Matt C. Abbott
April 24, 2007
Remembering 'apparition fever'
By Matt C. Abbott

I once had "apparition fever." I remember it well.

In the 1990s, during and after high school (1990-1994), I became very interested in Marian apparitions, both the Church-approved ones (which I believe in) and the unapproved ones.

For a time, I even believed in a Chicago-area "seer" and his alleged heavenly messages which, as it turned out, had been copied from earthly sources.

I was upset. I really wanted to believe his "messages" from the Blessed Mother were authentic. Heck, I think there are those who still believe in their authenticity.

Interestingly, it seems many Catholics had "apparition fever" in the 1980s and '90s. Why? Well, I suppose we all want signs from Heaven to strengthen our faith. However, if we don't have good discernment, we are vulnerable to getting duped by false seers whose fraudulent practices can severely damage, or even destroy, our faith.

So what are some of the dubious and/or discredited American "seers" doing today? At least two I know of are deceased (actually, I've heard that one of the two might still be alive and in hiding outside the U.S., but I doubt it); the others are still around, either attempting to reinvent themselves, or just keeping a very low profile.

And so it goes.

The following are excerpts (pp. 196199, 202206) from Dear Marian Movement: Let God Be God, a 1996 book authored by William A. Reck (requiescat in pace), of the now-defunct Riehle Foundation and Faith Publishing Company.

    It is more than just some uneasy feeling about something you are reading or viewing. It is more than just listening to someone else's doubts. It requires questioning on your part, seeking answers for those uneasy feelings, getting clarification on those troublesome aspects of messages and prophecies, instead of just seeking out all the good, fluffy stuff and ignoring the rest.

    The following pages use several different messengers and apparition sites in the United States as examples. These examples are used in that the potential problems, or existing problems, are already known or have been documented through others. As previously stated, defining and answering these questions will still not authenticate or disprove any claimed visionary, but it might provide a lot of assis-tance in getting rid of those uneasy feelings or doubts that many of us have and should have.

    Warning signs become apparent. In some cases they seem like an occasional red flag. In other cases a constant flashing red light. And it is not, and should not, just be our personal reflection on the visionary involved. It seems to be getting more and more complex and there are increasing indications that mystics can be and are used by others for the wrong reasons. Some specific situations follow. They are examples of some current difficulties, not an attempt to support or diminish someone's spirituality or messages she or he claims to be receiving.

    Specific Examples

    Mary Jane Even and Vassula [Ryden] were noted earlier in this book, and the sanctions levied against them by the Church. In Mary Jane Even's case, the messages were at times so bizarre that extensive discernment didn't even seem necessary.

    Vassula's story is much more complex, and probably not finished yet. Concerns over "automatic writing" and "channeling" (prime tools in the New Age Movement), questionable aspects of unity and intermingling of Orthodox and Catholic doctrines, confusing theology, all allowed for the Holy See to take some position in the matter. Others took a more personal view, citing Vassula's "look like Jesus appearance," or her ability to seemingly mesmerize a following. It then expanded across continents. Other visionaries and organizations became intertwined. Perhaps that was not in their best interest or Vassula's.

    The negative action of the Vatican ignited responses from individuals and apostolates that shouldn't have taken place, casting a wider and longer shadow in the process. People (including priests) were choosing up sides for or against the Church's position. Included was Dr. and Claire Mansour from California who had originally strongly supported Mirna (from Damascus). At one point or another, a number of seers or apostolates seemed to be linked to Vassula and to each other. Included were Mirna, Theresa Lopez, Vassula, King of All Nations, the 101 Foundation, and a visionary from Australia named Debra.

    Mirna might be an example to show the need to discern intentions of promoters and publishers more than the messages, but in any case, the example shows us the far reaching scope of the results.

    How much injury to these apostolates or seers was created with the release of certain sanctions by the Church regarding Vassula? Or, has support for Vassula from any of these apostolates or seers done more harm than good including to themselves? To add to the consternation, a phone call from an apostolate in Australia (July 23, 1996), indicated a bishop there had issued a negative statement regarding the seer, Debra. Concerns that could use answers.

    American Apparition Sites

    I became acquainted with Carol Nole, a visionary from Santa Maria, California, approximately six years ago. She is a very humble, sincere and spiritual lady. The messages there involved the requested construction of a large cross in the Santa Maria area (the Cross of Peace project). A second visionary surfaced. Dissension. Two camps were formed. The spiritual director, Monsignor John Rhode, switched sides and went with the second seer. The group supporting her solicited Fr. Rene Laurentin to write a book supporting her and set up special testings to confirm her ecstasies.

