Catholic Apologetics

Ah, the Third Secret of Fatima – is there any subject in the Catholic world that elicits more emotion?  Any subject surrounded by so much controversy?  (Well, due to the crazy times we live in there is no shortage of controversy all-around, so never mind that.)


As we know, on June 26th, 2000, “the Vatican” (a modern term that had a different meaning in the pre-conciliar age that lacked the modern Vatican bureaucracy) released an “interpretation” of a vision associated with the Third Secret.  This interpretation asserts that the vision (of a “bishop in white” gunned-down in a ruined city) refers to the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981, and that the Secret pertains to items only “in the past”.


This event immediately ignited controversy, for a number of reasons:


-                 It seemed a stretch to insist that the vision actually referred to the assassination attempt, since in the vision a bishop is definitely killed, by many assailants.

-                 The interpretation of the vision did not at all jive with previous public statements from those who had been gifted to read the Secret and know the visionary.

-                 For those Catholics familiar with the 1930 years of Church history preceding “the Council”, the notion of a Vatican official other than the Pope offering an “interpretation” of a vision given in a Church-approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin is odd.


So, some – quite a few, in fact, and not just “traditionalists”, and including the founder of the Catholic television network EWTN – had quite a bit of trouble swallowing this story.


And, of course, there is the fact that this “interpretation” does not constitute binding Church teaching in any way.


But, it turns out, the Secret – all if it – really was revealed.  In a sense.  Pope John Paul alluded to the real nature of the Secret (and he pointed this out) in his homily at Fatima on May 13th, 2000.  Those who were paying attention, then or now, to that sermon, and to the other statements throughout the years of those who had read the Secret or talked with the seer Lucia about it can know with good confidence its subject matter.

Years ago, after hearing of the controversy, I investigated the claims of Fr. Nicholas Gruner and others that the Third Secret was not completely revealed. Fr. Gruner seemed to have some very good evidence on his side, but I was unsure of how much of it could be corroborated.  I concluded, with Mother Angelica, that it seemed that something fishy had transpired, yet what really was the point in spending time and energy on it?  Certainly there is a spiritual danger in becoming obsessed with such things, which do not further our spiritual life.  But, on the other hand – since Christ is Truth Incarnate, we must always have a hunger for Truth in all matters, and a willingness to follow it wherever it leads us, whether we like it or not.

Fast-forward to 2006, when something truly remarkable took place.  A well-known and respected Italian journalist and television host, Antonio Socci, who was also an acquaintance of Cardinal Bertone, then Vatican Secretary of State, published a book entitled The Fourth Secret of Fatima.  He had decided to write this book to do his best to once and for all lay entirely to rest the controversy over the Vatican press conference on June 26th, 2000: he fully believed that the Secret had been fully revealed and that it was utter nonsense to claim otherwise.  The remarkable fact is that in the course of researching and writing his book, he changed his mind completely - he came to believe that part of the Secret - the text of the Virgin's words explaining the vision - was not revealed.  For the record, Socci is not a 'traditionalist’ (and neither is Mother Angelica).  I read of Socci's book and its aftermath in The Secret Still Hidden by Christopher Ferrara.

Before we talk further about the dialogue (almost entirely one-way) between Socci and Bertone, let's take a look at some of the evidence (truly a mountain) that i) All parts of the Secret could not have been revealed in June of 2000 and ii) the interpretation given by Bertone is nonsensical in the light of the comments all others familiar with the Secret had made about it through the decades.

The following comments were all made either by the seer herself or by people who had read the Third Secret or spoken to Lucia about it (all of them are reliably documented, emphasis mine in all cases):

- The Secret concerns a 'divine warning' about 'suicidal' alterations in the liturgy and theology of the Church (the future Pope Pius XII, 1931).

- A prediction that after 1960, 'the devil will succeed in leaving the souls of the faithful abandoned by their leaders' by causing 'religious and priests to fall away from their beautiful vocation... dragging numerous souls to Hell' and that 'nations will disappear from the face of the earth' (Sr. Lucia to Fr. Fuentes in 1957).

