Thanks to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has just published its 1978 document of guidance for bishops discerning private revelations.
Yes, you read that right. It’s 2012, and we’re talking about the publication of a 1978 document. If anything proves the old quip “Roma eterna, sed civitas Vaticana sempiterna” (“Rome is eternal, but Vatican City is almost eternal”), it’s this.
The document, usually known as Normae Congregationis from the first words of its title, was issued in 1978 and sent to bishops. It contains principles and general procedures for bishops on how to judge a claimed private revelation. It was issued with the intimidating marking sub secreto, a warning that it was not to be published: not because it contained anything startling, but probably because it hadn’t undergone the full review process a public document would receive.
But “information wants to be free”, as the saying goes, and from 1994 to 2010 various writers, from Japan to France, and from Canada to Italy, have published it in Latin and in vernacular versions. It appeared in at least one canon-law dissertation, and I even contributed to its spread a little by publishing an English translation made with two colleagues (and yes, the leader of the project did have permission from his bishop). Most recently, the vaticanist Andrea Tornielli got a copy by simply asking the CDF for it, and his copy had no instructions about keeping it secret, so he published the Latin text and an Italian translation in February 2012.
Cdl. Levada writes in a preface that the document had in effect passed into the public sphere, so CDF chose to make its release official, here in Latin and with five vernacular translations, including the English version, Norms regarding the manner of proceeding in the discernment of presumed apparitions or revelations. Cdl. Levada’s preface also discusses the issue of private revelations in general and mentions how the topic came up in the bishops’ Synod on the Word of God, and expresses his hope that the document will be helpful to pastors and experts needing to deal with this pastoral issue.