The Vatican wants to clamp down on people who falsely claim to have witnessed miracles, such as apparitions.

The Pope fears such people may spread false messages, so before they have a chance to do so, their claims need to be investigated as comprehensively as possible.

According to a 2003 Vatican yearbook, between 1905 and 1995 there were 295 claimed apparitions but only 11 were considered genuine. Many of the rest were said to be human trickery.

The Pope has therefore asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith to update regulations by coming up with a handbook for bishops to deal with such claims. The initiative would include setting up a group of psychiatrists, psychologists, theologians and priests to investigate the claims rigorously before being made public.

Those making the claims will be asked to remain silent and if they don't it will be a sign of their lack of credibility. If they cooperate, their claims will be investigated by the experts to determine, among other things, whether they are mentally stable.

The most recent local, widely-publicised apparition claim was that of Anġelik Caruana, who insists he has frequent visions of the Virgin Mary, and whose case attracted a cult following. He had also claimed to have a statue of the Virgin Mary who was weeping blood, which was later found to be his own.

But his family was recently reported by In-Nazzjon insisting on Mr Caruana's version, saying the statue had "cried blood" just over a week ago.

The Vatican's move is clearly aimed at avoiding this sort of exposure to claims that have not been certified by the experts.

The teams being set up to probe such claims could involve exorcists who will help conclude whether genuine apparitions are inspired by God or the devil.

According to the Maltese Curia, the Vatican document will mostly bring together the procedures that have been in use for years.

The last time guidelines of this sort were issued was in 1978. Since then, more and more people have claimed to have some sort of special link to God. The Pope has often spoken about the risks of such apparitions, saying that they posed a risk to the unity of the Church.

In Malta, only three cases of apparitions have been reported and of these only one, that of Mr Caruana, reached the stage of being investigated by a joint commission between the Holy See and the Archdiocese.

The other two cases were the claimed apparitions of the Girgenti Madonna to Ġuża Mifsud and an allegation that the statue of the Virgin Mary at the crypt in a Rabat church had shed tears of blood.

"None have been disproved or proven yet," a spokesman for the Curia said.

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