Many Saints and Blesseds have described private revelations from God, of various kinds, throughout the history of the Church. Therefore, it must be true that God gives private revelation to some persons. There are also a number of apparitions of the Virgin Mary, a type of private revelation, that have gained wide approval from the faithful and from the leadership of the Church. Examples of these include: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Fatima, Lourdes, La Salette, and others.
On the other hand, there have been a number of claims of private revelations, including claims of apparitions of the Virgin Mary, that have been rejected by the faithful and condemned by the temporal authority of the Church. Some of these claimed private revelations promote teachings that are contrary to the faith, attack the faithfulness and authority of the Church, and are from persons who have openly gone astray from the Way of Christ.
It is, therefore, certain that some claims of private revelation are truly from God, while others are not at all from God. The Sacred infallible Magisterium of the Church can declare that particular teachings, even if found in a claimed private revelation, are certainly false and contrary to the faith. However, lacking such a direct conflict with the faith, other false private revelations might escape from condemnation by the Magisterium. The temporal authority of the Church can condemn a claim of private revelation, but such a declaration is fallible.
It is often left to the mind of the faithful (sensus fidelium) to discern true from false claims:
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. (CCC, n. 67)
The purpose of this article is to assist the mind of the faithful in discerning true private revelations from false claims of private revelations. Certainly, neither this article, nor the associated list (“A Partial List of False Claims of Private Revelation”) is infallible. It remains for the mind of the faithful to inquire and to prayerfully discern which are true and which are false.
This article and the associated list are concerned, in particular, with fairly recent claimed private revelations, ones which include messages with theological and eschatological (having to do with the future) content. Such claims can be evaluated based on the theology in their messages. If some one claims to have a gift of healing, or to have seen an image of Jesus or Mary, without associated messages, then this criteria will not apply. As to claims by Saints, Blesseds, Venerables, or even by persons who have a cause for canonization under consideration, it is not the place of a theologian or a layperson, but of proper authority in the Church, to judge such matters.
Some Criteria for Recognizing True Private Revelations
First, anyone who has been declared a Saint, Blessed, or Venerable by the Church, as well as any Pope, should be believed when the claim to have received some type of private revelation from Heaven. And if anyone has a pending cause for canonization, one should reserve judgment on any claim that they make to private revelation.
Second, there are a number of private revelations that have been accepted by the mind of the faithful and approved by the temporal authority of the Church. These are reliable and trustworthy. These include Guadalupe, Fatima, Lourdes, La Salette, Akita Japan, and Knock Ireland, and perhaps others.
Thirdly, there are some claimed private revelations that have not yet been approved by the Church, or that have even been disapproved, to one degree or another, by ecclesiastical authorities, such as the local Bishop. Some of these are controversial. Medjugorje is widely accepted by the faithful. Very many parishes around the world have sent pilgrims to the site of these apparitions. However, it is often said to be disapproved, to one extent or another, by the local Bishop. Garabandal is another site of apparitions that is controversial. Many of the faithful believe in the apparitions at Garabandal, but many others actively disbelieve. And there are many other such claims of private revelation. Some of these claims must certainly be true. In order to assist the faithful in determining which are true, I offer the following guidelines.
1. True private revelations contain no theological errors, nor any doctrines contrary to Church teaching.
This criteria can be difficult to evaluate properly. False private revelations often distort doctrines, including those not yet formally defined by the Church. They attract adherents by promoting a popular true doctrine, such as Mary's role as Mediatrix, but they also distort that doctrine. One must have a good understanding of a particular doctrine in order to evaluate a claimed private revelation on this basis.
It should be understood by the faithful that messages, locutions, and the like, from private revelations, such as an apparition of the Virgin Mary, are generally not theological treatises. They are more in the form of a note or letter to a friend, or an informal sermon. Therefore, the theology found therein is not a comprehensive presentation of a theological question. One should not expect such messages to be formal theology. Nevertheless, messages that clearly contradict Church doctrine or any truths of faith or morals are suspect.
