Authority of the Church in Discerning Private Revelations, by Cameron Daly

To continue with the theme of private revelations from my May 13th post—what follows is a blog-adapted term paper (which I’m happy to say I got an A on!) that I wrote for Catechism Pillars I & II, about genuine and false private revelations. This might be an important read for those who have any interest in private revelations (especially the claimed private revelations of Bayside), as it makes clear the localized authority of the Church in discerning such matters.

 

Holy Apostles College & Seminary

Authority of the Church in Discerning Private Revelations

by

Cameron Daly

Prof. Steve Schultz

PAS 161: Catechism Pillars I & II

27 November 2015

 

In paragraph sixty-seven, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following:

“Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

“Christian faith cannot accept “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such “revelations.””[1]

The Catholic Church is very explicit concerning how the guidance of the magisterium is applied in this matter, as is laid out in the Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations.[2]  The Church has the authority and the duty to exercise this discernment for the good of the faithful; and though there are some proponents of inauthentic alleged revelations who seem to have strong arguments against this authority—such as those who believe in the false messages of Bayside, New York—their positions are demonstrably false.

The Church alone has authority, not only to judge a private revelation’s authenticity, but also to determine who is able to make such a judgment and how they can go about it (with all these procedures being outlined in the Norms mentioned above[3]). This authority of the Church, as with all her authority, stems back to those fateful words spoken by Our Lord to St. Peter: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19, NABRE-NCAB). This is acknowledged by the Church as the Scriptural basis (or “driving force,” to use The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis’s wording[4]) of papal authority.[5] Peter and the Apostles used the papal and apostolic authority given them to determine that a succession should be established and to pass this authority on to successors, as the Catechism understands.[6]

Over time, by means of this authority, the successors of Peter and the other Apostles came to agreements on just who had the right to exercise the authority, and on what level. An example of this practice can actually be found in the Old Testament, when Moses appointed subordinate judges to judge the cases of the Israelites since the work was too much for him alone (cf. Ex 18:18-27). The Church has done something similar with the discernment of private revelations: she has explicitly granted authority in such matters to “the Ordinary of the place” where a claimed private revelation occurs,[7] rather than having the Pope determine each and every case. Again, this dispersing of authority was done by means of the authority passed down from Christ Himself. There can thus be no questioning of this authority for the Catholic faithful.

As noted by the Catechism, however, there have unfortunately always been dissenters from the Catholic Church, from the time of the early heresies about Jesus’ being truly human and truly divine (which the Catechism describes and refutes[8]) to the Protestant Reformation.[9] All such dissenters have, on some level, rejected the God-given authority of the Church. Those who choose a false private revelation over Church authority, those who “desire for some other novelty” instead of “fixing [their] eyes entirely upon Christ,”[10] also fall into this category. The movement of Bayside, New York, in regards to what it claims to be a private revelation, is a perfect example of this.

Masking his dissention with strong rhetoric, Fr. Bernard Nunes—in writing “perhaps the most comprehensive explanation of the Bayside apparitions ever penned by a priest”[11]—says, “Undoubtedly, God can and does manifest to chosen souls things hidden beyond what He teaches through the public ministry of the Church. It will not do to claim that all divine communication takes the ordinary course provided in the public ministry of the Church. Who would want to shorten God’s Hand [sic] or limit His power in this way?”[12] Granted, Fr. Nunes seems to be making a point about private revelations in general; but considering the oppositional nature of the Bayside messages he supports, he could be insinuating more—such as the notion that authentic private revelations can indeed be opposed to Church teaching. He makes a strong case, which appears to be backed up well by Sts. Peter and John in their words to the Sanhedrin:

“Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

Where is the difference between the early Church and the leaders of the Bayside movement? How was the Sanhedrin’s attempt to restrict God’s power concerning Christianity any different from how Church authorities are supposedly restricting it regarding the Bayside messages?

Denying Fr. Nunes’s possible insinuation by saying all private revelation do indeed “[take] the ordinary course provided in the public ministry of the Church”[13] would not be to restrict God’s power (as Fr. Nunes apparently holds), but to acknowledge His authority as it has been appropriately dispersed. Thus, the same keys of the Kingdom given to Peter were being used—in the way the Church’s authority saw fit—when Bishop Francis Mugavero, Bishop of Brooklyn, stated in 1986 that “a thorough investigation revealed that the alleged ‘visions of Bayside’ completely lacked authenticity.”[14] To obey this authority is not to shorten God’s hand, but to refrain from trying to force His hand for one’s own purposes.

