Vassula Ryden and the Vatican
The Former and Present Situations by Fr. John Abberton
The document known as the “Notification,” written with regard to Mrs. Vassula Ryden was issued from the office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on October 6, 1995. At that time, I knew almost nothing of Vassula Ryden and her writings, but I had seen enough to make me uneasy. I did not like the presentation - a wire-bound A3 booklet containing printed handwriting. It looked odd. I had friends who believed that her writings were not to be trusted. They had read some of them, and had been persuaded against them by a priest who told them Vassula was “false.” I came to believe - based on what they, and some others told me, that Vassula was not a genuine mystic. However, I have to say that some things about the Notification also seemed odd. At the same time, I had to accept, in all honesty, that I had not done enough research to form what might be called a considered opinion.
I have always tried to be scrupulously honest in making personal judgements about mystical writings, for the following reasons:
1. If they are genuinely inspired or are of supernatural origin, they should be respected and, whether read or not, may not be treated with disdain.
2. If they are not “from God,” they could be diabolically inspired, and the writer needs both correction and help. Those who have been led to read the messages must be treated sensitively but firmly, clear advice being given to avoid any misunderstanding.
3. If they are most probably the product of an imagination affected by serious mental illness, or even a fairly substantial personality disorder (including an unhealthy or dishonest desire for fame), the writer will need more help than censure, and, in the best way possible, others must be dissuaded from reading the material.
Whatever the situation may be, some care has to be taken in forming any judgement, both for the sake of the person writing the material and of those drawn to read it. In other words, pastoral considerations are paramount.
I was unhappy with the Notification, although, at the time, I could not, as they say, “put my finger on” the problem. As I read it again and discussed it with another priest (who was also sceptical about the writings) I began to see that the Notification was flawed. Its “legal” status was questionable because Vassula is Greek Orthodox, and there had already been an agreement between the Orthodox Church and the Vatican to the effect that the rights of Orthodox Christians would be respected (the Balamand Declaration of 1993). That a Greek Orthodox woman should be the subject of a warning of this kind seemed strange, and others raised the question as to whether this process conflicted with the statement mentioned above. Perhaps it didn't, but there appeared to be a fine line, and we were not told of any consultation with Orthodox hierarchy. Could the activities of a Greek Orthodox Christian be subject matter for Roman Catholic Canon Law? Then there was the whole question of what kind of “process” had taken place. As Cardinal Ratzinger later said (January 1999) the Notification was not a condemnation but a warning. There was no formal hearing; no “trial.” In fact, Vassula was not consulted, nor were documents that had already been prepared by a theologian/advisor to Vassula either submitted to or read by any member of the Congregation before the Notification was issued. A vital principle of procedure, namely, dialogue, seemed to be missing. In an interview (already alluded to) in 1999 (30 Giorni No 1 January 1999) the Cardinal said that the procedure to clarify the matters raised by the Notification was continuing. The original Notification was confirmed in 1996, but not quite three years after that the Cardinal agreed that the procedure (or investigation) had not been completed.
The present situation is quite clear: the procedure referred to by the Cardinal has ended. His letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of France, Switzerland, Uruguay, Philippines and Canada leaves no doubt that there is no longer any need to ask the opinion of the Congregation.
Vassula submitted her answers to the questions raised by Cardinal Ratzinger. These answers were accepted up to the point that the Cardinal asked for them to be printed for others to read. However he asked that they be printed in the books (the True Life in God books, containing Vassula's writings), making the books themselves one of the sources of the answers. Clearly, certain things are now obvious:
1. The books are not, in any sense, “banned.”
2. It is permissible for Catholics to obtain and therefore to read a book (or books).
3. The answers to the Notification are simply that - the answers.
Later, these answers were called “useful clarifications,” and in answer to a question about how the office (of the Congregation) would reply to a query about the present position regarding Vassula, the Cardinal replied: “The situation has been modified.”
Since the answers to the questions have been given, and since the Cardinal asked for these answers to be printed so that others might read them, it is no longer necessary to read the Notification. When questions are answered, it is not the questions which are important, but the answers. If I ask someone to tell me why they have written a book, and they tell me - and the answer is acceptable to the point that I insist on it being printed, what is the use of continuing to ask the question? It has been answered. I may ask for more detail; I may even ask for the answer to be repeated, but if the answer is substantially acceptable, the question is no longer a problem.
In summary, we can say - and for justice's sake we must say, that the warning against Vassula no longer retains its force. In so far as the questions suggested by the Notification have been answered (“clarified” if you will), the Notification simply cannot have the same status it had before. As a warning it was issued before any real, thoroughgoing investigation had taken place. Such a procedure has been followed and has now ended.
The fact that the Notification has been entered into the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (from which it will not be removed) does not mean that it has any serious moral force. Other documents (including at least one on the use of Latin in Seminaries) are also in the Acta, but this does not automatically mean that they retain the moral force they had when first issued. Situations change, and those who still want to argue against Vassula by referring to a document that has, in fact, been “usefully clarified” must answer the question as to why Cardinal Ratzinger asked for Vassula's answers to be printed in her books!
It is worth repeating some of these things for the sake of clarity.
1. The questions put by Cardinal Ratzinger have been answered.
2. The Cardinal did not reject the answers, but asked for them to be printed.
3. The answers were printed, at this specific request - IN THE BOOKS!
4. VASSULA IS NO LONGER UNDER INVESTIGATION AT THE VATICAN! (Please take special note!)
It is unrealistic to expect the Vatican to do any more than it has done in the case of Vassula and “True Life in God.” Those who are aware of how the Holy See proceeds in such matters must honestly say what else should or could be done at this time. It is, in any case, quite amazing, and of some historical importance, that such a process took place whilst the subject (Vassula) is still alive! Since the books are not banned, and access to Vassula's own explanations was, for some considerable time, limited to the books themselves the obvious conclusion is that Catholics may read the books. What they are to make of them depends - as it always has done - on human faith. In so far as there is no condemnation (repeat - THERE IS NO CONDEMNATION) and no moral pressure is being applied by the Vatican against those who read the writings, Catholics are free to make of them what they will, always submitting themselves in obedience to the Holy See. Where no condemnation exists, consciences are free under the usual constraints applied in these cases.
Whilst no one at the Vatican has yet said, “these messages are worthy of belief,” it is clear that the writings present no danger to any Catholic's faith, providing everything is kept in proper order and we continue, as in all such matters, to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, submitting ourselves in obedience to the Holy Father and the bishops in union with him.
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