Sometimes, it’d be nice if things were a bit less complicated.
Last Friday, in preparation to write a reflection on the 100th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, I spent the whole day reading about various theories about the alleged unrevealed truths surrounding this most significant of Marian apparitions. I looked over various reports about what the “real” Third Secret contained, read documents that claimed to be the “real Third Secret of Fatima”, and read testimonies from individuals who claimed knowledge the general public does not have.
I’m not a Fatima expert by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’m actually a relative newcomer to the subject. But it’s fair to say that I started paying closer attention to Fatima in recent years because the official story just seemed…off. The promises Our Lady had given appeared obviously to be unfulfilled. Russia clearly hadn’t experienced any authentic conversion to speak of. If the geopolitical situation of the past 30 years is what a period of peace looks like, it’s certainly an odd interpretation of that concept. And where on Earth is there anything happening that would indicate the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart? A few years ago, I re-published something that examined these questions surrounding unrealized promises from Heaven as relates to Fatima. I found it to be a compelling rebuttal to the narrative that the consecration had been accomplished, and it fed my curiosity.
And then we ran our report about the recollection of the holy and well-respected priest (and friend of Joseph Ratzinger), Fr. Ingo Dollinger, and the claims he made of conversations with Cardinal Ratzinger years ago pertaining to the entirety of the Third Secret (and the allegation that it had not been fully revealed). Clearly, the situation in the Church was escalating. Clearly, there was no reasonable way to accept the interpretation that the vision of the “bishop dressed in white” could be applied to the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II — as some in the Vatican had claimed — or that it was a thing left buried in the past. Even a cursory reading of the official text made clear that something far more sinister, specific, and fatal was being described:
The third part of the secret revealed at the Cova da Iria-Fatima, on 13 July 1917.
I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine.
After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!‘. And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
This version of the Third Secret published by the Vatican is not, to my knowledge, widely disputed. It is not so much claimed to be a false version by devoted Fatimists as somehow incomplete. Most seem to think that what is missing is not more of the secret, but the accompanying explanation of the vision given by Our Lady to Sister Lucia.
But if something was missing, what was it? Was this the whole story? Why would the Church hide something important enough that Our Lady miraculously appeared to warn us about? As Bishop Athanasius Schneider said to me in an interview earlier this year:
We have to take it at serious when God sends us His Immaculate Mother to warn us. If we hear the admonitions of Our Heavenly Mother, Her Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ will make miracles, as He did at the wedding in Cana. A solemn act of consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on behalf of the Pope in moral union with all bishops will undoubtedly cause the pouring out of abundant graces for the Church and for all mankind, as it foretold Our Lady in Fatima. It is tragic that prophetic appeals are heard oftentimes too late.
If Fr. Dollinger’s recollection of events (which he had been sharing for a number of years) weren’t intriguing enough, the fact that the Vatican issued a statement in Pope Benedict’s name to deny our story — the first official public statement from the “Pope Emeritus” since his abdication in 2013 — really piqued my curiosity. Rather than being a convincing rebuttal, it looked a lot more like a classic case of “protesting too much”. (As the old saying goes, “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”) This response from the Vatican also raised serious questions: why was it so important that they felt they had to kill even the allegation that Ratzinger had said there was more to the Third Secret? Why did Pope John XXIII not reveal the secret by 1960 as Our Lady asked? Why did Cardinal Ottaviani allegedly say that the Third Secret was buried “in one of those archives which are like a very deep, dark well, to the bottom of which papers fall and no one is able to see them anymore.”?
In other words: why all the secrecy and misdirection? What part of the Fatima message was the Vatican so afraid of?
I have never found a satisfactory answer to these questions. And it seems that the more I investigate, the murkier the waters get. Nevertheless, it’s a subject that never really goes out of fashion. There are periodic lulls in Fatima interest, and then some new detail, some previously unconsidered angle, makes its way to the surface, and the whole discussion begins anew.
And so it was that on May 8th, 2017, Vatican expert Marco Tosatti published a piece that re-ignited a part of the debate. In it, he referenced a book (not yet available in English) by Spanish journalist José María Zavala, entitled The Best Kept Secret of Fatima (El Sécreto Mejor Guardado de Fátima). In it, Zavala claims to have received a photo of a handwritten Portugese document in an email in August of 2016. According to Zavala, the message came from an anonymous sender with a blank subject line, and thus wound up in his spam folder where it was very nearly deleted. But he claims that in a providential decision, he decided to open it and take a look, and he “immediately noticed that it was a text about the apparitions of Fatima.” The text reads, in English:
Tuy September 1, 1944 or April 1, 1944
Now I am going to reveal the third fragment of the secret: This part is the apostasy in the Church!
