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Where Angels Fear to Tread: A Response to Andrea Tornielli on Medjugorje

I read with interest Andrea Tornielli’s article on Medjugorje dated February 28, 2012.[i]  At the end, I was shocked to find that Tornielli provided a Latin-Italian translation of the Vatican document “Normae S. Congregationis.”  My shock was rooted in the fact that the Latin text of this document has escaped the public eye for 34 years and with good reason—it was never intended for public consumption.

Normae S. Congregationis (NC) was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to all the Church’s Ordinaries in 1978.  The document concerns norms and guidelines for Ordinaries to help them discern a private revelation if one was claimed in their territory.  When NC was issued, the CDF attached a note to the top of the document that read “Sub Secreto” (“under the secret”).  Such a note is attached to Vatican documents that are not meant for public consumption (the note was conveniently left out of Tornielli’s reproduction of the Latin text).

Since NC was issued in 1978, there have been several translations of the document.[ii]   However, no one released the Latin text to the public.  In my experience of working with NC, I have discovered three reasons for this.  First, there was a strong possibility that having the text in the public would lead to greater fraud.  Secondly, NC was written “by bishops, for bishops” and the language, terms and concepts are written accordingly.  Thirdly, people respected the “Sub Secreto” stipulation the CDF placed on the document.  When the first full translation was released in 1997, it was only after consultation with the CDF. 

As someone who researches private revelation and is finishing a book on the subject, I cannot stress enough the looming threat of fraud in this area of the Church’s theology.  In this contemporary period of the Church’s history, there is a terrible lack of catechesis.  Many Catholics simply do not know their faith and are pandering to the world while others desperately seek heavenly aid against the rising tide of Secularism and turn to alleged private revelations.  They have opened a door for the devil and his angels to walk through and proclaim another Gospel.  The “Sub Secreto” note helped to preserve good order in the Church.

As time went on and translations were offered to the public, respecting the “Sub Secreto” note came to mean that the Latin text would not pass into the public forum.  While translations of NC can lead to just as much fraud, the fact of the matter is that there was always the possibility of returning to the Latin text and arguing from it.  In his zeal to promote Medjugorje, Tornielli has changed all this and in doing so he has done everyone a great disservice.  Now the liars and charlatans that are false visionaries and mystics have another tool with which to manipulate people.  Once you know how something operates, you can better manipulate it.

Furthermore, NC is not a document that is going to be readily understood by the average person.  As I said earlier, it was written “for Bishops, by Bishops.”  In other words, it was meant to be an “in-house” document.  The concepts and terms contained within the document necessarily require two things: pastoral and theological knowledge and/or expertise.  Even then, this is not a guaranteed fail-safe as is evidenced by the very story in which Tornielli published the Latin text.[iii]  There is much confusion that abounds about the text given how it was written and its intended audience.  As such, NC requires careful study.  I would also add that though it is disputed, there are credible reports that the Vatican is updating NC.[iv]

On a final note, I wish to say something further about Medjugorje.  It is, by far, the biggest fraud put on for pious people in our times.  Many have been in such a rush to promote it that they have not heeded the Church’s teachings.  Unless he had permission to publish the Latin text of NC, Tornielli’s apparent disobedience to Church authority is only one demonstration of Medjugorje’s real “fruits,” in addition to the many lies, slanders and deceits it has perpetrated.  I call upon Tornielli to explain himself and in the meantime, it is my sincere hope that this matter will be a talking point for the Vatican’s commission of inquiry into the Medjugorje phenomenon.

[Kevin Symonds is one of the translators of Normae S. Congregationis, the document discussed in this article.]


[ii] In 1994, Japanese author Francis Mutsuo Fukushima quoted from select passages of NC in Latin with English translations and with the permission of his Ordinary in his book Akita: Mother of God as CoRedemptrix Modern Miracles of Holy Eucharist.  In 1997, French authors Joachim Bouflet and Philippe Boutry provided an entire French translation of NC in their book Un signe dans le ciel.  In 2002, Donal Anthony Foley provided an English translation of NC from Bouflet/Boutry’s French translation on his web site Theotokos.  In 2007, the famous French Mariologist, Fr. Rene Laurentin, provided his own French translation in his Dictionary of Marian Apparitions.  In 2008, Fr. James Mulligan published his own English translation in his book, “Medjugorje, What’s Happening?” and based this from Bouflet and Boutry’s French text.  In 2010, this author, in conjunction with two others, published the first Latin-English translation of NC.

[iii] I am here referring to Tornielli’s discussion of the traditional three judgments an Ordinary gives to claims of private revelation, otherwise known as the “Three Constats.”  These are “constat de supernaturalite” (the supernatural is established), “non constat de supernaturalitate” (The supernatural has not been established) and “constat de non supernaturalitate” (the supernatural is not established).


