Is Fatima a Distraction or More Relevant than Ever?

In a recent exchange on social media, following the posting of our article about Padre Pio’s knowledge of the Third Secret, someone I encountered lamented the widespread focus among traditional Catholics on the messages of Fatima as a “distraction”. There seems to be a lot of disdain out there for “Fatimists” like Fr. Gruner, as though they’re the only reason people are so suspicious of the official line on Our Lady’s 1917 apparitions.

Fr. Gruner of the Fatima Center, of course, managed to be a polarizing figure, as debates here in our comments section regularly demonstrate. But I countered to this objector that one needn’t invoke such “Fatimists” at all to see that what we have been told about this particular private revelation — with its very public dimension for the Church and the world — doesn’t add up.

But why does Fatima matter? Why do we keep talking about it if, as I said recently, we can’t really get to the bottom of it’s mystery?

As a non-expert, I can tell you that to me, Fatima is the most striking example of God, through Our Blessed Mother, reaching down into the filth and corruption of our time to both warn us of what we are doing and to give us hope.

I also believe — and this is perhaps even more important for a Catholic faithful so scandalized by the conduct of the clergy — that Fatima is a reminder that no matter how things are in the Church, Heaven hasn’t forgotten us, and that all we are enduring was not only foreseen, but accounted for in the Divine Plan.

There is also a sense of urgency with Fatima. A feeling, because of Our Lady’s warnings, that there is a ticking clock on God’s forbearance with His sinful children, and it’s about to run out. So with the centenary year of Fatima now upon us, the topic naturally provokes more intense reflection.

It is my intention today to bring to light and examine some recent comments made by several major Catholic figures in this regard: Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Francis Arinze, and Marco Tosatti.


On May 19, Cardinal Burke re-ignited the Fatima discussion when he took the surprising step of asking publicly for the consecration of Russia. LifeSiteNews (LSN) editor-in-chief John-Henry Westen was present at the cardinal’s talk at the Rome Life Forum, and he graciously gave me permission to reprint his article summarizing the event.

In the LSN report, Burke was cited as follows:

The call for the consecration of Russia is for some controversial, but Cardinal Burke addressed the reasons for his appeal simply and straightforwardly. “The requested consecration is at once a recognition of the importance which Russia continues to have in God’s plan for peace and a sign of profound love for our brothers and sisters in Russia,” he said.

“Certainly, Pope Saint John Paul II consecrated the world, including Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25, 1984,” said Cardinal Burke. “But, today, once again, we hear the call of Our Lady of Fatima to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart, in accord with her explicit instruction.”

This, by itself, would have been noteworthy enough. Though Burke acknowledges here the imperfect 1984 consecration of the World, in which Russia was not specifically mentioned, and hints at its potential efficacy, he nonetheless insists that Russia should be consecrated again, explicitly this time. This departure from the Vatican’s position that the consecration has been sufficiently accomplished — bolstered by a 1989 letter alleged to have been written by Sister Lucia confirming that Heaven had “accepted” the 1984 consecration and the CDF’s accompanying statement that “any further discussion or request is without basis” — certainly got people’s attention.

But what was not mentioned in the LSN report were Cardinal Burke’s even more direct comments at the beginning of his talk, the full text of which has now been made available on the invaluable website of Voice of the Family:

In fact, the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary did not take place, as she requested, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays did not become the practice of the universal Church. There ensued the terrible suffering of the Second World War and its aftermath, the spread of atheistic communism, resulting, in fact, in the persecution of many nations and of the Church in those nations, and the annihilation of some nations. The second part of the Secret also ends with the sure hope that the Immaculate Heart of Mary will triumph through obedience to her maternal instruction.

This portion of his remarks is interestingly worded. The context of “the Second World War and its aftermath” seems as though it may be meant to say the consecration did not take place back then, leaving open the implication, by way of mentioning the consecration performed by Pope John Paul II, that it is done now. But taken in conjunction with Burke’s later comments that it should be done explicitly — and the fact that the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays is still not the practice of the Universal Church — leads me to believe he is in fact saying that he does not believe the consecration has ever been properly done.