Our Lady showed us the individual who I describe as the ‘holy Father’ in front of a multitude that was cheering him.
But there was a difference from a true holy Father, his devilish gaze, this one had the gaze of evil.
Then, after some moments we saw the same Pope entering a Church, but this Church was the Church of hell; there is no way to describe the ugliness of that place. It looked like a gray cement fortress with broken angles and windows similar to eyes; it had a beak in the roof of the building.
Next, we raised our eyes to Our Lady who said to us: You saw the apostasy in the Church; this letter can be opened by the holy Father, but it must be announced after Pius XII and before 1960.
In the kingdom of John Paul II the cornerstone of Peter’s grave must be removed and transferred to Fatima.
Because the dogma of the faith is not conserved in Rome, its authority will be removed and delivered to Fatima.
The cathedral of Rome must be destroyed and a new one built in Fatima.
If 69 weeks after this order is announced, Rome continues its abomination, the city will be destroyed.
Our Lady told us that this is written,[in] Daniel 9:24-25 and Matthew 21:42-44
Though it is not mentioned in the book, it is worth noting here that my own research indicates that the same text most likely first appeared on a bizarre website called Fatimamovement.com — a website which, despite its use of Catholic imagery, blasphemously claims that “Our Lady is God” and “The Biblical Lord is Satan.” The pages on the “Fatima Movement” website are not date stamped, but the author takes credit for having “asked God Our Lady [sic] for assistance in finding the Real Third Secret of Fatima. This Rosary request forced the Illuminati to release one of the two copies in existence.” The text of this alleged secret itself is claimed to have been introduced to the world by the author on April 21, 2010.
Just six days later, the (somewhat fringe, but certainly not blasphemous) traditionalist Catholic website Tradition in Action posted a photo of the same document, stating that, “One of our readers from Portugal sent us the facsimile of a handwritten text that could be the text of the Third Secret of Fatima.”
So we have a text of dubious origin, claiming to be the authentic Third Secret of Fatima, championed by a website that acts as a (arguably unwitting) parody of authentic Catholic belief, that has at last landed in the hands of an interested journalist some six years after it first appeared online. Ordinarily, such a document would be easy to dismiss, but this particular text also has a rather unique claim to authenticity.
It should be observed that there are several noteworthy things about this document:
1.) In 2004, Pope John Paul II did give a piece of the tomb of St. Peter to the rector of the new Fatima shrine to use as the cornerstone. If this text is a forgery, this fact could obviously have been included after the fact, because it was first seen by the public in 2010. If it isn’t, that’s a significant and specific prediction.
2.) The “gaze of evil” of the pope in the vision is very similar to what many Catholics (myself included) have described perceiving when first seeing Pope Francis after his election. This is, however, not a falsifiable claim, which also leaves it out as an objective criteria for evaluating authenticity.
3.) The allegation of “apostasy in the Church” dovetails with the report given by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, as published by OnePeterFive on May 12, 2016, in which she revealed a conversation she and her husband had in June of 1965 with “a priest named Msgr. Mario Boehm…who had been one of the top editors of L’Osservatore Romano for many years.” As Mrs. von Hildrebrand recounted:
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.
4.) In his post of May 8th, Tosatti links to a May 6, 2017 interview conducted by Zavala with Spanish graphologist (handwriting expert) Begoña Slocker de Arce for the Spanish-language publication, Es Diario. Slocker is, according to Zavala, an “expert of the active Courts of Justice” in Spain with more than two decades of experience. For Zavala’s book, Slocker was asked to analyze a text purporting to be the the real Third Secret of Fatima, and Zavala discussed her findings and process in the interview. The most significant and verifiable point as pertains to the alleged authenticity of this newly-revealed “secret” is that Slocker claims, in her professional analysis, that she is certain the handwriting belongs to Sister Lucia. From the interview with Zavala and Slocker (translation by Andrew Guernsey):
Q: Why are you so sure that the document of the Third Secret of Fatima not revealed was written, like the first two secrets, by the same hand of Sister Lucia?
A: How am I so sure? I only know that my work is done with rigor, with all the knowledge put at the service of the expert analysis. I think that it is impossible to write two identical letters, since we have life, movement, and this is what gives the writing of the same person certain differences in the same letter. We also have personal traits that come from our unconscious part, and that it is impossible for another author other than the same person to reproduce them. Velocity is very important because it is very difficult to imitate, the inclination, the cohesion … These are traits that a counterfeiter cannot keep up for more than six lines in a row, because the unconscious part betrays and the hand movement obeys the brain, not our intentions. This is a clear case, that of the document we have studied, in which all those factors test positive, never with differences sufficient to doubt its authenticity.
Q: Are there other prestigious experts, like you, who support your conclusion? Who are they? Once I finished the work with my regular team, to which belongs Lorena Gilaranz, an expert from the courts of justice, I went to two of the most prestigious experts, my colleagues, who gave me approval, as well as also obtained the support of the Spanish Society of Graphology.
By my count, Slocker is claiming that the handwriting analysis was checked by at least four individual experts in that field of competence, plus members of the Spanish Society of Graphology.
And yet…something about this text feels off. Its provenance, insofar as it is associated with a website run by someone who is not only blasphemous, but oftentimes incoherent, is incredibly suspicious. It is longer than the described 25 lines as described by Bishop Venancio, the auxiliary bishop of Fatima who held the envelope containing the secret up to the light to ascertain what he could about its contents in 1957.
It is, in other words, a seemingly credible but suspicious clue in a larger mystery — a clue one hopes would prompt similar analysis from other graphologists who might verify or dispute Slocker’s claim.
The Zavala/Slocker document is not, however, the only purported text of the Third secret that has gained credibility in Fatima circles.
As I pored over more Fatima-related information, I came across another alleged version of the Third Secret, this once credited to Fr. Luigi Villa, the priest whom St. (Padre) Pio of Pietrelcina is said to have “entreated to devote his entire life to fight Ecclesiastical Freemasonry” — a mission Pope Pius XII is also said to have personally approved. The story of how how Fr. Villa came to know the key to the “true” text is long and not entirely forthright. It seems he left the provenance of his knowledge somewhat shrouded in mystery. But his version is brief enough to be produced here in full. It reads somewhat differently than the Slocker/Zavala version, while touching on similar notes:
A great chastisement will fall on the entire human race; not today as yet, not tomorrow, but in the second half of the Twentieth Century.
No longer does order reign anywhere and Satan will reign over the highest places directing the course of events. He (Satan) really will succeed in infiltrating to the top of the Church.
Also for the Church a time of Her greatest trials will come. Cardinals will oppose Cardinals; Bishops will oppose Bishops and Satan will march amid their ranks, and in Rome there will be changes. What is rotten will fall, and what will fall will never rise again.
The Church will be darkened and the world deranged by terror.
A great war will break out within the second half of the Twentieth Century. Fire and smoke will fall from Heaven, the water of the oceans will become vapors and the foam will rise up and flooding and sinking everything. Millions and millions of people will die by the hour and the survivors will envy the dead.
Death will reign everywhere for the errors committed by the foolish and by the partisans of Satan, who, then and only then, will reign over the world. At last, those who will survive all of these events will once more proclaim God and His Glory and serve Him like before, when the world was not so corrupted.
Here, again, we have several noteworthy points:
1.) The description of Satan reigning in the highest places and directing the course of events — including in the Church — echoes the version of the Third Secret told to Alice von Hildebrand.
2.) The line saying “Cardinals will oppose Cardinals; Bishops will oppose Bishops” is nearly identical to what is said in the approved apparition of Our Lady of Akita on October 13, 1973: “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops.”
3.) The warning that “Fire and smoke will fall from Heaven, the water of the oceans will become vapors and the foam will rise up and flooding and sinking everything. Millions and millions of people will die by the hour and the survivors will envy the dead” echoes not only Akita, but also a statment attributed to Pope John Paul II at a meeting at Fulda, Germany, in November of 1980:
The October 1981 issue of the German magazine Stimme des Glaubens reported on a discussion that Pope John Paul II had with a select group of German Catholics, in November of 1980. The following is a verbatim report of the discussion:1
Text of the Published Report:
The Holy Father was asked, “What about the Third Secret of Fatima? Should it not have already been published by 1960?”
