Analyze and discern the different cases of Marian apparitions as well as the mystical phenomena linked to the figure of the Virgin Mary: this is the mission of the new body created on April 15, 2023 by the International Pontifical Marian Academy. It has a goal for the future: to prevent alleged messages from generating confusion within the Church.
The mission of this new Marian observatory is as follows: “It will be a matter of activating national and international commissions responsible for evaluating and studying the apparitions and mystical phenomena reported in various regions of the world,” as Fr. Stefano Cecchin, president of the Pontifical Marian International Academy stated to Vatican News on April 15.
The new structure is composed of a steering committee and a scientific committee, both made up of experts in theology, Mariology, and ecclesiology. Scientific committees will be set up at the local level, in order to operate in the field, in a multidisciplinary approach.
The Vatican media specifies that it is important for the Pontifical Marian International Academy to “clarify things, because often the so-called messages generate confusion, spread anxiety-provoking apocalyptic scenarios or even accusations against the Pope and the Church.”
Fr. Stefano Cecchin, OFM, president of the Pontifical Marian Academy, granted an interview to the weekly Alfa y Omega, in which he assures, among other things, that “the apparitions which speak of the punishments from God are absolutely false.”
The Franciscan friar begins by recalling the authority of the Academy over which he presides: “We are the only ones competent in the whole world on the subject of the figure of Mary. (…) That is, that we are recognized as experts in this discipline, with the right to intervene,” although he recognizes that “it is the bishops who make the final judgment and who have the last word.”
One of the criteria used by the Pontifical Academy according to Fr. Cecchin is the following: “Does a mother want to punish her children by sending them illnesses, death…? No not at all. So the apparitions that speak of God's punishments are absolutely false.” This could pose certain problems. Thus, during the 3rd apparition at Fatima, on July 13, 1917, Our Lady said to the children:
“You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go; to save them, God wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I am about to tell you is done, many souls will be saved and they will have peace. The war will soon be over. But if they do not stop offending God, a more serious war will begin under the pontificate of Pius XI.”
“When you see the night illuminated by an unknown light, know that it is a great sign from God to tell you that He will punish the world for its crimes, with war, famine, and persecutions against the Church and the Holy Father.”
And in La Salette, Our Lady said to the children: “People do not observe the Lord's Day, they continue to work non-stop on Sundays.… The season of Lent is ignored. Men cannot swear without taking God's name in vain. Disobedience and forgetting the commandments of God are the things that make my Son's hand heavier.”
According to the logic of Fr. Cecchin, these two apparitions are “absolutely false.” Which seems perfectly untenable. The root of this strange view lies in the new appreciation of mercy, present in theology for some time and emphasized by the present pope, but already discernible in John Paul II. A mercy disconnected from justice.
On the other hand, the Franciscan affirms that there has never been and that there will never be papal approval of an apparition, because these are private revelations. “It should be noted that the apparitions are private revelations. They do not add to or subtract from the public revelations, and therefore papal approval is not required. There never will be, there never was.”
The peremptory assertion necessitates a distinction that theology has made for a very long time, and which has been put in place by the papacy. A distinction must be made between the authority of the message and its content. As for authority, it does not go beyond the private order, and, unlike the public revelation contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it cannot be imposed on consciences. In other words, no one is required to believe a private revelation.
On the other hand, as regards the content, the Church can declare that it is entirely in conformity with Catholic doctrine and thus allow a cult: pilgrimages, invocations or even Masses in honor of the Virgin under the title of her apparition: such as Lourdes for example. For such a cult to be universally authorized, the authority of the Pope is needed, with all due respect to Fr. Cecchin.