- Contents 'so delicate' that they cannot be allowed 'for whatever reason, even fortuitous, to fall into alien hands' (Cardinal Ottaviani, 1967).

- A text 'diplomatically' withheld because of the 'seriousness of its contents' and which predicts, after 1980, 'great trials' and 'tribulation' for the Church which 'it is no longer possible to avert' and the destruction of 'whole areas of the earth' so that 'from one moment to the next millions of people will perish' (John Paul II at Fulda, 1980).

- A 'religious prophecy' of 'dangers threatening the faith and the life of the Christian and therefore of the world' (Cardinal Ratzinger, 1984).

- A predication of apostasy in the Church that 'begins at the top' (Cardinal Ciappi, 1995).

- A warning of a material chastisement of the world which accompanies the great apostasy in the Church, like that predicted in the Church-approved apparition of Our Lady of Akita in 1973, whose message is 'essentially the same' as the message of Our Lady of Fatima (Ratzinger to Howard Dee, Phillipine ambassodor to the Vatican, 1998).

- A warning to avoid the 'tail of the dragon' referred to in Revelation (12:3-4), which sweeps one-third of 'the stars' from Heaven (Pope John Paul II, May 2000, sermon at Fatima when he beatified Jacinta and Francisco).  (Many believe the Pontiff was here revealing the Secret in a subtle manner here.)

These quotes demonstrate the numerous ways in which the 'interpretation' offered by Cardinal Sodano in 2000 differs substantially (actually radically) from the image painted about the Secret by every other knowledgeable party who's commented on it.

We can see that all of these people who had heard or read the Secret are speaking about things very different than an assassination attempt on a pope.  (And speaking of that, the vision that was released depicts a pope (or bishop) who was clearly killed by soldiers in a ruined city, not a pope who was shot by a single gunman and recovered.)

What unfolded after the publication of Socci's book became increasingly surprising, bizarre, and embarrassing to Bertone and his position on the Secret.

Bertone quickly published his own book, The Last Seer of Fatima, in May of 2007.  It was apparently intended to be a 'rebuttal' to Socci, yet he does not speak to any of Socci's arguments directly - he merely reiterates his former position, leaving the evidence unanswered.  Most people carefully paying attention would find that damning in itself.  Bertone did mention Socci by name, implying he had misled the faithful in his book.  Socci responded with this challenge, in his widely-read column, which was never answered: 'Dear Cardinal Bertoni: Who - between you and me - is deliberately lying?'  (To say that Bertone would not respond to such a challenge because it is 'beneath his office' would not hold, as Bertone went to great lengths to silence Socci.)

After the book, Bertone arranged several different television and radio interviews, always without Socci present, with a 'friendly' questioner, apparently hoping to put the issue to rest.  Each time, at least to an intelligent observer paying attention, he made things worse by both failing to answer the evidence directly and inadvertently revealing evidence against his position.  (These are Ferrara's conclusions, in support of which he offers the very detailed accounts of the television and radio interviews, and there's no way I could disagree with him given the evidence.)

In reading, watching, and listening to Bertone, we learn many things - things about what he really thinks about the Secret and why he could justify not revealing part of it.  We also get more valuable evidence that it in fact was not entirely revealed, as mentioned above:

- Bertone, frankly, seems to always come across as someone with something to hide: he answers questions indirectly, couches his answers with carefully-crafted and oft-repeated qualifiers, and so on.  One of these nearly constant qualifiers concerns the Vatican archives: he states repeatedly that there are further components to the Secret 'in the Vatican archives'.  But he knows full-well that the entire argument from the other side concerns a letter not in the archives, but in the papal apartments.  There was an envelope from Lucia that was delivered there and always stayed there, by many accounts from those close to several popes.  This is one of the many things that make it blatantly obvious that the cardinal is not even addressing the argument honestly.  By always using the specific qualifier 'in the archives' it would appear he makes his statements 'technically true'.