2. True private revelations are fallible.
Everything that God says and does is infallible. Yet, if God gives someone, even a Saint, a true private revelation, there can be errors on two counts. First, the one receiving the revelation may have misunderstood. Second, the one writing down the revelation may make an error. Sacred Scripture is immune from both of these types of errors, but private revelation is not.
Therefore, if one finds small discrepancies, or awkwardly worded statements, or things that are unclear, one cannot thereby conclude that the claim to private revelation is false. True private revelation is not the same as infallible Sacred Scripture.
3. Beware of attacks by supposedly pious persons against true private revelations.
Many true private revelations, even some to Saints and Blesseds (e.g. Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich), even some approved by the Church (e.g. La Salette), even some that are widely-accepted (e.g. Medjugorje, Fr. Gobbi), have their detractors, who exaggerate and distort in order to attack the veracity of these revelations. Beware of such false claims.
4. Beware of attacks against the persons receiving the private revelations.
Often, true private revelations are attacked by pointing out the faults, or by making false accusations, against the person who claimed to receive them. Even with claims of private revelation that turn out to be false, this is generally not the way to determine their veracity, or lack thereof. God does give true private revelation even to persons who are not Saints. For example, the apparitions at La Salette were given to Maximin Giraud and Melanie Mathieu. Although Maximin became a priest, his life was filled with difficulties and failures. He has not been canonized. He was basically a good Catholic, but not a Saint. Melanie faired somewhat better in her life, but neither has she been canonized. Sometimes God gives truth to persons who are not Saints, but just fairly ordinary members of the faithful.
5. True private revelations tend not to exalt the one receiving them.
Even when veritable Saints received private revelations from God, the revelation was not for the purpose of telling that Saint how holy or how important they are. Many false private revelations exalt the one receiving the messages.
6. True private revelations have purpose, and they often show knowledge of the future.
False private revelations can often be recognized by the fact that the revelation talks about the future and yet shows no understanding or knowledge of future events at all. God knows the whole future with absolute certainty; He knows all our future prayers and free will decisions. The future is a certainty to God and to those who dwell with God in Heaven.
7. Approval or Disapproval of the local Bishop.
Sometimes Bishops make mistakes. There have been instances where a Bishop disapproved of a claimed private revelation, and a subsequent Bishop in that diocese later gave approval (e.g. Ida Peerdeman of Amsterdam, one of the most dangerous false claims of private revelation). Clearly, a local Bishop can make a mistake in giving approval or disapproval for a claimed private revelation. The decision of the local Bishop in approving or disapproving of a claimed private revelation should not be considered the only criteria, nor should it be considered to close the matter.
My own evaluations of true and false private revelation are also fallible. For example, I initially put the private revelations to Dr. Gianna Talone-Sullivan in the false category, because I believed some false claims made about the contents of the messages. Later, when someone asked me to give an explanation as to why it was false, I went through the messages and found that the claims made against her messages are false. Now I have placed her claim to private revelation in the reliable and trustworthy list. And now I am more careful in evaluating such claims to private revelation.
8. Time will tell.
Eventually, it will become clear to the mind of the faithful, which are true and which are false. The permanent sign, spoken of in some private revelations, will be placed by God throughout the world in the many locations that have received true private revelations. This will be one way that false claims of private revelation will be discredited. Another way will be through the increase in holiness that the Church will experience over the course of the first part of the tribulation (2009/2010 to 2039/2040). The false prophets will be recognized by means of the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful. They and their false messages will be discarded by the faithful.
Some Criteria for Recognizing False Private Revelations
After reading many claimed messages by persons who allege to have received private revelations, I can report a number of similarities in ones that are clearly false. Any particular false private revelation might not have all of these characteristics, but they often have more than one or two.
1. Exaltation of the Seer
The messages of false private revelation often exalt the person receiving the messages (the so-called seer or visionary) and those associated with the seer. Often the seer is given a special name.
