Criteria for discerning alleged apparitions


A friend (really!) was all excited about a modern Catholic mystic in Canada named Lilian Bernas who claims to have physical stigmata. I told my friend that the Roman Catholic Church has a well-established protocal for investigating such claims. But when I tried to find a description of what these investigations entail, I could find nothing very specific.

1.Can you direct me to an explanation, preferably on the Web?
2. Any official Church determination of the claims and practices of LILIAN BERNAS?
3. Any guidelines/teachings of how the faithful should repond to such claimants?

Thank you.


The Archiodiocese of Ottowa is investigating the claims of the alleged stigmatist Lilian Bernas. All questions concerning the status of her case should be directed to the Archdiocese of Ottowa.

The Church evaluates all supernatural phenomena (e.g., locutions, apparitions, stigmata, weeping statues) using the criterion below:

Article was taken from the September 98, 1996 issue of Our Sunday Visitor:

Visitor: What are the criteria for discerning alleged apparitions?

Father Castellano: The first criterion is cordial communion with the Church and her magisterium. So, where the Church has not pronounced on the events, the messages, it is necessary for the faithful to keep their distance, so as not to be shocked in any way by those who want, in using these phenomena, to influence their religious sensibility.

The faithful should remain always in the freedom of the faith, linked to the word of God and the magisterium of the Church.
In the second place, through these events, messages can arise. Even if they are simply human in nature, they can coincide with truths of the faith, of Scripture, of the magisterium.

In this case, it’s clear that the faithful can receive these messages-not on account of their source, because that’s doubtful—but by reason of the truth contained in them. Such is the case of so many calls to prayer, to conversion, to penance, etc.

It is still necessary, obviously, to reject those messages that are contrary to the faith. But when they are in accord with the faith, it’s very dangerous to use these messages pretending to add, clarify or deepen something that is already contained in the deposit of the faith.

It is equally necessary to refuse all the propositions that have a Messianic character, according to which the Church would be renewed or saved only by these messages, which are held exclusively by certain people or in certain places. And, unfortunately, this kind of situation is quite frequent.

Article and book recommendations:

Book: I highly recommend *A Still Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations * by Father Benedict Groeschel

Several articles on apparition discernment:

“Discernment of Spirits” by Father William Most

“The Tide of Vain Credulity: the Church’s Role in Apparitions”

“Revelations” by Fr. Mark Slatter

1978 Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith document on apparition discernment (unoffical English translation)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit