An institution has been formed in Rome to study alleged Marian apparitions and other supernatural phenomena in the Catholic Church.

The International Observatory on Marian Apparitions and Mystical Phenomenon (OISA) was established in April and is part of the Pontifical International Marian Academy.

The objective of the observatory is to research alleged Marian apparitions and other phenomena, such as the apparent crying or bleeding of Marian statues and images, whose authenticity have not yet been declared by the competent authority.

Sister Daniela del Gaudio, a Franciscan sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is the director of the observatory.

The task of the observatory is not “to judge or intervene in alleged apparitions or phenomena, but to study how these events take place and to give information and support to the bishops of the various dioceses who need to conduct investigations in this field,” she said in a press conference earlier this month, as reported by Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana.

A diocesan bishop is responsible for giving official recognition to an apparition that took place or is taking place in his diocese according to a specific process and criteria outlined by the Vatican. A diocesan commission will also be involved.

One of the most important criteria for approving an apparition, Del Gaudio said, according to Famiglia Cristiana, is “the consistency of the message transmitted by the visionary or visionaries with that of the public divine revelation contained in Sacred Scripture.”

She explained Marian apparitions do not introduce new revelation; they bring “a spiritually fruitful actualization of the Gospel in human history.”

The new observatory will take a multidisciplinary approach to the study of Marian apparitions with scholars from the areas of sociology, culture, psychology, medicine, and theology, Del Gaudio said.

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The observatory began its activities on April 15 and is headquartered in the offices of the Pontifical International Marian Academy in Rome.

The head of the academy, Father Stefano Cecchin, OFM, told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that “it is important to provide clarity, because often the alleged messages [from alleged Marian apparitions] generate confusion, spread anxious apocalyptic scenarios or even accusations against the pope and the Church.”

“How could Mary, Mother of the Church, undermine its integrity or sow fears and opposition,” he said.

One goal of the group is to form national commissions, or branches, of the observatory in different places around the world, he said.

The observatory also has plans to provide training to media and to dioceses on how to handle alleged apparitions or other phenomena.