Catholics who claim they have seen the Virgin Mary will be forced to remain silent about the apparitions until a team of psychologists, theologians, priests and exorcists have fully investigated their claims under new Vatican guidelines aimed at stamping out false claims of miracles.
The Pope has instructed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the Holy Office of the Inquisition, to draw up a new handbook to help bishops snuff out an explosion of bogus heavenly apparitions.
Benedict XVI plans to update the Vatican's current rules on investigating apparitions to help distinguish between true and false claims of visions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, messages, stigmata (the appearances of the five wounds of Christ), weeping and bleeding statues and Eucharistic miracles.
Monsignor Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, a respected Spanish Jesuit archbishop, has been placed in charge of drawing up the handbook, known as a "vademecum", which will update the current rules set in 1978.
According to Petrus, an Italian online magazine which leans towards conservative elements in the Vatican, anyone who claims to have seen an apparition will only be believed as long as they remain silent and do not court publicity over their claims. If they refuse to obey, this will be taken as a sign that their claims are false.
The visionaries will then be visited by a team of psychiatrists, either atheists or Catholics, to certify their mental health while theologians will assess the content of any heavenly messages to see if they contravene Church teachings.
If the visionary is considered credible they will ultimately be questioned by one or more demonologists and exorcists to exclude the possibility that Satan is hiding behind the apparitions in order to deceive the faithful.
Guidelines for the approval of apparitions and revelations were last issued in 1978. They lay down that a diocesan bishop can "either on his own initiative or at the request of the faithful" choose to investigate an alleged apparition. He then submits a report to the Vatican for approval.