In an effort to ensure that more discretion is used when evaluating claims of apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the Vatican has translated the decades-old rules for confirming such claims from Latin to English and several other languages.
The "Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations" was originally written by the Vatican in 1978, but has always been in Latin and only circulated among clergy and specialists, not published to the general public.
The Vatican recently issued a letter written by Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Vatican doctrinal office, to accompany the translation of the rules. The letter explains the purpose of the rules and how they should be followed in order to ensure no false appearances of Mary are deemed authentic.
According to Levada, the purpose of the rules is to aide bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in "their difficult task of discerning presumed apparitions, revelations, messages or, more generally, extraordinary phenomena of presumed supernatural origin."
The rules state bishops must acknowledge that in modern society more discretion and time must be dedicated to identifying Mary apparitions.
"Modern mentality and the requirements of critical scientific investigation render it more difficult, if not almost impossible, to achieve with the required speed the judgments that in the past concluded the investigation of such matters," the rules state.
The rules list requirements for those claiming to have witnessed a "positive" apparition, some of which include "psychological equilibrium, honesty and rectitude of moral life […] sincerity [and] healthy devotion."
The result of announcing the apparition must also provide "abundant and constant spiritual fruit," such as conversions or testimonies of charity.
Negative criteria include "evidence of a search for profit" and "psychological disorder or psychopathic tendencies in the subject" as well as "psychosis, collective hysteria."
Reports have been made from various members of the public claiming to have seen the Virgin Mary on a potato chip, a tree trunk, a piece of toast, in bird droppings and a piece of chocolate, to name but a few sightings.