- The second example of obvious word-play is Bertone's frequent referral to the 'authentic' Secret - 'the authentic Secret has been completely revealed', etc.  This obviously suggests that Bertone believes there to be an inauthentic component of the Secret.  But, such a component has never been publicly discussed or mentioned.  Ferrara makes the case this this is how certain Vatican prelates rationalized away this part of the secret: it's not 'authentic'.  But there is every reason to believe it is entirely authentic.  It came from Lucia, directly to the Vatican.  No, it is the content of the written part of the Secret that requires it to be rationalized away.  In any case, it's still obviously being hidden in a disingenuous way.

- Bertone changed his story substantially, using completely different wording for the question and answer, regarding his conversations with Lucia (always private, never recorded in any way).  On one matter he offered six substantially different versions on different occasions.  When asked directly once if she agreed with 'official' interpretation of the Secret, his response was that she agreed, but 'not in those terms'.  Agreed but 'not in those terms' means she did not agree with said statement.

- Bertone made what was considered by Socci to be two major slips in his Italian television appearance (Door to Door) in 2007: He remarked that Lucia had memorized the 'words of the Virgin' concerning the Third Secret from 1917 until they were written down in 1944 - but the entire controversy revolves around the fact that the official release contains (inexplicably) no words from the Virgin at all!  What an incredible slip-up!  If it's not that, it would seem the man simply cannot speak on the subject coherently.  Secondly, Bertone displays the envelope on which Lucia had written the Virgin's instructions that it be opened by 1960.  However, a major part of Bertone's strategy had been to discredit this statement of Lucia (made many times) - he has claimed that she later retracted it, admitting that the Virgin gave her no such instructions, and that this was only her (Lucia's) (totally inexplicable) wish!  (That's right, and make no mistake: if one decides to accept the Secretary of State's version of the Secret and its interpretation one must also accept that this saintly seer, visited by the Mother of God, was so impious, irresponsible, and dishonest that she lied about critical elements of the apparitions!  There's not much way to soften that: Bertone says that she did, in fact, admit that she changed her story on this point.  So, if one becomes uncomfortable criticizing a Vatican cardinal, the only alternative is to heavily criticize the sainly seer.)

What does Mr. Socci think of all this?  I'm going to include a couple quotes, also taken from Ferrara:

'The sensation that arises from this 'management' of the last witness of Fatima, these ecclesiastical self-contradictions, is of a certain brazenness, and of seasonal and colorful versions of the truth.  Almost as if public opinion, the mass media and the faithful did not know how to reason critically and to catch contradictions and evasive answers' (emphasis mine).

Of course, many do refuse to 'reason critically' on this topic, preferring instead to remain in a bubble of comfortable comformity.  Many other due to invincible ignorance believe they would become disobedient Catholics by not accepting the "official" story of the Vatican on this topic.  But, there is no official position of the Church - no position that is binding upon any Catholic in any way whatsoever.  As Ferrara points out, Cardinal Sodano himself had no pastoral authority and, more importantly, no doctrinal authority.  The 'interpretation' - the word itself implies a matter of opinion rather than teaching - was not even an exercise of the ordinary Magisterium, much less an act of the extraordinary Magisterium that would enjoy the charism of infallibility.  It is a sad, sad fact that in this day 'official' actions of the Vatican must sometimes be carefully considered, and, in fact, the Faith demands that truth be the master served, always, and especially in a matter of this nature.

And: 'For any author, being personally attacked by the Vatican Secretary of State without a scrap of evidence would be a coup.  But for me it is a disaster, because I consider myself first of all a Catholic before a journalist.  I would have preferred to have been dead wrong and been confuted.  Or I hoped that the Holy See would finally decide to reveal the entire truth about the Third Secret of Fatima, by publishing - as Our Lady requested - the still concealed part.  Otherwise, I would have preferred to be ignored, snubbed, boycotted.  But the only mistake, the only thing to avoid, is exactly what Bertone did: presenting himself publicly, without answering anything and, rather, adding disastrous new revelations.  For him and for the Vatican.'

