A woman who claims that the Virgin Mary has been appearing in a pine tree at her Surrey home for over 20 years has been dismissed as a fraud by the Vatican.
Patricia De Menezes, 67, has developed an international following since she first began “seeingâ€ the apparition, dubbed “Our Lady of Surbitonâ€, in 1984.
The freelance jewellery designer insists that she has been given a divine message urging the Church to proclaim aborted babies as martyrs.
But her Community of Divine Innocence, which has devotees in nearly 50 countries, has now suffered a significant blow to its credibility.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the Inquisition, has crushingly rejected her appeals for formal recognition by the Pope.
Archbishop Angelo Amato, the Congregation’s secretary, said that he found Mrs De Menezes’s claims to be “exaggeratedâ€ and “hystericalâ€.
He said inappropriate words and phrases had been attributed to Jesus and “intemperate languageâ€ used in attacks on Church authorities.
“Given the supposed revelations which ground the spirituality of the Community of Divine Innocence are highly questionable, it follows that the community’s spirituality is flawed at its root,â€ he said.
The archbishop added that the message that Mrs De Menezes claims to have received about the “martyrdom of all the innocent children deliberately killed before birthâ€ was highly suspect.
“A martyr is someone who bears witness to Christ,â€ he said.
“If the victims of abortion were to qualify for martyrdom it would then seem that all victims of any moral evil should be likewise deemed martyrs.â€
Mrs De Menezes said she began hearing divine messages while cycling near her home in Surbiton, and then saw visions of Mary and Jesus.
The mother of three, a convert to Catholicism, founded the Community of Divine Innocence which spread around the world.
The Catholic Church in England and Wales rejected her claims in 2001, but she then sought approval for her movement from Rome.
The Archdiocese of Southwark, in which she lives, welcomed the ruling by the Holy See, indicating that it meant the sect had no backing from the Catholic Church.
Mrs De Menezes was unavailable for comment.
The rejection of her claims comes amid a crackdown by the Vatican on mystical seers around the world.
Pope Benedict XVI regards the rise of such charismatic visionaries as a risk to Church unity because they create sects at odds with the local bishops.
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