Surely, though, the Sanhedrin must have thought they had the authority to make such a seemingly similar decision concerning Christianity. Even Jesus Himself said, “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you” (Mt 23:3). Yet, there were obviously exceptions[15] to this statement—such as when Jesus affirms in Mark 7:14-19 that, contrary to traditional Jewish teaching, it isn’t necessary to wash one’s hands before one eats. Thus, whereas “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses” (Mt 23:2), the ultimate authority is Jesus, Who, as the Bible points out, “taught … as one having authority” (Mt 7:29). Just as Jesus was the ultimate authority through His Church before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:19-20, so He is through His Church before the Bayside movement and other private revelations.

In answer to Fr. Nunes’s question, then, it is God who wishes to—to use Fr. Nunes’s own wording—“shorten God’s hand or limit His power in this way.”[16] However, it’s actually a profound display of God’s wisdom, (which the Catechism teaches is “identical” to His power[17]) something all Christians should be thankful for.

To requote paragraph sixty-seven of the Catechism, “Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment.”[18] It’s amazing that supporters of such messages as Bayside’s who claim to be Catholic would follow Fr. Nunes’s fallacious logic, that “It betokens arrogance and pride on the part of man to” think that “he has a sufficiency in the Bible or the official teaching of the Church,”[19] and so blatantly go against that wisdom of the Catechism’s to the point of being willing to forsake Sacred Scripture for what they believe to be a private revelation. If the Catholic faith could accept such revelations, nobody would know for sure when the next binding revelation would appear, which would result in confusion over what the Church should believe. Plus, if private revelations could actually add to divine Revelation, it would be that much harder to determine whether a revelation was accurate and authentic; who would be able to tell whether a revelation was false or was just adding to Catholic belief? As made clear by the Norms for private revelations, error-free doctrinal content is (as it should be, to ensure truth) a major factor in such discernment.[20] It’s rather like how Jesus made it clear that everyone will know when the Second Coming was happening—that it will be authoritative and definitive, rather than reliant upon private testimony (cf. Mt 24:23-27). So it is for “the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment.”[21]

Yet, according to Fr. Nunes, there is “Evidence of Miracles”[22] backing up the Bayside movement; he argues that the “witness” of these “is superior to that of men and their objections and claims.”[23] In light of the Catechism’s teaching that “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments,”[24] is Fr. Nunes suggesting that the same goes for God’s traditional authority as for His sacraments? Perhaps Fr. Nunes thinks that God’s showing this to the Church through the Bayside messages—as one might say He showed the Jews through His Son, when Jesus came to fulfill the law (cf. Mt 5:17)? This first of all brings about the question of whether the miracles surrounding Veronica Lueken, the alleged visionary of Bayside, are as credible as those of Jesus.

Fr. Nunes lists various things centered around the Bayside apparitions which are supposedly miraculous—in particular, “cures of soul and body,” “miraculous photographs,” and “other striking phenomena such as metallic beads of the Rosary changing color, possessed or mad persons being cured by wearing a medal blessed at the shrine in Bayside, rose-petals dropping from the sky, etc.”[25] Giving these reports the benefit of the doubt and assuming them to be accurate, all of them seem incredible, no doubt even more so to those who have witnessed them or who have been the recipient of them.

Fr. Peter Joseph, in his article “Apparitions True and False,” asks his readers to recall “the Book of Exodus where the magicians and sorcerers of Pharaoh were able to accomplish some of the prodigies wrought by Moses and Aaron (Ex. 7:11-12; 7:22; 8:7; 8:18-19; 9:11).”[26] He says this after a list of things that demons are capable of, which include the abilities to:

“Produce corporeal or imaginative visions…. Falsify ecstasy…. Instantaneously cure sicknesses that have been caused by diabolical influence…. Simulate miracles … Cause a person to hear sounds or voices…. Declare a fact which is hidden or distant.”[27]