'The Special Rose of His Most Sacred Heart'
'The Girl of My Will' (a.k.a. 'La Fille du Oui a Jesus')
'The Silent Voice'
'The Little Pebble'
'The Bishop of the Eucharist' (a former Bishop laicized by Pope John Paul II)
'The Two Hearts as One'
Even when not given a special name, these false messages often exalt the one receiving them in some extraordinary way. For example, they may claim that the seer is very holy, or is suffering for the benefit of the whole world (Marisa Rossi, Italy), or is the woman to whom God the Father has revealed more than to any man (Eileen George of Millbury, Massachusetts), and so on. See the associated list for more examples.
Sometimes these false messages are exalted by taking upon themselves a name, similar to the above examples of nicknames for seers, but names that refer to the visions or messages. Examples include: 'True Life in God,' 'the Moving Heart Foundation,' 'Words from Jesus,' 'the Missionary Servants of Holy Love,' and 'Divine Communications, Inc.'
By contrast, the various true private revelations - even those to Saints and Blesseds - tend to humble the one receiving them. Even a Saint, when receiving such private revelations, is not given an exalting nickname, nor are they given messages to tell the world how very great they are.
2. Frequent Reference to Evil
The messages of false private revelation often contain frequent mention of Satan, under various terms, and of evil. Often these messages, in the parts that mention evil, read like a boast about how much power evil has and how much harm it has done. Examples include the writings of Maria Valtorta about the End Times, and the messages to the Two Hearts as One (Joseph DellaPuca and Denise Curtin).
3. False claims about the future
These messages often have descriptions of future events that are contrary to Scripture, or contrary to the understanding of the future found in Catholic writings, including those by Saints and Blesseds, in the history of the Church.
For example, the message to Brother David Lopez claims that, concerning some chosen martyrs killed during the three days of darkness, “after the martyrdom, the angels are going to take them body and soul into Heaven.” This false message conflicts with the teaching of the Church that only Jesus and Mary are in Heaven in body and soul. It also conflicts with the private revelation to Saint Bridget of Sweden ““Know, too, that there is no human body in Heaven but the glorious body of my Son and mine.” (Revelations to St. Bridget, p. 69). Since Heaven is beyond Time, no one can ascend or be assumed into Heaven in body and soul, other than Christ and Mary, until after the general Resurrection, when God makes a new Heaven and a new Earth.
There are many claimed private revelations that make clearly false statements about the future. For example, one popular theme is to claim that the Antichrist will become the Pope. In truth, the Antichrist never even wants to be Pope, because what he wants is to be worshiped as if he were God. The role of Pope is a lowly and humble office, to which no self-exalting dictator or tyrant would aspire.
Another common false claim about the future is that the Antichrist is in the world today, or that Christ will return in this generation, or that the Second Pentecost will occur for this generation - each of which claim is false. Some try to gain a following by condensing a large number of claimed future events into one brief time period. But such is not the truth.
4. Long, rambling, uninformative . . .
a. diatribes about future sufferings
Many false messages have long sections that describe, in very vague terms, a list of afflictions that may come upon the world. Such messages list nearly every possible affliction, and they give no specific information, and they claim that such things may be averted by prayer. So then, if anything happens that is a suffering for the world, they can claim that it was predicted in their messages.
And if it fails to occur, they can claim that near disaster was averted by prayer (e.g. Dory Tan of Greensides Farm in Marmora Canada, whose messages claimed impending disaster due to the year 2000 computer problem 'Y2K' was averted by prayer).
It becomes clear from reading many false messages about the future that the fallen angels do not know the future. If they did, they might reveal some information about the future through some of these false messages, so as to better deceive people. But they do not know. They do not even have a basic understanding of the future from Scripture, for a proper understanding of Scripture requires faith and a state of grace in the soul. The devil does not know what will happen in the near or the distant future.
b. empty exhortations to holiness
Many false messages contain what seem like exhortations to holiness. But the messages are long, rambling, jumping from one topic to another. And they never seem to come to a point, nor to teach anything significant. This is one of the hardest types of false messages to discern. The words and phrases themselves seem good. But taken as a whole, they do not direct the faithful to progress in holiness, but in circles. Nothing is taught other than what is already widely known. The followers of such false messages are being led into a kind of false holiness, which offends God even more than outright arrogance.
