernment of alleged apparitions. In addition to his past responsibility, Abp. Amato is reportedly now a member of the study commission on Medjugorje.
In the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire of July 9, 2008 (reproduced here and here), he answered some questions about a 1978 document from CDF on this subject.
I’ve translated most of the interview (below), but here is the part that draws my attention:

Q.: At the end of these proceedings, what positions can authority take?
A.: There can be approval, the constat de supernaturalitate, as was recently done by the bishop of Gap [France] for the apparitions of Laus. Or disapproval, the non constat de supernaturalitate, as for example quite a few pseudo-mystical manifestations.
Q.: But can the “non constat de supernaturalitate” be considered a wait-and-see decision, compared to the negative, which would be the “constat de non supernaturalitate”?
A.: In the Norms we are talking about there is only mention of constat de and non constat de. There is no sign of constat de non.

Well, I get to learn something new every day.
So, if CDF does follow the 1978 norms exactly, then the old distinction between non constat de supernaturalitate and constat de non supernaturalitate may have been dropped.
One has to wonder: what motivated this change from past practice? Was the omission intended to limit what options authorities should consider in future cases? Would Pope Benedict keep this change, or act to make it clear that the more clearly negative formulation remains an option?
If this reduction of options is real, it would imply that the Yugoslav bishops already gave the Medjugorje phenomenon the most negative verdict possible (non constat) in 1991. Perhaps a clarification from Rome about these norms would be helpful.
Perhaps this explains the statement of Cardinal Puljić in 2009: “The doctrinal issue of the Medjugorje phenomenon is resolved, but its pastoral significance must still be taken into account.”
The Avvenire interview follows. Thanks to Diane K. of the Te Deum Laudamus blog, who tipped me off about it.
[UPDATE (10/2011): Welcome, Jimmy Akin readers!
Since writing this, I’ve become more reserved about the speculations I made above. Some months ago I asked Mariologist Fr. Manfred Hauke whether the 1978 document means that constat de non would be excluded in the future, and he replied that it would be best to apply the “hermeneutic of continuity” to the document. The three constat options are long established in Catholic practice, so it’s best not to assume from SCDF’s omission that there was any intent to change the possible options. If SCDF had wanted to take on that issue, they could have done so directly. Moreover, I suppose, such a change would need to be addressed in a published document, not one issued sub secreto to the bishops. A published document would have a more thorough process of preparation and review. –RC]

Timing and criteria for “judging” apparitions
(Avvenire, July 9, 2008)

Interviewer Gianni Cardinale:
Excellency, can you tell us about this document on how church authorities should proceed in cases of alleged apparitions or revelations?
Monsignor Angelo Amato:
The document is titled “Normae S. Congregationis pro doctrina fidei de modo procedendi in diudicandis praesumptis apparitionibus ac revelationibus”. It was considered in the plenary meeting of the dicastery in November 1974; Pope Paul VI approved it on February 24, 1978, and it is dated on the following day. It was signed by Cardinal Franjo Seper and Abp. Jean Jerome Hamer, who were then respectively prefect and secretary of the Congregation.
Is it a secret document?
It was sent to all the diocesan bishops and religious superiors, but it was never really published officially, either in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis or in the recent book Documenta, which collects the principal post-conciliar texts of the Congregation.
And why?
These are norms that primarily relate to the pastors [i.e., the bishops], so it was not felt necessary to publish them more broadly.
It’s never been updated?
It’s a well done document, and remains valid. So it was never thought necessary to update it.
What does the document contain?
After a prefatory note on the origin and character of the norms, the document lists the criteria by which bishops and ordinaries equivalent to them should judge alleged apparitions and revelations. It deals with positive criteria such as, for example, the personal qualities of the seer or seers (mental balance, honesty and rectitude, sincerity and habitual docility vis-a-vis church authorities…), or the fact that the “revelations” be immune from theological errors and they produce sound devotion and abundant, consistent spiritual fruits. On the other hand, for negative criteria, such as doctrinal errors attributed to the Lord or the Blessed Virgin or other saints, questions of money-making and such, gravely immoral acts committed by the seer or seers, mental illnesses, psychopathic tendencies, psychosis, or collective hysteria.
In the light of these criteria how must church authorities proceed?
This is the subject of the second section of the Norms, Pastors, after carefully evaluating, can allow some forms of cultus or devotion, making clear that this does not yet imply Church recognition of a supernatural nature of the events. Rather, there may yet be reasons to forbid it. In questionable cases, authority can decide not to intervene, waiting for facts to settle, but must always remain vigilant, so as to be able to intervene promptly if necessary.
But what are the competences of bishops and of the bishops’ conferences regarding these phenomena?
The third part of the Norms answers this question. The primary competence relates to the Ordinary. Regional and national episcopal conferences can, however, intervene if asked by the Ordinary, or with his consent if the phenomena have regional or national relevance. It adds also that the Holy See can intervene at the request of the local bishop or at the request of a qualified group of the faithful, or because of universal jurisdiction of the Supreme Pontiff.
And the Holy See intervenes through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
That’s right, and the fourth part of the norms is dedicated to that. It explains that our Congregation has to be watchful in cases where it intervenes on request from the faithful, so that there not be suspect reasons behind the request, such as trying to force the Ordinary to change his legitimate decisions or approve some sectarian group.
At the end of these proceedings, what positions can authority take?
There can be approval, the constat de supernaturalitate, as was recently done by the bishop of Gap [France] for the apparitions of Laus. Or disapproval, the non constat de supernaturalitate, as for example quite a few pseudo-mystical manifestations.
But can the “non constat de supernaturalitate” be considered a wait-and-see decision, compared to the negative, which would be the “constat de non supernaturalitate”?
In the Norms we are talking about there is only mention of constat de and non constat de. There is no sign of constat de non.
[The interview goes on to other topics after this.]

Original content and translation, ©2010 Richard Chonak. All rights reserved.