    Additional seers surfaced (as always). Messages of doom and impending natural disasters became common. (Interestingly, in 1993, Msgr. Rhode had issued a request not to have Nancy Fowler, Denise Morgan and Louise Lahola as speakers at a planned anniversary celebration and conference because of the apocalyptic nature of their messages.) The second seer, Barbara Matthias, was endorsed in the book by Fr. Laurentin and is now titled "the most tested visionary in the history of the Church" (but not approved). Further credibility was sought by bringing a visionary from Scottsdale to California for the same testing. She initially refused, citing advice from the Virgin Mary, but under some apparent heavy pressure, finally relented. Most of the prophecies from Santa Maria have been wrong and there is documentation that does not agree with materials made available regarding Barbara.

    Conyers, Georgia, is a familiar apparition site to anyone acquainted with American reported phenomena, and Nancy Fowler has attracted a very large following. Many books and videos have been produced covering her story and her messages. Her messages, along with those of Cyndi Cain, are extremely apocalyptic. Most of the prophecies, at least to this point, have not been correct. Apparently, there are many who question the contradictions within Nancy's messages. Examples would include:

    There is no reparation anywhere in the world. . . . The Fatima consecration requested by the Blessed Virgin Mary has not been done. . . . You are wrong to seek signs and wonders. . . . Signs and wonders will be experienced here like nowhere else. . . . Satan is deceiving you by false messages. . . . People must accept you. . . . The Church must recognize Nancy, or else. . . . All visionaries should test. . . . Stop all this testing. . . . The world has rejected the Blessed Virgin Mary because they don't come to Conyers. . . . etc.

    An article in Crisis Magazine provided an excellent critique on the Conyers events, including restrictions placed by former Bishop, James Lyke. Some of those have since been clarified, but the current Archbishop, John F. Donoghue, has not taken any further action. Additional questions that apparently surfaced included why she is building a bomb shelter in her basement, stocked with food, and whether she has any emotional illness. I have no knowledge or concern with any of that. But on the one hand, the extensive publicity given to Nancy's testing episodes included an evaluation from a noted psychiatrist stating no abnormalities anywhere. On the other hand, a major article in the Atlanta newspaper, The Constitution, included extensive accounts from former workers for Nancy who testified that she was often in depression, in emotional stress, and often saw demons everywhere. There was also another report that prior to the start of her apparitions she experienced poltergeist activity in her home and once saw a UFO land on her property. Is that the case? Interestingly, many people who have gone to Conyers report very positive experiences, and there are accounts of spiritual and physical healings. Solar phenomena and strange photos, along with rosaries changing color are often reported. It becomes a good example of the difficulties encountered in private revelation, and more importantly, of the need to recognize at least the potential for false messages caused by the wrong spirits. The positive aspects always speak for themselves and are avidly promoted. The negative is sometimes ignored....

    In early 1992, a visionary surfaced in the Cincinnati area, to be known as "The Batavia Visionary." She predicted a great appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary to take place in Cold Spring, Kentucky, at a Catholic Church there. The scheduled event was heavily promoted in the media and gave rise to new apostolates and organizations to function in this special location of grace "planned by the Lord since the beginning of time." The seer eventually identified other priests who were supposedly hand picked by Our Lady to head this special new ministry, including and under the direction of Fr. Leroy Smith, pastor of the parish to which Our Lady was to appear. Other apparition sites and ministries were also evidently identified by Our Lady. A closed seminary was purchased as a special center, future retreat house, residence for priests, and to function as a Marian center for spirituality. Certainly a noble and worthy effort.

    There may not be another location of claimed private revelation, anywhere in the country, that has a stronger base of committed and devoted Marian followers than the Southern Ohio-Northern Kentucky area which serves these claimed apparitions. I personally know many of them (Milford, Ohio is a suburb of Cincinnati), and there is a tremendous Catholic presence here, as well as a heavy commitment to the Mother of God. Obviously that indicates a need for special vigilance because adoration of the Lord, miracles, conversions and apparitions have a habit of drawing the wrong spirits into the picture as well.

    The new ministries, as initiated at this site of alleged private revelation, were headed up by Fr. Smith and Gerald Ross, a dedicated layman, under the banner of "Our Lady of Light Publications." This has been expanded to other ministries and affiliations since 1993. Much of the detail regarding the story of this apparition site is covered in a number of publications by the Our Lady of Light network, and was the focal point of an issue of Signs of the Times Magazine as well. There may be a need to question some of the sequence of events as shown in those publications since there are some differences of opinion. A number of individuals have also seen fit to question a number of the messages that have surfaced since 1992.

    One visionary suddenly became six visionaries. All seemed to be openly accepted and their messages and stories published accordingly. As is often the case, different groups formed, while more messages called for the start of additional new ministries. Real estate was now involved, and extensive donations were solicited. An additional visionary and messages included the request to purchase a farm. The Batavia Visionary, through Mary, related how the entire Tri-state area (Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana common borders) was to become the major center of renewal for the Church. Messages were received for specific priests and persons involved in ministry at the sites. More message books were published with the inevitable result that now division and confusion were setting in. Different factions drew different supporters.