5. Vocabulary and Language
Frequent mention of worldly subject matter, or use of sensational language is common in false private revelations. When Jesus or the Virgin Mary give true private revelation, they mostly talk about holy things: prayer, the Mass, the Sacraments, the Church, the family, etc. But false private revelations often portray Jesus or Mary as speaking in a very worldly manner, for example:
John Leary messages include these words and phrases within various messages: “modern electronic devices, bank accounts, driver's license, identity theft, smart cards, chips (i.e. computer chips), tax dollars, football teams, casinos, insurance value, gas and oil production, occult and New Age practices, bankruptcies, masons....”
Louise Starr Tomkiel messages include the following: “terrorists, toxic drugs, rockets, space (as in outer space), deadly gases and chemicals, manufacturers, toys, big showy cars, wishy-washy, the chip (as in computer chip), hard core, drugs, alcohol, radio, television, stage and screen, computers...”
Another approach of these messages is to keep a running commentary on whatever is in the news. For example, after three hurricanes hit Florida in 2004, one John Leary message claimed that Jesus was telling people to 'clean up after the three hurricanes.' Yet none of these messages warned about the fourth hurricane that hit Florida later that same year. Now why would Jesus give a supernatural apparition and message to say clean up after three hurricanes, and not warn of this in advance, and not warn of the fourth hurricane? Many false messages read like a sensational newspaper commentary on current events. And since it is clear from the content of the messages that the author of these messages does not know what will happen in the future, the author cannot be God or Mary or anyone in Heaven. Those angels who dwell in Heaven know the future by knowing God. But the fallen angels do not know the future, nor can their considerable intellects figure out the future, because they lack faith and grace.
6. Blaming specific groups for the problems in the Church and the world
One of the themes of many false messages is blaming the evils of the world on 'masons,' or 'freemasons.' I suppose that distrust or hatred for that group used to be popular. Some messages (e.g. those of Mary Ann Van Hoof, of Necedah, Wisconsin) try to blame the Jews. But, in general, any set of messages that tries to claim that one particular group is behind the problems in the world or in the Church is a false claim of private revelation. Do not believe a rant that blames political or Church problems on one particular a group. We are all sinners, we all share in the blame for anything bad that happens.
Another focus of blame within false claims of private revelation is the Antichrist. They claim that the Antichrist is in the world today (in truth, he is not), and they blame all kinds of problems on him and his followers. (It is clear from Daniel's 70 weeks of years that the time of the Antichrist is the early 25th century A.D., not the present time.)
Another focus of blame is to claim that a large number of Cardinals and Bishops are evil, or under the influence of evil, and so are causing various problems in the Church. Such is not the case. While we are all sinners, some more than others, the Bishops and Cardinals of the Church are not evil. Some version of this approach even try to claim that the pope, or a pope of the near future, is evil or will be evil. While some Popes in the history of the Church have been very holy, and others have been rather sinful, the Pope is not evil, nor is he under the influence of evil forces.
7. False doctrines and distortions of doctrine
Some of these false private revelations teach or display a belief in ideas that are contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. Some of these contradictions are subtle, and some are boldly defiant. For example, the messages of Annie Kirkwood teach a belief in reincarnation, and even go so far as to claim that Mary was reincarnated through many lifetimes. Such messages might be attractive to some non-Catholics or those who have no strong Christian belief system.
Other messages promote false teachings, or undermine true teachings in a more subtle way. Some claimed private revelations promote a belief in Mary as co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate (which should actually be Advocatrix), but they distort this otherwise true teaching by describing Mary's roles as if it were the same as Christ's role, by claiming that Mary is Mediatrix of All Graces without exception, and by generally exalting Mary to a role as a co-redeemer (which is not the meaning of co-Redemptrix at all).