This isn’t to say that all such occurrences aren’t of divine origin; it’s just that they aren’t necessarily of divine origin. In light of Fr. Joseph’s wisdom, even the “cures” could be prearranged by the devil (seeing that the devil has very “intelligent conjecture about the future”[28]), and the rose petals could be transported from another place (since, even though demons can’t “Create a substance, since only God can create,”[29] Fr. Joseph also mentions that “At séances, furniture is often pushed about”;[30] if a demon can push furniture, it should be able to pluck and transport rose petals—thus eliminating the need to create new ones). Even changing material on Rosary beads is insufficient proof for divine origin:

“Satan may really promote good things for a while, provided that he gains in the long run. The revelations of Necedah, Wisconsin, seemed to have good fruits, yet were false. Rosaries were said to change to gold.

“Similarly for Bayside. But disobedience showed them to be false.”[31]

He makes an important point, that it’s “disobedience [that] showed them to be false.” This will be attended to later. For the moment, he also notes that:

“In the face of the fallen angels’ power to deceive, it is no wonder that the Church is always very slow to declare a miracle or message authentic.

“The devil has superhuman intelligence and is very clever, and to pretend that you can definitely judge in favour [sic] of something’s authenticity, without help, is presumptuous.”[32]

 

How, then, can Jesus’ power be shown to be greater than that observed at Bayside?

One of the things Fr. Joseph points out that demons ­can’t do is to “Bring a dead person back to life, although they could produce the illusion of doing so.”[33] If something like this had happened at Bayside, Fr. Nunes presumably would have mentioned it; however, he did not. But the Gospels do. Jesus did it quite well, raising (to name just two) Himself and Lazarus from the dead—both days after they died. Jesus’ power, therefore, is verifiably more credible than is that shown at Bayside.

At this point, it would be worth noting that the Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations actually do not even mention miraculous occurrences or a lack thereof in their lists of “Positive” and “Negative Criteria”;[34] rather, they’re more concerned with the doctrinal accuracy in the claimed revelation and the overall attitude and stability of the person presenting it.[35] Though Fr. Joseph makes it clear that ninety-nine percent of a revelation can be “in conformity with the Catholic Faith,” he also points out that this “is just how the devil operates to deceive pious Catholics.” “It is the 1% [sic] that does harm.”[36] Hence, no matter how many spectacular, supernatural things may seem to be occurring around a private revelation, if the doctrinal content is not in accordance with authoritative Church teaching, the message would necessarily be false. St. Paul’s words seem appropriate: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that you learned; avoid them” (Rom 16:17). Even a one percent-opposition is an opposition.

This pertains to Fr. Joseph’s aforementioned words, “disobedience showed them to be false.”[37] He quotes Jesus as saying “You were right to obey my representative”[38] to at least two authentic visionaries, who had been obedient as the Church required after having initially had their messages rejected by their respective authorities. Bayside did not show this obedience. Fr. Joseph references Fr. Jordan Aumann to point out that obstinacy is among “the surest signs of a diabolical spirit.”[39]

The basis for Bayside’s obstinacy is that the movement honestly believes the Church’s authority can be—and perhaps already has been—undermined altogether. According to what the movement believes to be Mary, “There is one who is ruling in place of Our [sic] beloved Vicar, Pope Paul VI, an impostor, created from the minds of the agents of satan. [sic]”[40] As examined earlier on, the Pope holds absolute authority over the Church; if the Pope is false, what authority is left to be claimed? If the Church has no authority, how can it authoritatively speak against Bayside? Two sentences later, that same message also warned that “The deception [of the “impostor” Pope] must be exposed to mankind. Only in this way you can prevent the seat of Peter from capitulating and falling into full control of the Antichrist 666 forces.”[41] It should be obvious that this message is against Jesus’ teaching—at least in the second quotation given, if not the first. For in the verse prior to His giving Peter the keys to the Kingdom, Jesus said, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18, emphasis mine). Considering that the Pope, having inherited the keys to the Kingdom, has the “authority to govern … the Church,”[42] and that the Church herself is regarded as having use of these same “keys of the Kingdom of heaven received from Jesus Christ,”[43] Jesus Himself refutes the notion that the papacy would fall into demonic hands.