Pope John Paul II replied: “Given the seriousness of the contents, my predecessors in the Petrine office diplomatically preferred to postpone publication so as not to encourage the world power of Communism to make certain moves.
“On the other hand, it should be sufficient for all Christians to know this: if there is a message in which it is written that the oceans will flood whole areas of the earth, and that from one moment to the next millions of people will perish, truly the publication of such a message is no longer something to be so much desired.”
The Pope continued: “Many wish to know simply from curiosity and a taste for the sensational, but they forget that knowledge also implies responsibility. They only seek the satisfaction of their curiosity, and that is dangerous if at the same time they are not disposed to do something, and if they are convinced that it is impossible to do anything against evil.”
At this point the Pope grasped a Rosary and said: “Here is the remedy against this evil. Pray, pray, and ask for nothing more. Leave everything else to the Mother of God.”
The Holy Father was then asked: “What is going to happen to the Church?”
He answered: “We must prepare ourselves to suffer great trials before long, such as will demand of us a disposition to give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ… With your and my prayer it is possible to mitigate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because only thus can the Church be effectively renewed. How many times has the renewal of the Church sprung from blood! This time, too, it will not be otherwise. We must be strong and prepared, and trust in Christ and His Mother, and be very, very assiduous in praying the Rosary.” [emphasis added]
The pope’s comments seem to lend their own air of authenticity to this version of the Secret. Still, what I found immediately questionable about the Villa text is that it speaks of a “great war” that would break out in the latter half of the 20th Century. It is only then that the calamities prophesied will come.
Of course, there was no such war, nor were there such calamities.
Some might claim that the Consecration of the whole world that was performed by Pope John Paul II in 1984 (four years after his Fulda interview) — without the required specific mention of the consecration of Russia — was, inasmuch as it was claimed by Sister Lucia to have been “accepted by heaven”, sufficient to forestall what was to come.
Perhaps this was so. Perhaps not. Perhaps the Fr. Villa version of the Secret is also inauthentic. It is impossible to say.
Two nights ago, another piece of the puzzle arrived in my inbox. It came in the form of an interview with the very famous (and now deceased) Roman exorcist, Fr. Gabriel Amorth, also conducted by José María Zavala. Fr. Amorth personally knew Saint (Padre) Pio for 26 years, and it is from this towering figure of 20th century Catholic sanctity that he claims to have learned the contents of the Third Secret of Fatima.
Fr. Amorth was interviewed by Zavala in 2011, who kept the interview secret until after the exorcist’s death, publishing it for the first time in his book about Fatima. In the interview, Fr. Amorth relates — as he has done elsewhere — that he does not believe the consecration of the world by Pope John Paul II in 1984 was sufficient to satisfy the requirements set forth by Our Lady.
“There was no such consecration then,” he says. “I witnessed the act. I was in St. Peter’s Square that Sunday afternoon, very close to the Pope; so close, I could almost touch him.”
Pressed by Zavala on why he so forcefully believes that the consecration was not done, Fr. Amorth replied: “Very simple: John Paul II wanted to mention Russia expressly, but in the end he did not.”
Zavala pressed the issue with Fr. Amorth, saying that Sister Lucia herself (as mentioned above) had said that Heaven had accepted the consecration. He describes an incredulous reaction from Fr. Amorth. “Lucia said that…?” He asked. Zavala continues:
“Well, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said it, in the year 2000, hiding behind a letter [escudándose en una carta] from Lucia dated November 1989, in which she stated that Heaven had admitted consecration in spite of one of the most important conditions.
“Have you seen that letter?” He asks, as if conducting a police interrogation in search of evidence.
“Never,” I say flatly.
“I do not think you’ll ever see it, because I’m convinced that Lucia did not write it.”
“How are you so sure of that?”
“Why didn’t Bertone show it when he should have, when he announced the Third Secret of Fatima? A simple photocopy of the manuscript, included in the official dossier of the Vatican, would have been sufficient to dispel any doubt. If the Vatican has always been scrupulous in providing the documentary proof that authenticated the information by Lucia on minor matters, what reason would they have to skimp on the only documentary evidence that, according to Bertone, validated a fact that without doubt was of as much importance as the consecration performed By John Paul II?
“Yes, it’s weird,” I admit.
“You really think Lucia took five years to write that the consecration had been truly accepted? And that Bertone waited no less than sixteen years to announce the validity of something so crucial as the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?” Father Amorth’s voice sounds like dry leaves.