Another distortion of doctrine that shows up in some messages is an altered version of the true teaching of Fr. Gobbi about Second Pentecost. In Fr. Gobbi's theology, the basic order of events (simplified) is: tribulation, return of Christ, Second Ascension of Christ, Second Pentecost. But these false private revelations not only steal this concept of Second Pentecost, they distort it by claiming that it will occur very soon, without being preceded by Christ's Return and Second Ascension.
These false private revelations take advantage of the fairly widespread lack of theological understanding among the faithful.
7. False miraculous healings
When Jesus Christ healed, in some but not all cases, the healing was accomplished by casting out demons that were causing an affliction in someone. Some afflictions are the result of fallen angels (devils) acting to cause an ailment of some kind.
When Moses appeared before Pharaoh and performed signs from God, the false prophets among the Egyptians could, to a certain extent, also perform similar signs. Jesus Christ himself warned of false prophets who would show great signs and wonders. One such false sign and wonder is a false miraculous healing.
To affect a false miraculous healing, the fallen angel simply ceases from causing the particular problem or distress. This results in what seems like a miraculous healing. The devil is merely giving up one affliction (physical) in order to afflict more persons with the spiritual affliction of trusting in a false prophet. Do not be fooled by false miraculous healings and false signs!
Overview: The Bait and the Trap
It is important for you to understand that almost all false private revelation contains some truth. For if a claimed private revelation told people to do what is evil, to give up prayer, to abandon the faith, etc., no one would be fooled. The truths found in false private revelation are the Bait for the Trap. Weaker members of the faithful are drawn in by a strong and sometimes sensational presentation of some truths of the faith. For example, one such false private revelation (Marisa Rossi and the laicized former bishop Claudio Gatti) uses teachings about the Eucharist as bait to draw in the faithful. Much of what is said about the Eucharist by these messages is true, including the title of Mary as 'Mother of the Eucharist.' But then the messages exalt the so-called 'Bishop of the Eucharist,' who was laicized under Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II. And there are false things said in the messages and other problems.
Again, I warn you, nearly every false claim of private revelation will contain some truth, as a Bait to trick you. Some focus on speaking against abortion. Others promote the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Some will even steal portions of their messages from true private revelation or from various holy persons. Some will promote the true apparitions of Fatima and other places. Some use the Virgin Mary as Bait, giving her various titles, some of which are theologically correct (Mother of the Eucharist), and others of which are not particularly useful (Our Lady of Whatever-small-town-where-we-claim-she-is-appearing). Beware of the Bait.
One particularly dangerous Bait is the titles and roles of Mary as co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocatrix. Theses titles and roles are the truth, when properly understood. But, because the Magisterium has not yet defined this teaching infallibly, nor taught extensively on the subject fallibly, many have been drawn into error and false prophecy with this as Bait. (See my booklet and article on this subject.) Some of the errors attached to this true doctrine are: that it is the Last Marian Dogma, that Mary is Mediatrix of All Graces without exception, that the definition of this doctrine would bring about the End Times. Also, a number of false predictions claimed that one Pope or another (all of whom have now passed away) would infallibly define this doctrine.
Again, if a set of messages clearly contains some truths, you cannot and must not conclude, solely on that basis, that the claim of private revelation is true. Once you are drawn in by the Bait, the Trap is that you begin to believe in messages that contain distortions of doctrine, or false prophecies about the future, or which exalt the seer or some other person, so that you might follow them instead of the Church. Do not fall for this simple trick.
When you hear of a claim of private revelation, and you hear of messages that certainly contain some truth, do not believe or trust. Examine all the claims and be cautious what you believe. If you are not certain that a private revelation is true, then put it aside and ignore it. It is better to accidentally ignore a few uncertain private revelations, than to fall into error and be mislead.