Far from slipping into the power of the devil, the Church maintains and exercises her “charism of infallibility” concerning doctrine and divine Revelation,[44] the same authority given by God to St. Peter. The Church, under the guidance of St. Peter and his successors, “faithfully guards ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’”[45] Those who believe in faulty revelations such as Bayside are mistaken about the infallibility of this guardianship. Rather than trying to assert something which contradicts Church teaching, they should remember what St. Peter himself once confessed to Our Lord, and be willing to say the same themselves regarding Christ’s authority present in His Church: “[T]o whom [else] shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). For if one refuses to go by the Church’s authoritative interpretation of private revelations, whose authority will one be going by? To requote Fr. Joseph, “to pretend that you can definitely judge in favour [sic] of something’s authenticity, without help, is presumptuous.”[46]Thus, without the Church’s guidance, there can be no authentic distinguishing of “Apparitions True and False”[47] at all.

 

 

 

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (United States of America: Doubleday, 1997), 67.

[2] Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations (25 February 1978).

[3] Norms, I-IV.

[4] Petroc Willey, Ph.D., S.T.L., Pierre de Cointet, and Barbara Morgan, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 110.

[5] CCC, 881.

[6] CCC, 861, cf. 1087.

[7] Norms, III.

[8] See CCC, 464-469.

[9] CCC, 817, quoting UR, 3 paragraph 1.

[10] CCC, 65, quoting St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2, 22, 3-5, in The Collected Works, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez, OCD (Washington, DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), 179-180; LH, OR Advent, wk 2, Mon.

[11] “Fr. Bernard Nunes, O.C.D. of India on the Bayside apparitions” at These Last Days Ministries (17 November 2015), at http://www.tldm.org.

[12] Fr. Bernard Nunes, “Bayside Apparitions, New York,” at These Last Days Ministries (17 November 2015), at http://www.tldm.org.

[13] Nunes, “Bayside Apparitions.”

[14] Bishop Francis Mugavero, “Declaration Concerning the ‘Bayside Movement,’” at EWTN (18 November 2015), at http://www.ewtn.com, quoting from “Cults, Sects, and the New Age,” Rev. James J. LeBar (OSV Press).

[15] see Tim Staples, Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines, Kindle Edition, for more examples of exceptions to statements in the Bible.

[16] Nunes, “Bayside Apparitions.”

[17] CCC, 271, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, STh 1, 25, 5, ad 1.

[18] CCC, 67.

[19] Nunes, “Bayside Apparitions.”

[20] Norms, I.

[21] CCC, 67.

[22] Nunes, “Bayside Apparitions.”

[23] Nunes, “Bayside Apparitions.”

[24] CCC, 1257.

[25] Nunes, “Bayside Apparitions.”

[26] Fr. Joseph Peter, “Apparitions True and False,” at Catholic Culture (22 November 2015), at http://www.catholicculture.org.

[27] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[28] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[29] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[30] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[31] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[32] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[33] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[34] Norms, I.

[35] Norms, I.

[36] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[37] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[38] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[39] Joseph, “Apparitions,” quoting Fr. Jordan Aumann, Spiritual Theology (Sheed & Ward 1980).

[40] Nunes, “Bayside Apparitions.”

[41] Nunes, “Bayside Apparitions.”

[42] CCC, 553.

[43] CCC, 979.

[44] CCC, 2035.

[45] CCC, 171.

[46] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

[47] Joseph, “Apparitions.”

 

 

Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second Edition. United States of America: Doubleday, 1997.

 

Joseph, Fr. Peter. “Apparitions True and False.” at CatholicCulture.org, 24 September 2015, at https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6602.

 

Mugavero, Bishop Francis. “Declaration Concerning the ‘Bayside Movement.’” at EWTN, 18 November 2015, at http://www.ewtn.com.

 

Nunes, Fr. Bernard. “Bayside Apparitions, New York.” at These Last Days Ministries, 24 September 2015, at http://www.tldm.org/news2/fr._nunes.htm.

 

Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations (24 February 1978).

 

Tim Staples. Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines. Kindle Edition.

 

Willey, Ph.D., S.T.L., Petroc, Pierre de Cointet, and Barbara Morgan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008.

 

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