Also found in the remarks of Burke’s full talk is this important consideration:

I now return to the third part of the Secret or Message of Fatima. Without entering into a discussion regarding whether the third part of the Secret has been fully revealed, it seems clear from the most respected studies of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, that it has to do with the diabolical forces unleashed upon the world in our time and entering into the very life of the Church which lead souls away from the truth of the faith and, therefore, from the Divine Love flowing from the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus. Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, in his monumental study of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, writes the following regarding the third part of the Secret or what is often called the Third Secret:

In short, the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary undoubtedly refers much more to the third Secret than even the second. For the recovery of peace will be a gift from Heaven, but it is not, properly speaking, the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her victory is of another order, supernatural, and then temporal by addition. It will first be the victory of the Faith, which will put an end to the time of apostasy, and the great shortcomings of the Church’s pastors.[23]

As horrible as are the physical chastisements associated with man’s disobedient rebellion before God, infinitely more horrible are the spiritual chastisements for they have to do with the fruit of grievous sin: eternal death. As is clear, only the Faith, which places man in the relationship of unity of heart with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through the mediation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, can save man from the spiritual chastisements which rebellion against God necessarily brings upon its perpetrators and upon the whole of both society and the Church. [emphasis added]

Of note here are two important points:

1.) Cardinal Burke is here acknowledging that Our Lady warned not just of the ascendancy of evil in the world, but in the Church itself.

2.) Cardinal Burke emphasizes the danger of hell as something far more serious than “physical chastisements associated with man’s disobedient rebellion before God…” With this in mind, one is compelled to question those who theorize that when Our Lady promised that Russia would “be converted,” that she meant merely a conversion from atheistic, materialistic communism. It seems more likely that she instead would have meant an authentic and salvific conversion to the True Faith.

I would like to spend a bit more time on the first of these two points – the theme of Apostasy in the Church. It is important to note that this idea is not contained anywhere in the revealed texts themselves; the three secrets of Fatima as offered to the public by the Vatican do not mention or in any clear way even insinuate an apostasy in the Church. We are warned about the dangers of Hell, of war, of martyrdom, and persecution, but nothing about an apostasy within Catholicism.

And yet, this is precisely what Cardinal Luigi Ciappi, theological adviser to five popes, wrote in a 1995 letter: “In the Third Secret it is predicted, among other things, that the great apostasy in the Church will begin at the top.

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand confirmed that she and her husband Dietrich had heard the same message in 1965 from the mouth of Monsignor Mario Boehm, a long-time editor of the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, when he claimed that the Third Secret had not been revealed on time (by 1960, as Our Lady requested) because of its “fearful” content. When asked what was so frightening about it, Msgr. Boehm replied, “infiltration of the Church to the very top”.

This is also what Fr. Gabriele Amorth says Saint (Padre) Pio told him about the Third Secret: “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.” Fr. Amorth went on to say, “Nothing of the sort (earthly chastisements) mattered to him (Padre Pio), 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.”

This is, oddly enough, also what two of the alleged “real Third Secret” documents that have emerged also claim. The first of these comes by way of an article in an October, 1963 edition of the German publication Neues Europawhich has been claimed by some to have contained the words of the “real Third Secret” interspersed amidst apocryphal text. It was this version that was alleged to have been decoded by Fr. Luigi Villa, another friend of Padre Pio, and which said, in part, “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.”

And then there is the version of the supposed “real Third Secret” brought to prominence in a new book by the Spanish journalist José María Zavala and claimed to have been confirmed by handwriting expert Begoña Slocker de Arce as having been written in in Sister Lucia’s own hand. In this version, the text begins immediately with the revelation: “Now I am going to reveal the third fragment of the secret: This part is the apostasy in the Church!” and goes on to describe a vision of a pope complicit with evil and a hideous Church infested with apostasy.

Apostasy in the Church. It is a theme that seems never to die down in relation to Fatima, the official text of the three secrets notwithstanding. And sadly, it is certainly apparent that apostasy in the Church is a real and present danger in 2017.

The Zavala text is the most recent of these examples, so I would like to turn to Marco Tosatti, who brought the Zavala book to our attention. I have already written about my concerns regarding the questionable origin of the Zavala text, despite claims that it was written by the hand of Sister Lucia. Some readers have questioned why we would have drawn attention to such a document at all.

The short answer? Because it was newsworthy, and a piece in a much larger puzzle.

With these same questions in mind, Maike Hickson reached out to Tosatti on my behalf to ask why he decided to write about this document and Zavala’s claims. Tosatti graciously returned a very thoughtful and thorough response that speaks more broadly of the issues surrounding the Fatima question than just the particulars of the Zavala text:

On Fatima, I do not assess anything about the document. But my policy is to give – without pretending to be a judge – all the possible elements of knowledge to my readers, even though I am skeptic. It was interesting to report the strength with which the experts spoke. Of course they defend their work; they may be wrong, and they did not have an original document [to work from in their analysis – Ed]. What we can say about all this story … is this: we cannot know for certain which kind of documents passed from sister Lucy to the Vatican. Maybe there was something written by Sister to explain her personal interpretation of the secret which has not been judged a REAL part of the secret; and so people who say that the whole secret was published might be technically correct, but certainly there are holes and missing points in the story, which have not been cleared — and may never be.