Kevin Symonds writes from South Carolina.  He received his B.A. and M.A. in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville and is the author of the book, Private Revelation: What Does the Catholic Church Teach?


  • Deblette

    With all due respect, whatever Tornielli has done, assigning it to the fruits of Medjugorje is a little hysterical.
    Private revelation is left up to the individual to discern as long as the Church has not condemned it. As the Church has not condemnded Medjugorje, your opinon is just that, an opinion.
    I was pretty much dragged to Medjugorje five years ago. I had been out of the Church for 34 years, did not believe in God and was about as far left wing as a person could get. Forty eight hours after arriving there, I was shown that God existed (by God) and I knew what a sinner I was. One year later I was confirmed in the Catholic Church. I go to daily Mass, bi-weekly reconcilliation and am in my second year as a novice with a Third Order Discalced Carmelite Community. The Lord graces me with consolations every day of my life. Those are my fruits. Jesus is my life and the Blessed Mother brought me to Him….in Medjugorje.
    If the Church determines that no one can go there anymore, it will not change the fact that it was Medjugorje that brought me to God and I am not the only one. I will be obedient to the Church, whatever She determines.
    I am so tired of those who pretend to know private revelation telling those of us who have had our lives changed by it, that it is evil and fraudulent. Just because you yourself have not been let in on the Graces and the Fruits, do not mean they do not exist. Save your book if it includes Medjugorje. I think the Church will be disputing anything you have to say about it. Pray that the Lord will open your heart to how He can work through others.

    • Larry

      @ Deblette–So if it is determined that Medjugorje is not of supernatural origin, and it is only man made, your graces and fruits are man made also. It is not God who calls you with a lie and deceit. Personally I am tired of people who believe in evil and fradulent private revelations & how their lives have been changed. Pray that the Lord will open your heart to how He works.

      • Mary Kochan

        Larry, what you have said does not follow (non sequitur). Regardless of the final Church word on Medjugorje, Deblette’s graces of conversion and vocation may very well have come from God.

        • Larry

          @-Mary: Really? It’s pretty straight forward. where are you confused?

          • Mary Kochan

            You really need to rethink your approach here, Larry. I’ll let the author explain what non sequitur means. Kevin, please help Larry out.

      • Deblette

        Well, if the changes in my life are of the evil one, then he has switched sides. I guess what you can’t understand is that the Lord can work anywhere, any time. For me, He chose to do that work while I was in Medjugorje. You may also not understand that all of God and His works are supernatural, so regardless of whether or not the visionaries are seeing the Blessed Mother, God is working in a very powerful supernatural way, in Medjugorje.
        I am sure you are tired of people whose lives have been changed in glorious, miraculous ways. I think you might want to pray on that and find out why that would bother you so much. One shouldn’t really be looking around at the gifts and graces and talents that others have been given and then judging them or themselves by them. That is exactly what the evil one would want you to do.

  • Deblette,

    Thank you for your response. Out of curiosity, are you the same “Deblette” that is on zazzle.com with Medjugorje items?

    • Deblette

      Yes, that would be me. 🙂

      • Thank you for responding to my post.

        Let me put this into perspective. You respond to this article, claim that it is somewhat “hysterical.” You then dismiss my book before you even read it (& before it is even released to the public, at that!).

        Meanwhile, you stand to profit from an unapproved private revelation that is so controversial, the Vatican established its own commission of inquiry.

        You do realize how this sounds, Miss Deblette?

        • Deblette

          Well, yes, I guess I could stand to profit from designing a pair of shoes and a bag that I wanted for myself, using my photographs from Medjugorje. If anyone ever does buy one of those two fabulous items, I will remember to tithe my profit. 🙂
          If you would like to send me a copy of your book I would be very happy to read it and then dismiss it. Maybe you could change my mind about those who criticize things they have never experienced. I am always open to new revelations. No pun intended.
          I apologize if I have wounded your pride. It was not my intention.
          May God bless you and your endeavors.

          • Mary Kochan

            Goodness, Deblette, you have certainly gone quickly from sincere to sarcastic to snarky. Quite disappointing. Truth is not established by personal experience, btw. It’s what every Mormon hangs his hat on. (See my article on that topic at the top of the site.)

  • Deblette

    P.S. You are aware of the commissions of inquiry set up for the revelations of Fatima? Other apparition sites have waited a couple of hundred years to be approved. What do you find so unusual that the Vatican would set up a commission of inguiry and also, purposely leave out the Bishop of that area?
    I really would like to read your book.