Even concerning those that are true, God does not even want you to believe in every true private revelation. All you need is Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium as your teachers. If you would like to add to that some guidance and comfort from private revelations to the Saints and Blesseds, and approved apparitions of the Virgin Mary (e.g. Fatima, La Salette, Lourdes, Guadalupe, etc.), then you will benefit.
Things that are Not Criteria
1. An evaluation of the person
You cannot decide if a claim of private revelation is true merely because the so-called seer seems to be a devout Catholic. Many of these false private revelations are claimed by persons who go to Mass and Confession, have a priest as a spiritual advisor, pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and so on.
Neither can you disqualify a claim merely because the seer is obviously a sinner, or has a sinful past. Recall that Saul (St. Paul) received a true private revelation while he was yet on the road to Damascus to persecute the early Church. And after his conversion, the faithful feared him and distrusted him, yet he was a true Apostle and some of his writings were inspired by the Holy Spirit (becoming true public revelation).
On the other hand, a few person who claim private revelation have been discovered to be very sinful (e.g. the Little Pebble, who was charged with sexual crimes). And other claimants to private revelation have clearly departed from Church doctrine or openly speak against the Pope and the Bishops.
2. How many or how few believe, or who it is that believes
Some true private revelations have gained a widespread following, including visits to their locations by Bishops and many priests. But other true private revelations have only a quite following, or only a very local following.
On the other hand, some false private revelations have a large following, even among priests and Bishops, (e.g. the claimed private revelations to Ida Peerdeman at Amsterdam, under the title of the Lady of All Nations). And some false private revelations find little following, and there are many such examples.
Also, it is important to realize that when a good person is mistakenly deceived into believing in a false private revelation, God will still try to accomplish some good in that person, even through the few correct things that are said within the false private revelation. Therefore, true conversions and spiritual benefits often result in good persons, even though they are following a false private revelation.
3. Small problems or inconsistencies
Some true private revelations nevertheless have some small errors or inconsistencies because private revelation is not infallible. Some small error can enter by a misunderstanding on the part of the one receiving the revelation, or on the part of the one writing down the revelation. As a result, some have incorrectly judged to be false some private revelations that are in fact true (e.g. Medjugorje and Garabandal are true private revelation, but are often attacked as being false). On the other hand, false private revelation tends to have multiple significant falsehoods.
Sometimes it can be difficult to discern if a private revelation is false, or if it merely has a few small errors due to the fallibility of private revelation. When in doubt, ignore it. You can be harmed by believing in a false private revelation, but you will not be harmed by ignoring some of the true private revelations.
4. Whether or not it promotes prayer and the Sacraments
Almost all of the false private revelations, as well as the true ones, promote prayer and the Sacrament. The false ones do it in order to deceive people in to believing. Such things cannot be used as a criteria to discern if it is true or false, since both true and false revelations have it.
5. Claims of healings, stigmata, and miraculous signs
Many of the clearly false private revelations have associated with them claims of healings, stigmata, and other seemingly miraculous signs. Now, only God can perform true miracles. But fallen angels can do things that may seem like miracles or healings; also, dishonest persons wishing to promote their favorite private revelation may falsely claim healings, stigmata, or miraculous signs.
While a thorough investigation by qualified persons may be able to discern true from false healings, stigmata, and miraculous signs, most lay persons who are given some information about a claimed private revelation are not in a position to perform such an investigation. Therefore, such claims of healing, stigmata, and miraculous signs should leave any cautious and devout Catholic unimpressed and unconvinced.
I myself have never received any private revelation. My evaluations of various claims of private revelation are based on the theology and eschatology (theology about the future) in the alleged messages. These evaluations of various claimed private revelations (mentioned in this article and in the associated on-going list) are my own humble and pious opinion as a faithful Roman Catholic theologian. I am fallible. However, concerning the ones that I mention in this article and in the associated list, I myself am quite certain that these are false.
The list associated with this article: Claims of Private Revelation: True or False?
by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
September 14, 2005