Loris Capovilla, secretary to [Pope] John XXIII, quoted the Pope as saying, after having read the Secret: “I do not give any judgment”, and Capovilla, in an interview given to the writer of these lines added: “Silence in front of something which might be a manifestation of the Divine, and might not be”. On this line of thought the secretary of John Paul II, now Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, when I asked him during a trip in Africa about Fatima, answered: “It s not always easy to understand what the Virgin says, and what sister Lucy says”.

After having said this, we must underline that there is a wide field for speculation, since the story is full of discrepancies and contradictions.

For instance. In 1957, Bishop João Pereira Venancio, charged to bring the secret to the Vatican Nuncio, talks of different envelopes; and having looked at the leaf inside the envelope, putting the envelope against a light, says that the message should be nearly 24 lines long. Now, the part we know of the Secret is certainly much longer. And again: for the first two parts of the secret we have a vision, and then an explication. For the third part we have only a vision. But there is somebody who thinks that the last words of the Virgin “In Portugal the faith dogma will always be preserved, etc.” are prelude to an explanation never known, or whose existence was never admitted officially. In 1952, Father Schweigl, S.J., coming back from Fatima, where he knew the Secret, said to a brother of the Russicum that it had two parts. One related to the Pope, and the other one to the faith. And Cardinal Loris Capovilla, secretary to John XXIII, talking to the Fatima expert Solideo Paolini, admitted that there were two documents (envelopes), without elaborating more clearly this statement. Then Solideo Paolini asked him:

“Then there are two texts of the Third Secret?” And Capovilla replied: “Precisely!”

At the same time we cannot pass over the fact that over the years, people who came into contact with the “Secret” dossier, or spoke with sister Lucy, said that there was a part related to a grave crisis in the Church and in the faith. So: I do not endorse the 2010 [Zavala/Slocker – Ed.] document, because I have not the tools to do so, or to say for certain that it is a fake. I see it as a part of a greater picture, which still presents many foggy spots….

What is not at all foggy about the Fatima message is its warning about Hell.

In a May 14 interview, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, talked about this theme with LifeSiteNews.

People who disregard Hell as a place “invented” by the Church to scare people into acting a certain way need to listen to the message from Our Lady of Fatima, said Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. She showed three shepherd children that Hell exists, and is not empty, he added.

“There are people who don’t want us to talk of Hell. But Hell is not something that was invented in the Vatican…”


Arinze said that for people to deny the existence of Hell so they can live as they please is like a university student deceiving himself into believing that there is no examination at the end of the year so he can forgo studying.

“If you do not want to study I promise you that you are going to fail the examination. It is no use saying there will be no exam. There will be. So people won’t solve the problem of Hell by saying that it frightens little children, or that they are shocked by it,” he said.

Arinze pointed out that it is Jesus Christ himself who confirms in the Gospels the reality of Hell as a place “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

“Christ himself said that. He spoke of those who would be thrown out into the exterior darkness. He spoke of those who would be punished for always. And Christ is the son of God. If anybody is merciful, it is he. So, if he said that to us, it is in our own interest to take it seriously,” he said.

But Arinze did not constrain himself only to the topic of eternal damnation. He then turned, as discussions of Fatima inevitably seem to do, to the issue of the Consecration of Russia:

Cardinal Arinze reflected on Our Lady’s request for the consecration of Russia, saying that if her request had been heeded, it would have spared the world much misery caused by Communism. 

“Communism means the denial of the existence of God, trying to build a system that does not take God into account. Not only that, but one that would positively and aggressively go against God the Creator and also the human person. Because once you deny God, you also damaged the human person, because our greatness depends on God,” he said.


“So those who know history, the number of people killed in one country after another, the world never had it so bad. Obviously then, the Blessed Virgin Mary wanted to save the world from all that. Isn’t that serious? When she mentioned Russia, isn’t that because that is the center where the problem began?” he added.

Arinze said that Our Lady’s message at Fatima is just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. People need to take her message “very seriously” of avoiding sin, praying, and of making reparation for sin. [emphasis added]

If apostasy in the Church and sin in the world are the problems, in the end, we return again, as we always do, to the central theme of Fatima — which is to say, the solution Our Lady has given us for these evils: prayer, penance, and reparation for sin.

If the Fatima message keeps these things ever before our eyes, one is hard pressed to see how it could ever be called a “distraction.”

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