The historical development of the Position of the Church regarding
the Apparitions of the Lady of All Nations
by the Advisory Commission
Haarlem, October 25, 2002
After the declaration of the Bishop of Haarlem on May 31, 2002, regarding the authenticity of the apparitions of the Holy Virgin as the Lady of All Nations at Amsterdam during the years 1945-1959, there have been several media publications regarding the position of the Church in reference to the apparitions. Some of these publications have contained incomplete and incorrect statements. Therefore based on the original documents as found in the diocesan archives of Haarlem this advisory commission wishes to give an accurate rendering of the historical development which has led to the present position of the Church.
In principle and according to the guidelines of the Church, it is primarily the task of the local Bishop to come to a judgment regarding the authenticity of a private revelation in his diocese. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may then confirm this judgment, but this is not necessary. For his decision the local bishop can make use of one of three classifications: ‘Constat de supernaturalitate’, which means that there is a definite supernatural origin; ‘Non constat de supernaturalitate’, which means that a supernatural origin has not been defined; and ‘Constat de non supernaturalitate’, which means that there is definitely no supernatural origin. Besides these statements regarding the question of authenticity, disciplinary statements can also be made. It is not unusual that over the course of time more than one statement could be made in a certain case.In the course of fifty years, five successive Bishops have been involved in the apparitions and the subsequent devotion of the Lady of all Nations. Two extensive investigations took place, the first under Bishop Huibers and the second under Bishop Zwartkruis.
I. Bishop J.P. Huibers, 1935-1960
After the first extensive investigation, Bishop Huibers made a statement in 1956 which imparted the findings of the commission of investigation (Analecta 7-5-1956). The commission expressed its opinion that no supernatural explanation could be attributed to the apparitions. The commission also stated, however, that the investigation as such was not yet complete. The Bishop himself did not make a statement of his own regarding the authenticity, neither on the basis of the findings of the commission, nor on the basis of his own convictions. He restricted himself to a disciplinary statement and repeated the position he had taken in 1954 and 1955, which prohibited public devotion. On March 13, 1957, the Holy Office confirmed the Bishop’s disciplinary measure, adding that it did not rule out new information presenting itself in the future.
In the following years the visionary had new experiences which were documented and forwarded to the Bishop. At this point based on the new information, the Bishop expressed doubts about the procedure the commission had followed and its judgement, and considered a reopening of the investigation. After correspondence with the consultor of the Holy Office, no decision was made regarding the reopening of the investigation. Bishop Huibers continued to show interest in the development of the apparitions. After his retirement (1960) he became more and more convinced of the authenticity of the apparitions, as was manifested in his correspondence and other documented testimonies.
II. Bishop A.E. van Dodewaard, 1960-1966
Bishop Van Dodewaard acquainted himself with the files. By this time all the reported apparitions received by the visionary had ended on May 31, 1959 and had been included in the files. In the opinion of four professors of theology the case had not been sufficiently investigated, and they emphasized the fact that its investigation was not yet complete and conclusive. Therefore they made a request to the Holy Father in 1961 to reopen the case. The diocese then received a letter from the Holy Office, signed by its assessor, Parente (25-8-1961), stating that there was no opportunity for any further action. The letter confirmed the Bishop’s statement of 1956 as continuing to remain in force as well as the initial confirmation by the Holy Office in 1957.
Unfortunately a misleading rendering of this letter is presently being circulated in the media. The 1961 letter of the Holy Office did not in any manner contain the phrases ‘the case has been definitely closed’ … and … ‘the messages are false and remain forbidden to publish’. Publications like this are causing unnecessary confusion.
Up to this point a disciplinary statement remained in force. Regarding the authenticity there was a de facto ‘non constat’ situation.
III. Bishop Th.H.J. Zwartkruis, 1966-1983
Bishop Zwartkruis decided to reopen the case and installed a commission in 1967. He did this in consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This action indicated a significant change of the Congregation’s position of 1961, which had left no opportunity for further action.
Like his predecessor Bishop Huibers, Bishop Zwartkruis expressed in a statement (29-1-1973) the commission’s advice and findings. The commission tended to attribute a natural origin to the events, yet it advised the granting of permission for public devotion. Like his predecessors the Bishop himself did not make an official statement of his own about the authenticity of the apparitions, but followed the commission’s findings and advice. He restricted himself to disciplinary measures, as his predecessor Bishop Huibers had done. In a new initiative and in contrast to his predecessors Bishop Zwartkruis intended to permit the public devotion. Having submitted this to the Congregation, “which had in the past confirmed the restricting measures as taken by Bishop Huibers”, it was decided to hold on to the disciplinary measure of 1956. In May 1974 the Congregation sent the Bishop of Haarlem a letter (Analecta, August 1974), pointing to the “measures taken in 1956” and to the fact that “the supernatural origin of the apparitions has not been defined.” Regarding the authenticity the de facto ‘non constat’ situation remained as it had been. This was once more confirmed by cardinal Ratzinger in a letter addressed to cardinal Vachon of Quebec in 1987.
IV. Bishop H.J.A. Bomers, 1983-1998
In the years that followed, much new information was added to the documentation. Bishop Bomers, who succeeded Bishop Zwartkruis, made a study of the documentation, taking a personal interest in the case. Like his predecessors he had personal contact with the visionary. Meanwhile the devotion had spread worldwide.
In 1996, after consultations with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bishop Bomers, together with his Auxiliary Bishop, J.M. Punt, decided to approve the public devotion, but no statement was made regarding the authenticity. This marked the beginning of a new phase.
The devotion expanded greatly and the need for the local bishop to make a clear statement regarding its authenticity became more and more urgent. Meanwhile, time and further developments had put the apparitions in a new perspective. A definitive statement neither constat or constat de non had still not been made regarding authenticity.
V. Bishop J.M. Punt
Bishop Punt, the present Bishop of Haarlem, was confronted with these new developments that brought a renewed relevance and importance to the case of the Lady of All Nations. After more than 50 years in which two extensive investigations had taken place, he considered a new extensive investigation to be no longer possible. The visionary was no longer alive. All possible arguments pro and contra had been sufficiently documented. Therefore, he once again studied the previous investigations, and he once more presented the results to several theologians and psychologists, and requested the advice of fellow Bishops concerning the fruits and development of the devotion.
All this led him to the conclusion, after prayer and theological reflection, that the apparitions of Amsterdam consist of a supernatural origin. This recognition of authenticity was imparted by the Bishop in an official declaration, dated May 31, 2002. In the declaration itself and the accompanying pastoral letter, he makes the following notes:
- The recognition refers to the apparitions of Mary as the Lady of All Nations, during the years 1945 to 1959. These occurred in the presence of others and were immediately documented.
- The Bishop recognizes these apparitions as essentially authentic, as essentially of a supernatural origin. But he adds that the influence of the human factor remains, that the abilities and limitations of the visionary can have their own impact.
- The bishop recalls that a private revelation is never binding for the conscience of the faithful. Everyone has the freedom to give this devotion a place in his or her religious life or not.
The bishop has appointed an advisory commission to monitor the development of the devotion and to come to a deeper insight into its meaning in order to promote the correct ecclesiastical and theological progress of the devotion.
Coordinator of the Advisory Commission