How a bishop decides on ‘worthy of belief’

By Fr. John Broussard | The Compass | October 8, 2020

Marian shrine in Champion is only approved apparition site in the United States


What does it mean to be the only church approved Marian apparition site in the United States? (The question refers to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, in Brown County.)


While on earth, the Virgin Mary’s ministry was completely dedicated to reflecting the peace that comes from following her son, and that ministry does not stop now that she has been assumed into heaven. Many saints have spoken about our Blessed Mother’s ability to guide her children to her son, and Marian apparitions are one of the most intimate ways that Mary helps us to find the Lord.

The Council of Trent (1545-63) established that the local bishop is the first and main authority in the judgment of the authenticity of apparition claims. Though the Vatican is consulted and kept informed of process and procedure, Vatican approval is not required for an apparition to be considered authentic. Thus, it is the authority of the local bishop that gives official church recognition and approval.

This approval means that an apparition is recognized and worthy of belief and an affirmation that supernatural activity has taken place. The local bishop or archbishop investigates and, upon approval, assures the faithful that there is nothing contrary to the faith or the moral teachings of the church contained in the message(s) given or the ministry which is lived as a result of the alleged apparitions. This approval is done for the benefit of the faithful, declaring “worthy of belief” those private revelations that can be helpful to Christians striving toward the ultimate goal of heaven.

After an episcopal approval, the Vatican may do nothing, but it may also release an official statement or, after some time, give non-written forms of approval such as a papal visit or a gift to the site. The pope may also establish a feast day on the local or universal liturgical calendar or authorize the beatification or canonization of the visionary.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help was formally approved as “worthy of belief” by Bishop David Ricken on Dec. 8, 2010. Though the Vatican (and by extension the Holy Father) has not yet made a gesture of recognition, this does not diminish the efficacy and opportunity that has been opened for all the faithful.

Especially for the United States, as a country consecrated to the Blessed Virgin (under her title of the Immaculate Conception), this local Marian apparition holds a special place as the only approved Marian apparition for this nation.

Fr. Broussard, a Father of Mercy, is rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wis.

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