But does your church believe this story [the story of "St. Philomena"] is true? Or are they saying that even if this vision [revelation that Maria Luisa di Gesù, a Roman Catholic nun, claimed she received] is a delusional lie (a false sign or wonder), then it is still "not contrary to the Catholic faith", and may still be used to express devotion to this saint?(source)
Paul Hoffer (Roman Catholic) responded:
Hi louis, The Church does not offer an opinion as to whether it is true or not because we, as individual Catholics, are not required to accept as true a private revelation made to a private individual as true as such do not belong to the deposit of faith. What the Church has said is that a person may accept the revelation as true if they wish without danger to their soul. [CCC 67] We recognize that such revelations are devotional in nature, not doctrinal.(source)
The RCC is a little unusual in this regard. In some cases, things are written off as frauds. In other cases, things are indicated as being, in essence, believable or "worthy of belief." For example, people are permitted to believe that something miraculous happened at Lourdes, but a person is not required to believe that.
On the other hand, sometimes (much more rarely) the RCC adds some new requirement to the list of things that must be believed. For example, about four years before the Lourdes event, the RCC defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception - requiring people to believe the unbiblical (and frankly Pelagian) doctrine of the Immaculate conception.
Interestingly, at Lourdes, a 14-year-old local girl named Bernadette Soubirous (who is the central figure in the event) claimed that the apparition of a beautiful woman told her, "I am the Immaculate Conception." This oddly ungrammatical claim (original French: "Je suis l'Immaculée conception" UPDATE: the French is not original ... apparently, the original is the
In any event, Rome views the Immaculate Conception itself as a dogma that must be believed (despite the fact that we can't find it in Scripture or among the extant writings of orthodox Christians for the first few centuries of church history). In contrast, the fraud at Lourdes is viewed as being "worthy of belief." Rome won't say that it is true, and won't say that it is false.
Lourdes, as a result, is one of the most popular Marian shrines (probably the most popular in Europe, and perhaps in the world). There are dozens of miracles that are attributed to visits to Lourdes and use of the water there. Furthermore, while there may not be an official pronouncement that the Lourdes' apparitions were genuine, we see Benedict XVI acting as though he thinks they were:
Lourdes is one of the places chosen by God for his beauty to be reflected with particular brightness, hence the importance here of the symbol of light. From the fourth apparition onwards, on arriving at the grotto, Bernadette would light a votive candle each morning and hold it in her left hand for as long as the Virgin was visible to her. Soon, people would give Bernadette a candle to plant in the ground inside the grotto. Very soon, too, people would place their own candles in this place of light and peace. The Mother of God herself let it be known that she liked the touching homage of these thousands of torches, which since that time have continued to shine upon the rock of the apparition and give her glory. From that day, before the grotto, night and day, summer and winter, a burning bush shines out, aflame with the prayers of pilgrims and the sick, who bring their concerns and their needs, but above all their faith and their hope.(13 September 2008 - Emphasis added to one of the most outrageous comments.)
Sean Patrick of the Roman Catholic blog "Called to Communion" has suggested that I should point out worship to Mary in each post I do on Roman Catholicism. I don't really think that is necessary, but I've included the paragraph above as an example to help satisfy his request. I'm sure that there will be those who deny that paying religious homage and giving Mary "glory" are worship, but I trust that there are those who will see it for what it is.
Nevertheless, to return to the point of the post, the answer is to Louis' question is that if something is designated as "worthy of belief," the RCC is not saying that it is true, but rather that you are safe believing it (i.e. doing so won't harm your faith or morals), even if it is false. Where these apparitions (and the like) tend to get into trouble is when they start to try to speak authoritatively on things (Rome doesn't like competition). So, while "I am the Immaculate Conception" should be seen to be a clumsy fraud, Rome approves of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and consequently sees no harm in letting people believe that the events of Lourdes are true.