EWTN Catholic Q&A
Vatican Endorses Psychic Research?
Question from Bob on 09-03-2004:

Mr. Donovan, Is this true? It is from a website in New Zealand,

The Vatican supports EVP

Unknown to many ChristiansCatholics, Protestants and Fundamentalists—the Catholic Church has been actively positive and encouraging towards investigation of the Electronic Voice Phenomena.

• Two of the earliest investigators were Italian Catholic priests, Father Ernetti and Father Gemelli, who came upon the phenomena by chance while they were recording Gregorian chants in 1952.

• Father Gemelli heard his own father's voice on the tape calling him by a childhood nick-name saying 'Zucchini, it is clear, don't you know it is I '.

• Deeply troubled by Catholic teaching in regard to contact with the dead the two priests visited Pope Pius XII in Rome.

• The Pope reassured them:

Dear Father Gemelli, you really need not worry about this. The existence of this voice is strictly a scientific fact and has nothing to do with spiritism. The recorder is totally objective. It receives and records only sound waves from wherever they come. This experiment may perhaps become the cornerstone for a building for scientific studies which will strengthen people's faith in a hereafter (Italian Journal Astra, June 1990 quoted Kubis and Macy, 1995: 102 ).

• Pope Pius' cousin, the Rev. Professor Dr Gebhard Frei, co-founder of the Jung Institute, was an internationally known parapsychologist who worked closely with Raudive, a pioneer in the research. He was also the President of the International Society for Catholic Parapsychologists. He himself is on record as stating:

All that I have read and heard forces me to believe that the voices come from transcendental, individual entities. Whether it suits me or not, I have no right to doubt the reality of the voices (Kubris and Macy, 1995:104).

• Dr Frie died on October 27, 1967. In November 1967 at numerous taping sessions a voice giving its name as Gebhard Frei came through. The voice was identified by Professor Peter Hohenwarter of the University of Vienna as positively belonging to Dr Frei (Ostrander and Schroeder, 1977: 271).

• Pope Paul VI was well aware of the work being done from 1959 onwards on the Elecronic Voices by his good friend, Swedish film producer Friedrich Jurgenson, who had made a documentary film about him. The Pope made Jurgenson a Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory in 1969 for his work. Jurgenson wrote to Bander, a British voice researcher:

I have found a sympathetic ear for the Voice Phenomenon in the Vatican. I have won many wonderful friends among the leading figures in the Holy City. Today 'the bridge' stands firmly on its foundations (Ostrander and Schroeder, 1977: 264).

• The Vatican also gave permission for its own priests to conduct research into the voices—Father Leo Schmid, a Swiss theologist, collected more than ten thousand of them in his book When the Dead Speak which was published in 1976, shortly after his death.

• Another Vatican-approved researcher was Father Andreas Resch who as well as conducting his own experiments began courses in Parapsychology at the Vatican's school for priests in Rome (Kubris and Macy, 1995:104).

• In 1970 the International Society for Catholic Parapsychologists held a conference in Austria and a major part of that conference was concerned with papers on the Electronic Voice Phenomena...."

...

"The Church realizes that she cannot control the evolution of science. Here we are dealing with a scientific phenomenon; this is progress and the Church is progressive. I am happy to see that representatives of most Churches have adopted the same attitude as we have: we recognize that the subject of the Voice Phenomena stirs the imagination even of those who have always maintained that there could never be any proof or basis for discussion on the question of life after death. This book and the subsequent experiments raise serious doubts, even in the minds of atheists. This alone is a good reason for the Church supporting the experiments. A second reason may be found in the greater flexibility of the Church since Vatican II, we are willing to keep an open mind on all matters which do not contradict Christ's teaching (Bander 1973:103).

• His excellence, Archbishop H.E. Cardinale, Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium, commented:

Naturally it is all very mysterious, but we know the voices are there for all to hear them (Bander 1973: 132).

• The Right Reverend Monsignor Professor C. Pfleger commented:

Facts have made us realize that between death and resurrection there is another realm of post-mortal existence. Christian theology has little to say about this realm (Bander 1973 : 133).

• Bander's book (1973: 133) contains a photograph of the Right Reverend Mgr. Stephen O'Connor, Vicar General and Principal Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Royal Navy, listening to the playback of a recording on which a voice had manifested claiming to be that of a young Russian naval officer known to himself who had committed suicide two years earlier. Dr Raudive had recorded the message independently at an earlier session.

• Since the 1970s the Vatican has continued to sponsor extensive research into all areas of parapsychology including Electronic Voice Phenomena.

• Recently Father Gino Concetti, one of the most competent theologians in the Vatican, said in an interview:

According to the modern catechism, God allows our dear departed persons who live in an ultra-terrestrial dimension, to send messages to guide us in certain difficult moments of our lives. The Church has decided not to forbid any more the dialogue with the deceased with the condition that these contacts are carried out with a serious religious and scientific purpose (printed in the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano—cited in Sarah Estep's American Association Electronic Voice Phenomena, Inc Newsletter, vol 16 No, 2 1997 )

Clearly, the Catholic Church realizes that science is making enormous, inevitable, irreversible and cumulative progress which nobody is in a position to stop.

