Catholic Church excommunicates sect for devotion to 'apparition' of child Jesus

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A baby boy is dressed as the child Jesus for a Catholic festival. Catholics in a small Italian town claim an "apparition" of the child, which may have looked like this, has appeared to them repeatedly. | REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

ROME (Christian Examiner) – The Catholic Church has issued a "latae sententiae" excommunication to an Italian sect which worships an alleged apparition of the child Jesus in their town, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) has reported.

A "latae sententiae" excommunication means the sentence of the church has already been passed and no heresy trial is in order. According to the CNA report, news of the excommunication was provided to the Diocese of Sora-Cassino-Aquino Pontecorvo, where the heretical group is located, June 5.

The heretical sect – which calls itself the Universal Christian Church of the New Jerusalem – is based in the town of Gallinaro. It was there that Giuseppina Norcia claimed to have seen an apparition of Jesus as a child in 1947. She reportedly saw it again in 1974 and a chapel was built on the site the next year to commemorate the appearance.

Apparitions are sometimes "approved" by the church. The church has already approved the validity of supposed appearances of Mary in Argentina last year. In those instances, Mary's appearances were supposedly preceded by glowing rosaries.

"A wife and mother named Gladys Quiroga de Motta saw these glowing rosaries and began to pray to the Virgin Mary. The Virgin appeared to her on Sept. 25, carrying the infant Jesus and wearing a blue gown and veil. Her figure glowed with light," CNA reported.

"At various times, the Virgin Mary apparition referred the woman to several Bible verses. One month after the first appearance, the apparition gave Gladys a white rosary and said, 'Receive this Rosary from my hands and keep it forever and ever. You are obedient; I am happy because of it. Rejoice, for God is with you.'"

But the case of the Child Jesus of Gallinaro is different, the church claims. The letter of excommunication notes that the group is "committed to spreading false religious doctrines and teachings that distort the Bible and are outside the truth of the sacred text."

According to the Catholic Church, the sect encourages Catholics not to partake of the Eucharist and other sacraments, to disavow papal authority, cut ties with other priests and parishes, and to cease engaging in church discipline. It is, the church said, a cult of personality.

The Universal Christian Church of the New Jerusalem was established in October 2015. According to the Catholic Church, the sect was founded by Samuele Morcia, the son-in-law of Giuseppina Norcia, a self-proclaimed "seer." Norcia died in 2008.

Morcia now runs the small chapel dedicated to the supposed apparition, and has claimed that Norcia blessed him with the ability to receive prophetic messages from Christ before she died. Morcia also claims the village of Gallianaro is the "New Jerusalem."

The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the theological arm of the church, claimed in the letter that it had already examined the sect and found it guilty of a "very grave abuse" of Catholic doctrine. That abuse is tantamount to schism, Rome said, so the penalty of excommunication is automatic.