A panel of U.S. bishops has concluded that the alleged apparitions of what is known as Our Lady of America were “not of supernatural origin” and that public devotion to Our Lady of America is not permitted for Catholics.
The alleged apparitions come from the account of Sister Mary Ephrem (baptized Mildred) Neuzil of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus. She began having what seemed like mystical experiences and locutions in 1938, and said that Mary began appearing to her in 1956, in Rome City, IN as well as several other locations.
Drew pointed out that the Church is very diligent and prudent in investigating claims of Marian apparitions. But he admitted, “This was shocking to me. I’ve got to be really honest with you. I really thought this was going to get the green light. I had talked to a couple of different bishops who were following this. The message sounded great, everything looked good. And then when that news broke last week I was actually kind of stunned. But you know, it shows you the prudence of the Church and why the laity should never jump the gun on this, and always submit ourselves faithfully to the final authority of the Church.”
In explaining how the Church goes about investigating and determining whether an apparition is legitimate, Michael told listeners that there is a document from 1978 that the bishops work from.
“I call it the rule book for Marian apparitions, because this is what the Church uses and it’s sent to all the bishops of the world,” he said. “It’s the Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations. It’s a mouthful, but that document says what the local bishop should be looking at when he investigates. And it doesn’t matter what Rome says, initially only the local bishop is the person in charge.”
One of the steps the bishops take is to look at the visionary to make sure they’re of morally upstanding character. They make sure that there has been no moneymaking involved, that the facts all line up, that there are good spiritual fruits, and that there is moral certainty of a miracle.
Michael told Drew, “In this recent denial of Our Lady of America, Bishop Rhoades actually spelled it out saying that he didn’t see the alleged visionary, Mildred Neuzil, as making this up. It wasn’t a hoax. She didn’t have bad intentions. She wasn’t mean spirited, there is no evil to her. They just said that perhaps it was just a mistaken notion that Mary was appearing. So it didn’t have the malice that we’d be worried about.”
So what was the issue that lead the bishops to reject Our Lady of America?
“When it came to Our Lady of America, the red flag was a theological problem,” Michael explained. “In that 1978 document, they said there can’t be errors in doctrine or theology. And Bishop Rhoades red flagged something that some people might question. It’s that Mary refers to Joseph as a co-redeemer. And, of course, that’s a title that’s traditionally given to Mary, but it is not traditionally given to St. Joseph.”
“Theologians might argue that we are all co-redeemers with a lowercase R,” Michael pointed out. “But that was what red flagged the bishop, and he said there’s a problem here and this cannot be truly from God.”
Some bishops have previously permitted the public display of statues and prayers to Our Lady of America, which raises the question of whether those need to be removed following this denial. Regarding these the bishops did write that, “given this history of prayers and religious articles being given approval by competent ecclesiastical authority, the use of such prayers and religious articles may continue as a matter of private devotion, but not as a public devotion of the Church. Indeed, such private devotion would be consistent with the history of the United States of America being dedicated to Our Lady.”
However, the bishops added, “such private devotion should in no way imply approval or acceptance of purported revelations, visions, or locutions attributed to Sister Mary Ephrem (Mildred) Neuzil other than as her own subjective inner religious experiences.”
Drew asked if it was likely that this decision by the bishops would be reversed in the future. Should the laity hold out hope that something will change regarding this devotion? Michael responded, “In this case, we have been given the most negative judgment possible. So this isn’t the maybe judgment, this isn’t the wait and see judgment, more information is needed and we’ll pray about it more. This is established as not supernatural.”
“When we look at the history of Marian apparitions, the cases that have been flipped from this negative judgment to a positive judgment, I can count on five fingers or less. It’s extremely rare where they go from the negative to the positive. Anything’s possible with a future bishop, but we’re supposed to consider this a case closed at this point.”
Listen to the full conversation with Michael O’Neill below:
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