On the Vatican’s Norms for Discerning Private Revelation, Part One

A couple of months ago I openly questioned Andrea Tornielli’s publishing the Latin text of the Vatican’s document Normae S. Congregationis (NC).[i]  This past week, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published not only the Latin text of the document, but also issued a translation in the major European languages.[ii]

As the wisdom of Holy Mother Church has decided it opportune to release the text, my previous argument concerning NC against Andrea Tornielli no longer holds substance.  My former article now stands as a matter for historical record.

Now that the text has officially passed to the public forum, I would like to offer some reflections on NC to help the faithful understand the document from a historical and theological context.  To this effect, I would like to begin by encouraging people to read Cardinal Levada’s Preface to NC.[iii]  In it, Levada addresses some key points concerning not only NC but also the Church’s theology of private revelation.[iv]

History of the Document

In November 1974, the CDF held its annual plenary session.  During this meeting, the topic of private revelation was discussed, as well as the problems often connected with it.  The Congregation concluded that it was necessary to compose a document with guidelines on how Ordinaries should proceed in judging claims to private revelation.  The composing of this document took place over the next three and a half years.

The document was composed in Latin and entitled, “Normae S. Congregationis pro Doctrina Fidei De Modo Procedendi In Diudicandis Praesumptis Apparitionibus ac Revelationibus.” Once finalized, the four-page document was sent to Pope Paul VI for his approval, which was granted on February 24, 1978, six months before his death.  NC had a stipulation: it was issued “sub secreto” (under secret), meaning, in the words of Levada’s Preface, it was “sent to Bishops for their information…as the norms were given for the direct aid of the Pastors of the Church” (Preface, 1).

For nearly 20 years, NC lay in chancery offices around the world.  Partial Latin texts with English translations became available if a theologian or writer privy to the text cited it in another composition.  Japanese author Francis Mutsuo Fukushima provided some of the Latin text with English translations in his book, Akita: Mother of God as Co-Redemptrix.[v]

The first full translation of NC appeared in 1997 when two French authors named Joachim Bouflet and Philippe Boutry published their book, Un signe dans le ciel.[vi]  Bouflet and Boutry obtained a copy of NC and translated it into French.  Before publishing it, however, Bouflet consulted with a curial official of the CDF.  This official replied, “Rome will not react.”  On this word, Bouflet and Boutry published their translation.

In 2002, British theologian and author Donal Anthony Foley translated Bouflet and Boutry’s French into English and made it available on his web site Theotokos.[vii] Five years later in 2007, Fr. Andrew Kingham submitted his dissertation in Canon Law at the St. Paul University of Ottawa, Canada.  Included with this dissertation was a Latin-English reproduction of NC.[viii]  In 2008, Fr. James Mulligan published his own French-English translation of NC using Bouflet and Boutry’s text in his book, Medjugorje: What’s Happening?[ix]

In 2007, Mariologist Fr. Rene Laurentin and Patrick Sbalchiero published their own French translation of NC in their book Dictionnaire des Apparitions de la Vierge Marie.[x]  The entry for NC in this Dictionary is signed by Laurentin.  In a news report covering the Italian release of this Dictionary, Fr. Laurentin revealed the CDF asked him to make the Dictionary.[xi]

In late 2008/early 2009, the Italian news site Il Petrus published an article claiming the Holy See was updating NC in the form of a “Vademecum” (handbook).[xii] Subsequent media reports arose in the Catholic and secular presses.[xiii]  This updating was said to be a response to continued growing numbers of claims to private revelation and the resulting need for greater clarification and/or measures with which to discern.  An article from the National Catholic Register contradicted these media reports, based upon a statement by an “anonymous” official at the CDF.[xiv]  There has been no talk on this matter since that time.

Returning to the document itself, for the English-speaking world, Foley’s translation of NC in English was the first and arguably the most influential of the translations (until the Vatican released its own English translation).  This was largely because Foley posted it on the Internet.  However, the fact remained Foley’s translation was based upon the French—itself a translation from the original Latin.  The integrity of both the French and English translations was not verified while the Latin text remained unavailable to the public.

In August, 2010, for research and writing purposes, this author was permitted to receive the Latin text of NC as well as to consult and share the document with two others.  Additional permission was granted to publish an English translation.  In conjunction with Mr. Richard Chonak and a Norbertine priest in Wisconsin, an emendation of Foley’s English translation was made and published in October of the same year.[xv]

Owing to the sub secreto stipulation, the Latin text of NC was not released by any of the aforementioned people.  Once Bouflet and Boutry released their French translation, obeying the sub secreto note came to mean the Latin text was not to pass into the public forum.  Other authors followed this until February, 2012 when Andrea Tornielli released the Latin text, as earlier discussed.  The Vatican’s recent publication of the document has effectively removed the sub secreto nature of the document.

The second installment will continue looking at Normae S. Congregationis by providing an overview of the text itself.

[i] <http://www.catholiclane.com/where-angels-fear-to-tread-a-response-to-andrea-tornielli-on-medjugorje/> (Accessed 26 May, 2012).

[ii] <http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19780225_norme-apparizioni_en.html> (Accessed 23 May, 2012).

[iii] <http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20111214_prefazione-levada_en.html> (Accessed 23 May, 2012).

[iv] Levada’s Preface is dated December 14, 2011—the feast of St. John of the Cross.  This does not seem to be a coincidence as St. John of the Cross features quite prominently in the Holy Father’s thoughts on private revelation stemming back to his theological commentary on the third secret of Fatima up to Verbum Domini itself.

[v] Francis Mutsuo Fukushima, Akita: Mother of God as Co-Redemptrix.  (Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing, 1994), 56, 61, 63.

[vi] Joachim Bouflet and Philippe Boutry, Un signe dans le ciel.  (Paris: Grasset, 1997), 396-399.

[vii] <http://www.theotokos.org.uk/pages/appdisce/cdftexte.html> (Accessed 26 May, 2012).

[viii] Previous histories of NC did not record Kingham’s contribution.  This was due to the fact his dissertation was unknown as it was not published for a larger audience.  It was not until early 2012 that a copy was obtained by this author and the Latin-English translation discovered.

[ix] Fr. James Mulligan, Medjugorje: What’s Happening? (London: Dusty Sandals Press, LTD, 2008), 238-240.

[x] Rene Laurentin and Patrick Sbalchierro, Dictionnaire des Apparitions de la Vierge Marie.  (Paris: Fayard, 2007), 668-672.

[xi] <http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1005079.htm> (Accessed 19 April, 2011).

[xii] <http://web.archive.org/web/20110726061321/http://www.papanews.it/news.asp?IdNews=11058> (Accessed 26 May, 2012).

[xiii] <http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8688> (Accessed 26 May, 2012).  <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,479781,00.html> (Accessed 26 May, 2012).

[xiv] <http://www.ncregister.com/site/print_article/17042/> (Accessed 26 May, 2012).

[xv] The Latin text made it possible to compare and contrast the available translations to answer the question about their integrity.  This author did so and concluded that while there were some questionable parts as well as errors in every translation, their integrity was fundamentally sound.