  • Deblette

    Sorry Mary, that is the thing I have the hardest time with. The Lord changed my view on everything when He showed me the illusion of this world and the reality of His Truth. He healed my wounds, He showers me with love and knowledge and yet, he didn’t change my personality. He didn’t make me perfect. He didn’t remove my sarcasm or my impatience with others nor overload me with charity. I keep praying for a total transformation and keep plugging away. I am a sinner, hence the frequent confession. Thank you for your observations. I could probably learn a lot from your perfections.

    • Mary Kochan

      Holy fright, Deblette. Are you trying to be obnoxious on purpose?

      • Deblette

        Well, I was actually being truthful, at least about myself and God’s working in my life. The last line was just trying to illustrate that I didn’t add my comments on this site to impress anyone nor to please anyone and I am not responsible for anyone’s subsequent disappointment in me nor really requiring anyones descriptive judgements of me. Then again, I might just be trying to be obnoxious. 🙂

        • Mary Kochan

          Deblette, I’m pretty patient, and I have to consider that you might really not know what you are doing. In case you do, consider yourself warned, but if you really don’t know, this might help you: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html See esp, nos. 7, 26, 27.

  • Deblette

    Mary, that was so sweet of you to direct me to that site. I seemed to have failed the test. My score was a 12. It was fun though, I like quizzes and tests. Any other diagnosis you would like to make? I can volunteer that my I.Q. is 134. I have worked in social services for 31 years. I have been an investigator, I read 1000 words a minute and I love books. The greatest moment in my day is when I receive the Eucharist. I would die for my faith. I love pretentious people. They are so fun to play with. So, at risk of trying your patience, what is it I may not know what I am doing and what kind of warning are you giving me? Should I be frightened? Are you forgiving me for not knowing what I am doing? That is very Christian.
    By the way. I gave up Facebook for Lent, so this is really the most fun I have had on the internet lately.
    I have to go. Early Mass in the morning. Lenten Mission starts Sunday. I need my sleep.
    May God pour out his love upon you and grace you with a healthy sense of humor.

    Let nothing disturb you,
    Let nothing frighten you,
    All things pass away:
    God never changes.
    Patience obtains all things.
    He who has God
    Finds he lacks nothing;
    God alone suffices.
    (St.Theresa of Avila)

    • Mary Kochan

      Well, that is enough of that. Sheesh.

  • sodacan

    Hi Deblette- I’m also in my second year of formation with the ODCS ! I was not looking for it, but can see in retrospect how Our Lady lead me to them. It has given me the structure and accountability I need, and has taught me the importance of persevering, no matter what comes at me.

  • sodacan

    More on topic, I recently read this pretty good intro to the subject of Apparitons/Private Revelations on EWTN’s site:
    http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/apparitions.htm
    In particular, I would draw your attention to the section “Types of Decisions”, as well as the link within the article to a FAQ on Medjugorje.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi all. I stumbled upon this site and discussion while searching Tornielli’s credibility or lack thereof. Interesting article and I quite agree with the author regarding Medjugorje.

    Just wanted to chime in. In thinking about Deblette’s claim of the power of that supposed apparition site upon her, I have no doubt that there have been many, many conversions. The devil can and will use anything, including and especially false apparitions.

    I know this is going to sound uncharitable and sarcastic, but as Deblette’s comments progressed, they sounded more and more creepy. I know that a conversion doesn’t change one’s basic personality. Believe me, I struggle continually with a sarcastic streak. So maybe it’s my sarcasm speaking here, but Deblette, you’re actually a great poster child for the FALSE apparition and it’s supposed fruits!

  • Kevin Symonds

    The Vatican has released the text of Normae S. Congregationis:

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19780225_norme-apparizioni_en.html

    Levada also issued a commentary:

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20111214_prefazione-levada_en.html

    It is interesting to note that Levada’s commentary is dated last December. The Norms were only just placed on the Vatican’s web site most recently.

    -KJS

  • chiefsfan

    It is interesting to note how many times “I” was used in Deblette’s post, yet when she quoted Teresa of Avila, that word was absent. Hmmm…good fruits of Medjugorje? Maybe it’s time to bring to light some proper reading material for our fellow Catholics. Try, “The Spiritual Life” by A. Tanqueray, “Three Ages of the Interior Life” by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, and for TRUE instruction on the Holy Spirit read “The Sanctifier” by Luis Martinez. I PROMISE that with time, prayer and study, our discernment capabilities will improve. Friends, even approved apparitions are there in order to edify us. They are NOT to become the absolute center of our faith. And may I please comment that while God does not change our personality through this journey to Him, He does not make us prideful of our faults, nor does He allow us to throw our hands up and fall back on the fact that we go to frequent confession. That is not an out. When we go to that wonderful sacrament, we are given the strength that we need to work on those faults. And while we most certainly are not perfect, we can still be holy. There is a sublime loveliness to holy people. They strive to improve and do not wear their faults pridefully.