    At the height of the activity, Fr. Edward Carter, S.J., a member of the Priests' Board directing the events, and who was in unison with and advisor to certain of the visionaries, announced that he himself was now a locutionist, asked by the Lord to start a whole new configuration of ministries.

    The good news was that this promoted supernatural activity was drawing many thousands of people to the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati locations and many apparent good and positive fruits were noted. Prayer groups, liturgies, and special Marian devotions flourished. Many hundreds of people donated time, effort and finances for the refurbishing of the former seminary and the purchase and development of a farm property in Falmouth, Kentucky. Dayton, Ohio, claimed to be part of the Tri-State spiritual center, as well as properties in Indiana. The network became a very large and diverse network of ministries, publications including newsletters, tapes, and a whole array of local visionary apparition books, outreach ministries and special devotional programs, workshops, seminars and speaking engagements held at the former seminary, now known as the Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Center.

    The bad news is perhaps not even known yet in its entirety, but it certainly lends itself to some questions, particularly since the Church has yet to take an active position in the whole matter. The Bishop of the Diocese of Coving-ton, Kentucky, did not take a particularly favorable view of the original predicted apparition at Cold Spring, Kentucky, and his new successor is probably not familiar enough with the entire matter to take any position at this point. The potential bad news aspects that do evoke questions, and that are known, apparently include:

    • A need to question the quantity and quality of visionaries.

    • There is apparently a lot of questionable theology, especially in God's Blue Book.

    • It was reported some messages have been changed or deleted as a result.

    • One seer received messages to have Cyndi Cain's messages included in the publications, and further, produced messages that seemed to pre-date or contradict messages of one of the local seers who has apparently decided not to become part of the network.

    • The reading and distribution of messages has become of paramount importance and all decisions seem to be based on a visionary providing a supernatural message for direction.

    • Seemingly, there are messages that need specific clarification, or that are not in keeping with Catholic Doctrine (such as "these messages are to be added to public revelation"), or that prompted questions of origin (the prayer/hymn, "Our Lady of Light," is also word for word on an old picture prayer card printed in Italy).

    • The entire events were to be guided by a board of priests. However, at least four of them were themselves involved with messages from Our Lady directed to them, and one is himself a visionary. Thus there exists an almost impossible discernment difficulty.

    New areas of concern surfaced in that messages received by Fr. Carter called for a whole new configuration of ministries and organizations. One such ministry, Shepherds of Christ, was specifically directed by Jesus to replace the international organization, The Marian Movement of Priests as founded by Fr. Stefano Gobbi. Financial donations were supposed to be diverted to this new ministry and a lay apostolate of chapters set up to provide support and financial aid. There may also be a need for all of us to be a little more concerned where those kind of messages are being received.

    Also, messages that name other people or 3rd parties. In the above ministries, messages were received from Jesus appointing people to specific organizations, giving them titles, naming ministries or formulating new organizations, complete with subsidiaries. Messages were received that openly condemned others for not doing such and such or not supporting the claimed visionaries. Material is distrib-uted directly by one visionary promoting her own books and messages under specific titles given to her by Jesus, and at His request. All happens at the direction of a message.

    Power, fame, fortune, and ego are all a part of that many-headed monster produced by that false angel of light. And they certainly can come very cleverly disguised. Visionaries, with all of their good intentions, might need to question whether Jesus or Mary make those kinds of mistakes, produce that kind of division, give messages based on building empires or taking over other ministries, or condemning any other individual who doesn't go along with it.

    One of the local visionaries involved didn't. She has refused to publish a "message book," or accept the premise of the above referenced organizations. That may well be to her credit. Attempts to curtail the reading and distribution of messages as a major function of activities in the tri-state area, in the face of so many that are questionable, has evidently not succeeded. Usage or development of the farm property causes further division. Is there something terribly wrong here? Or not?

    In the midst of it all is the profound devotion and faith of the local people involved. Their efforts have restored a magnificent chapel in the purchased former seminary. There is a schedule of devotions there, week in and week out, that rivals the Vatican. Thousands respond. They claim "good fruits" for their response, and there are many witnesses who can speak of conversions, healing, a deeper sense of the reality of the Lord and the importance of His Mother. Such is the case with many apparition sites. The concern is not the initial fruits, but what happens when it all starts to unravel. Whether anything is unraveling in the tri-state area is for the Church and the people involved to determine. And I for one hope they do. Too many good people are in questionable position there....

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He has worked in the right-to-life movement and is a published writer focused on Catholic and social issues. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

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