This is not satire. Although it’s the kind of news that is perfect for mocking the authoritarian nature of the Catholic Church, everything I’m about to tell you is factually true. You can even read this official Vatican news article and leave it open just so you’re sure that I’m not kidding. Ready? Good.
The Vatican has publicized official guidelines to verify whether apparitions — such as Jesus appearing to you in person — and revelations — such as Jesus talking to you in a dream — are authentic. The procedure is strict, and the criteria is comprehensive, but what it ultimately boils down to is this:
If Jesus — or whichever Heavenly character — tells you something that contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church, the apparition or revelation is fake. You are either a lunatic or a liar — or both — but you certainly did not communicate with the Lord. When God communicates to you through his messengers, He can only tell you something the Catholic Church teaches — nothing more, nothing less.
Pope Benedict XVI puts it this way:
The criterion for judging the truth of a private revelation is its orientation to Christ himself. If it leads us away from him, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit, who guides us more deeply into the Gospel, and not away from it. Private revelation is an aid to this faith, and it demonstrates its credibility precisely because it refers back to the one public revelation.
Ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation essentially means that its message contains nothing contrary to faith and morals.
If these terms are too vague, the actual guidelines put it more concretely. To be considered authentic, a revelation must be “true theological and spiritual doctrine and immune from error.” If it contains “doctrinal errors” the revelation is definitely false.
Consider the following hypothetical example. (If this were satire, I would’ve presented this fiction as fact.)
A Catholic mother is deeply troubled about her Church’s teachings on contraception. She already has eight children and cannot afford to raise another. But five of her children have already proven that natural family planning doesn’t work for her. She desperately wants to try birth control pills.
So she prays in Church for weeks and weeks until one night, Jesus appears to her in a dream. “Pills are OK,” says her Lord and Savior. And she wakes up unsure what the dream meant. She prays to God for guidance and just as she was saying “in Jesus name,” the Lord appears next to her bed with a box of pills in his outstretched hand. She wipes the tears from her eyes and the next moment, she finds herself alone in her bed, the box of pills on it.
She tells her friends and relatives about what happened and soon the whole country knows about the miracle, thanks to both social media and then mainstream media multiplying like wildfire the effect of word of mouth. Within a week Catholics around the world know about the topic that has been trending on Twitter and other social networks since the day it happened.
On the 8th day, a CBCP – Vatican joint task force arrive at the scene to investigate. The miracle site is quarantined from the public until further notice. After three days, the Vatican release a resolution:
The subject, Maria Magdalena, has been found lacking in “docility towards Ecclesiastical Authority” according to article I section A-1 of our criteria. The doctrinal content of the alleged revelation is not “immune from error” and is a “doctrinal error attributed to God himself” according to article 1 sections A-1 and B-b.
It has also been discovered that the subject is in deep financial debt, and the donations she has received is sufficient motive to prove a “search for profit or gain strictly connected to the fact” according to article I section B-c. Lastly, with knowledge the teaching on the sin of contraception, Magdalena has admitted to consuming a week’s worth of pills, a “gravely immoral act” under article I section B-d.
With the lack of positive criteria and preponderance of negative criteria, we find the alleged Alabang apparition inauthentic. This site will remain under observation for two months or until the cultic devotion has subsided, whichever comes first.
Although the events are fictional, the guidelines used by the task force are real. Their actions may be different from what I depicted, but the outcome would be the same. Maria’s apparition would, by account of its doctrinal error, be dismissed as hallucination.
And consider the possibility that it was actually Jesus Himself who visited Maria that day. Do you think the Vatican would behave differently?
Religion is founded on divine revelation. Christianity is what it is thanks in no small part to the writings of St. Paul. Most Christians I’ve spoken to don’t even know that Paul never met Jesus in real life — not even once. All that he knows about Jesus was given to him in a personal revelation that no one else could verify.
Armed with nothing but his own personal miracle, Paul corrected the teachings of Jesus other disciples, the ones who actually lived and worked with Jesus, the ones who heard his actual words and not some spiritual substitute. What humility it must have took for them to accept Paul’s message!
Today, according to the Catholic Church, such miracles are no longer possible. This gives “infallibility” a whole new meaning. It’s official: even God’s omnipotence is not powerful enough to overcome the Vatican’s hubris.