Introductory commentary by Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S.
Owing to a lack of clarity and specificity in Chapter 8 of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (AL), mutually contradictory views are circulating as to what it means for Catholics living publicly in objectively sinful relationships. Has the present Holy Father broken with his predecessors, who never permitted any of these folks to receive Holy Communion? Some say Yes, some say No. The distinguished German Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann, a friend of Pope Benedict XVI, has not hesitated to affirm in a recent interview that with the promulgation of AL, “chaos [has been] raised to a principle by the stroke of a pen”, and that “the consequences are already foreseeable: uncertainty and confusion, from the bishops’ conferences to the small parishes in the middle of nowhere.”
This critical situation invites further reflection on the message of Our Lady of Fatima, as we begin this Friday (May 13, 2016), the 100th year since her first appearance to the Portuguese shepherd children. Back in 1980 the one surviving visionary, Sister Lucy, wrote an important letter to Monsignor (now Cardinal) Carlo Caffarra. After Pope John Paul asked him to begin a new Pontifical Institute for studies on marriage and the family, Caffarra wrote to Sister Lucy, simply requesting her prayers for this venture. He has recently made known his surprise at receiving “a very long letter with her signature. . . . In it we find written: ‘The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, for this is the decisive issue.’ And then she concluded: ‘however, Our Lady has already crushed its head.’”
This reassurance is encouraging, because fifteen years after Sister Lucia wrote that letter, Cardinal Luigi Ciappi (1909-1996), personal theological adviser to five popes, made a stunning disclosure about that part of the Fatima secret that the Vatican has never released (and which is evidently referenced by the enigmatic word “etc.” in the published part of Our Lady’s message). His Eminence, one of the few persons who had seen the complete secret, wrote in a 1995 letter to Professor Baumgartner of Salzburg: “In the Third Secret it is predicted, among other things, that the great apostasy in the Church will begin at the top.”
Such a shocking prophecy would explain why Sister Lucy herself confessed to being traumatized by it, why Pope John XXIII decided not to publish it on schedule in 1960, and why Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani of the Holy Office, in answer to a reporter’s question, stated acidly that the Third Secret had been relegated “to the bottom of the Vatican archives – and that’s where it deserves to stay!” (A priest who as a young man was living in Rome in 1960 has told me he distinctly recalls reading these words of the cardinal in a newspaper report.) As the Church’s top doctrinal watchdog, Ottaviani might well have judged that such an appalling message might unsettle the faith of many Catholics in the See of Peter, the ‘Rock’ on whom Christ built his Church.
The foregoing observations should help to set in their context the following testimony from Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, whom I have been privileged to know for about twenty years. It provides clear corroboration of what Cardinal Ciappi said about the secret, but was made known to her and her late husband, the renowned philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, a full thirty years before Ciappi wrote his letter to the Austrian professor. In a private email at the beginning of May Dr. von Hildebrand told me about this 1965 conversation in Florence. I asked her whether she would allow this to be made known to a wider audience, and after consulting with her spiritual director, she replied that he had given her permission to do so. (Msgr. Mario Boehm, whose testimony she records here, was a leading member of the editorial staff of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano during the 1930s and 1940s, when the editor-in-chief was Count Giuseppe Dalla Torre. Boehm retained high-level contacts in Rome after his retirement.)
Dr. von Hildebrand added that it would be good for this account to be accompanied here by that of another similar conversation she and her husband had in the 1960s with the former communist agent Bella Dodd. I personally find these testimonies linked to the Fatima message deeply consoling at this time of increasing confusion and profoundly disturbing change emanating from the highest levels of Church authority. For they indicate that Heaven has not only foreseen this great crisis, but has forewarned us, in order to reassure Catholics that, whatever may happen in the immediate future, Christ is still the unassailable Head of his Church, and that the Immaculate Heart of his most holy Mother, Queen of the Holy Rosary, who to Satan is as “terrible as an army set in battle array”, will triumph in the end.
Dr. von Hildebrand, in her 90s, now finds some difficulty in writing by computer, so I have slightly edited her original email for greater clarity. She has approved the following version and graciously given her permission for it to be posted on the OnePeterFive website:
(email to Fr. Brian Harrison dated May 6, 2016):
I think the following two conversations, which I recall very well from the 1960s, are of particular interest now, in these deeply troubled times half a century later. For they apparently corroborate Cardinal Ciappi’s testimony that part of Our Lady’s Fatima secret was the shocking prediction that the great apostasy in the Church would begin “at the top.”
The first conversation was In June 1965. We were in Florence in the house where my husband was born, and where I spent my first sabbatical. My husband invited a priest named Msgr. Mario Boehm, whom he had met in Rome shortly after his conversion, and who had been one of the top editors of L’Osservatore Romano for many years. The topic of Fatima came up. My husband raised the question, “Why was the third secret of Fatima not revealed?” For the Holy Virgin had said it should be shared with the faithful in 1960.
Don Mario: It was not revealed because of its content. My husband: What was so fearful about it? Msgr. Boehm (as a well-trained Italian) did not say that he had read it, but intimated that the content was fearful: “infiltration of the Church to the very top”. It shattered us but confirmed my husband’s fear that the way Vatican II was interpreted was going to expose the Church to terrible dangers. Alas, this fear was well founded.
The second conversation is one with Bella Dodd that I have already spoken about on previous occasions. We met her in the Fall of 1965 and she visited us here at New Rochelle, NY, where I still live, either in 1966 or 1967. She had been an ardent communist from her student days at Hunter College – a hotbed of communism. (That is why I was systematically persecuted there, as recounted in my book, Memoirs of a Happy Failure.) Bella had sown the seeds of this diabolical philosophy at Hunter, but converted in 1952 under the guidance of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Let me repeat the conversation between her and my husband:
DvH: I fear the Church has been infiltrated.
Bella: You fear it, dear Professor; I know it! When I was an ardent communist I was working in close contact with four cardinals in the Vatican working for us; and they are still very active today.
DvH: Who are they? My nephew Dieter Sattler is a German stationed at the Holy See.
But Bella, who was under the spiritual guidance of Archbishop Sheen, declined to give him this information.
The only recourse we have now is prayer, and the firm conviction that the gates of hell shall not prevail. St. Matthew ch. XXIV has warned us.
In union of ardent prayers.
I am, dear Father, respectfully yours in Christ,
Alice von Hildebrand