What has our holy father had to say about this spectacle?  Well, Bertone did get a letter from him on the publishing of his book - without touching on any of the specifics.  That might be considered a point in his favor - except that Socci got one too.  Yes, Mr. Socci, the man who publicly challenged the Cardinal Secretary of State, got a letter from the Supreme Pontiff thanking him for his work on the matter!  That is very far from any sort of criticism, much less condemnation.  There is absolutely no way, I think, the pope could send such a letter if he thought Socci's position did not have merit.  Furthermore, the pope has never spoken a word in Bertone's defense following any of his television or radio appearances.  (Not necessarily unusual, but obviously not supportive.)

The retired bishop of Fatima was once brought to Rome and ‘paraded in front of Rome's elite’ at a 'private news-conference' arranged by Bertone (which, of course, Socci was prevented from attending).  The bishop, however, declined to corroborate Bertone's testimony on anything, making only a single, simple, non-committal statement.

A very natural question would be as to the motive involved here: why hide (part of) the Secret?  I think the answer is obvious, as does Ferrara.  I think it is so obvious I'm not even going to comment on it.  Instead, simply see the quotes above from those that have read the Secret or know its contents.

It is well-known to many that Fatima in general has simply been a thorn in the side of some of the upper hierarchy for a very long time.  They have wanted it to go away, and the commentary on the vision part of the Secret that was revealed was indeed a most direct - even forceful - way to relegate it to the past forever.  But the ‘interpretation’ of the vision as John Paul II's shooting is simply untenable - even preposterous.  The bishop in the vision is shot many times by soldiers, and dies.  This interpretation of the vision does not jive in any way will all previous commentary on the Secret in general, including statements made by John Paul II himself after the shooting.

Furthermore, the commentary is dismissive and even insulting to Lucia, who will likely end up a canonized saint along with her fellow visionaries.  It suggests that she has a fanciful imagination that has colored her reporting of the events - something really beyond the pale.  And, as already noted, Bertone has strongly implied that she lied about at least one fact in question (that the Madonna instructed the Secret to be revealed by 1960) and admitted as much to him (in private, unrecorded conversation, of course).  Also of course, it was not until after her death that this critical information was revealed.

But I do completely understand the motivation to accept this interpretation - the rationalization that can convince one to - because I did myself once.  It unsettled me greatly to think that the Vatican may not have told the whole story on this one.  But then I realized that the Church is not churchmen, and stranger, and more scandalous, events have occurred in the Church that Christ founded.

Fatima will not go away.  And it is not merely a private revelation anymore: not when Our Lady of Fatima has been given a feast day in the Church.  When a private revelation is declared Authentic by the Church (that is an official action of the Church), then further credibility by the beautification of visionaries, then more still by being held in the highest regard by a supreme pontiff, who institutes a new feast day, I think it is fair to say part of the Tradition of the Church.  Add to that that one pope has declared (in a non-binding manner, of course) that Revelations 12:1, the lady "clothed in the sun", was fulfilled at Fatima, and the event is now directly a part of public revelation.

I challenge anyone who will scoff that it is impossible such a thing could have occurred to study the evidence (best done by reading Ferrara's book, or Socci's, though the latter is available only in Italian, I believe).  I will go so far as to say that the evidence is so overwhelming that only those clinging to a confused, improper sense of Church obedience, those simply refusing to look at the evidence and *think*, will fail to be swayed by it. 

It may turn out that we have not heard the last on this topic out of this holy father, who has shown the ability to be both surprising and courageous (and to contradict his past statements and positions).  Political forces may have made the full, public disclosure of the Secret very difficult in the past, but that may not last forever.

Lastly, I will point out that it has turned out once again that the 'nutty trads' were right (if you are one of them please don’t take offense at that derogatory term; I use it tongue-in-cheek as now I am one too).  They were right about the Mass of All Ages, which was never abrogated, as they always said, and has now been freed.  They were right about the Council, that it was pastoral only and declared no new doctrines or dogma, and that, of course, it didn't change any doctrines or dogma!  That last point is nothing beyond an obvious fact, and if it did not hold it would mean the Church has already crumbled, but also obviously it is something that traditionalists have had to fight to have recognized for decades.  Thanks be to God for the good our current Papa has done to settle these matters.  I believe he has not given us his last surprise.