I apologize that it is so lengthy. I was under the impression that the Church forbade all forms of research of this kind or attempts to communicate with the deceased. Thank you for your time, Bob

Answer by Colin B. Donovan, STL on 09-21-2004:

I am certainly not able to verify the accuracy of anything reported on that website. I can, however, state Catholic teaching, and speculatively, a line of reasoning consistent with it which might explain them if true.

First, the Catechism teaches the traditional Catholic doctrine on the matter, telling us,

2115 God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.

2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.

Clearly, there is a moral imperative to refrain from any act which violates the First Commandment, which seeks to have concourse with demons or the dead for the purposes spoken of in the text, purposes which detract from the glory due to God alone.

The Church has always recognized, however, that prayer to the angels and the saints, for example, does not violate this commandment. Rather, it assumes the orientation to God of the holy angels and holy men and women identified by Scripture and the Church, as well as that of the person praying, who in humility and subject to the will of God seeks the intercession of the just for some worthy end. Likewise, exorcism, in which a minister of the Church (by law a bishop, or a priest designated by the local bishop) directly confronts and speaks to the evil one or one his minions, is morally permitted for the purpose of liberating a human being from his grasp. Finally, we can cite the example of the mysticism of the saints (from the Patriarchs to whom angels appeared) to the saints of the Church, to whom Christ, the Blessed Mother, other heavenly persons, as well as poor souls and even the damned, have communicated, and who have responded to their communications, all with the permission of God. So, clearly, there are a number of distinctions which can be made from Catholic tradition regarding what is permitted and what is forbidden by the First Commandment.

In the area of dogmatic, as opposed to moral, theology, some things can also be said. First, there are traditionally two general domains of phenomena attested to by theologians, the natural and the supernatural. The natural includes everything which can be reduced to an act or operation of some created nature (mineral, vegetable, animal, human, angelic). The supernatural is the domain of God, and includes all acts and operations, and their effects, of which only He is capable. God alone, for example, can create ex nihilo (out of nothing). God alone can raise the soul from sin to grace.

We can also speak, however, of intermediate domains, the preternatural and, theoretically, the paranormal. The preternatural is term usually reserved by theologians to the activity of the angels, who while they are working according to their own natures, and therefore naturally for them, produce effects which seem to us to be above nature, at least they are above our nature and our experience. When the Church is looking at mystical phenomena, what happens at apparitions, or allegations of a miraculous cure, it distinguishes between preternatural phenomena and supernatural phenomena. The devil could, for example, make someone sick, then by withdrawing the cause, himself, seem to cure them. Such a cure could not be instantaneous, however, as the devil has no power to heal, or make the body heal itself, much less immediately. God can, however, thus the criteria for miracles in Beatifications and Canonizations, or at Lourdes, is an instantaneous healing from an irremedial and proven sickness or deformity.

Among secular investigators such phenomena are generally lumped under the title paranormal. To this they would include any phenomenon, including what a theologian would called supernatural or mystical. To this seeming catch-all category for the unexplained can be added any putative powers of human nature which may be latent in us and not generally expressed.

Catholic authors, such as Fr. Heribert Thurston, SJ, and demonologists, such as the Roman exorcist Fr. Amorth, have speculated the possibility of such human gifts which need to be discerned when separating natural, preternatural and supernatural phenomena, for the purposes of determining truly demonic activity. The paranormal is discussed at length by Fr. Thurston, writing in the 30s and 40s, and in passing by Fr. Amorth, who notes his own experience of individuals who seem to have such gifts. Could they be vestiges of subtle human powers over nature given to Adam and Eve and corrupted and lost over the millennia? I don't know the answer to that, but speculation is certainly possible and has been done.

So, what SHOULD be the Church's attitude? When there is a line to be drawn and a distinction to be made, the Church will always be interested in doing so. I take that to be the purpose of these alleged permissions to investigate the possibility of such phenomena from a scientific point of view. Such discoveries would simply be the discovery of truth. However, there is without a doubt dangers in such investigations, since these are muddy waters and who can really say where the drop-off is into the world of the occult. Under the principle of double effect, the risk could be taken, but only be those qualified to do so.

Finally, I would conclude by saying that the source of this information is no doubt biased in favor of researching such phenomena. The statement seems to go well overboard in attributing any active program of investigation into these matters by the Catholic Church. This may serve their purposes but not the truth. The example of a few individuals, most of them probably dead, being spontaneously given the blessing of ecclesiastical authorities to investigate the absolute limits of the natural, does not constitute a program of active encouragement of paranormal investigation by the Church, though it may constitute a theological judgment that such investigation is licit in the circumstances of those individuals. I have not heard of, nor am I aware of, any such investigations going on today, with or without the blessing of any Church official.

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