“It’s all very strange, in truth.” I nod again.
“Moreover,” he adds, “if the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary made by Pius XII in 1942 was only partially accepted [because he did not specifically mention Russia – ed], for Jesus said that in view of it the war would only be shortened rather than finished immediately, why would He now change his mind with John Paul II, if Russia was not mentioned on this occasion?”
“It would be an incongruity, yes.”
“I have no doubt that the consecration did not occur in the terms required by the Virgin. But we must not lose sight of what she herself wanted to tell us through Lucia: ‘In the end My Heart Immaculate will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me and it will become, granting itself to the world A time of peace’…”
The interview digresses here from the topic of Fatima, but Zavala returns to it again later:
“Forgive me for insisting on the Third Secret of Fatima: Did Padre Pio relate it, then, to the loss of faith within the Church?”
Fr. Gabriele furrows his brow and sticks out his chin. He seems very affected.
“Indeed,” he states, “One day Padre Pio said to me very sorrowfully: ‘You know, Gabriele? It is Satan who has been introduced into the bosom of the Church and within a very short time will come to rule a false Church.’”
“Oh my God! Some kind of Antichrist! When did he prophesy this to you?” I [Zavala] ask.
“It must have been about 1960, since I was already a priest then.”
“Was that why John XXIII had such a panic about publishing the Third Secret of Fatima, so that the people wouldn’t think that he was the anti-pope or whatever it was …?”
A slight but knowing smile curls the lips of Father Amorth.
“Did Padre Pio say anything else to you about future catastrophes: earthquakes, floods, wars, epidemics, hunger …? Did he allude to the same plagues prophesied in the Holy Scriptures?”
“Nothing of the sort mattered to him, however terrifying they proved to be, except for the great apostasy within the Church. This was the issue that really tormented him and for which he prayed and offered a great part of his suffering, crucified out of love.”
“The Third Secret of Fatima?”
“Is there any way to avoid something so terrible, Fr. Gabriele?”
“There is hope, but it’s useless if it’s not accompanied by works. Let us begin by consecrating Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, let us recite the Holy Rosary, let us all do prayer and penance …”
What I was left with after all my research — other than a blank page and a big headache — was a feeling that under the present circumstances there was no real way to know the whole truth. We can choose to accept what we have been told by the Church, ignoring the facts that point to the idea that there is something more, or we can speculate about what that may be without ever having the Church’s authoritative backing of our theories.
Lots of confusion. Lots of theories. Lots of suspicion. Very little clarity or peace.
Driving all of this speculation is a profound sense among many of the faithful that something of vital importance is being hidden from them, and this naturally opens up doors to all kinds of speculation and doubt.
As lengthy as our examination here has been, we have barely scratched the surface. There is simply no way to prove, definitively, what we should believe. To be frank, I sat down to write something that cut through the confusion. Instead, I’ve written something that highlights it.
But I did find a rather impressive gem within the convoluted mess.
I would argue that perhaps the most important thing for us to take away from all of this is not the discovery of what we do not know, but what has already been revealed. There is, strangely enough, a common thread, a clear message that shines through all of the competing versions and stories above — even though we know that they cannot all be authentic. The message is this: Not just the world, but the Catholic Church is in grave danger. Apostasy and defection from divine truth will rise through the ranks by the Devil’s own machinations, and persecution of the faithful — up to and including the martyrdom of the pope — is to be expected. Heaven demands penance, consecration (of Russia specifically), and conversion, which are the only things that can forestall God’s justifiable wrath. And it is the rosary in particular — and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary — that are our best defenses against what is to come.
Whatever we may believe about the acceptance of the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, you and I cannot accomplish it. Whatever we may believe about apostasy in the Church that goes to the very top, you and I cannot change it. Whatever we believe about chastisements and wars and calamities to come, you and I cannot avert them. Whatever the fullness of the Fatima message might be that has not yet been revealed, you and I cannot know it.
But we can make the five First Saturdays devotion. We can offer prayer and penance. And we can embrace the answer Pope John Paul II gave us in 1980:
The Pope grasped a Rosary and said: “Here is the remedy against this evil. Pray, pray, and ask for nothing more. Leave everything else to the Mother of God.”
When all is said and done, we may never know the totality of the secrets of Fatima. But we know what we can do — right here, right now — so what are we waiting for?
Our Lady of Fatima – ora pro nobis!
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.