Our Lady of Fatima’s reference to both the errors of Russia and the dogma of the Faith in Portugal – as explained in the previous chapter – does not involve a separation of the Second and Third Secrets, as proponents of a “fourth secret” have advocated. Rather, as Sister Lúcia explained to Pope John Paul II in May of 1982, the Third Secret refers back to the Second Secret, as a fulfillment of its prophecy about Russia.
The spreading of the errors of Russia represents an attack on the dogma of the Faith. This assault on the Faith includes an attack by hostile governments, but it also points within the Church to the duty of Catholics themselves to heed the requests of Our Lady of Fatima. We are obliged to pray and do penance, and if we fail in this duty our faith is compromised and weakened.
A significant aspect of the loss of faith among Catholics was illustrated recently by previously quoted Msgr. Owen F. Campion of Our Sunday Visitor, when he attempted to assign blame within the Church for the election of Catholic politicians who fail to uphold Catholic moral teaching. In a more recent article he referred to the large numbers of Catholics in the United States who have left the Church. Another significant example is that of the Catholic countries of Latin America, demonstrating more clearly the nature of the present crisis of Faith. The defection of many Latin American Catholics to Protestantism has coincided with the promotion by much of the clergy of so-called Liberation Theology. Presented as a manifestation of concern for the poor, Liberation Theology has brought priests and bishops into the realm of politics, the proper domain of the laity, while depriving the laity of the proper spiritual guidance that they normally expect to receive from their bishops and priests. In his article Msgr. Campion does not address this political involvement of the clergy, whether in the United States, Latin America or elsewhere, as a cause of the loss of faith of many former Catholics.
Foreseeing these defections from the Catholic Church, Our Lady of Fatima identified the present crisis of the Faith with the spreading of the errors of Russia. What history teaches about these specific errors concerns two in particular: 1) the subordination of the Church to the State, and 2) the violation of the seventh commandment by socialism and Communism, the denial of private property through government confiscation and control of the property of the citizens.
The twentieth-century Popes prior to the Second Vatican Council saw these errors that were threatening the Church and modern society, and they organized the laity through Catholic Action in order to resist them. During this period of Church history, the teaching of the Church clearly defined the role of the layman, that of working to defend what Pope St. Pius X in his encyclical on Catholic Action, Il fermo proposito, called “Christian civilization.” At the same time the Church’s laws forbade priests and religious under strict penalties from engaging in business activities. A clear distinction was therefore made between the respective roles of the priest, the religious and the layman, while at the same time the Church emphasized lay collaboration with the hierarchy in the apostolate of the Church.
When the Third Secret was published on June 26, 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, held a press conference in which he indicated a change that had taken place within the Church in this response to the errors of Russia. His Eminence was asked by one of the reporters why Rome had waited so long to make the Third Secret public. Cardinal Ratzinger replied by explaining that in 1960, the time of the expected publication of the Secret, preparations were being made for the Second Vatican Council. There was a move, he further explained, for an opening of the Church to the contemporary world, and for establishing more favorable relations with Communist governments. Since the Third Secret seemed to represent a perspective different from these plans for the Council, the Secret was not published in 1960.
Insofar as this new orientation differed from that of the Church prior to the Council, it is important to examine a very fundamental point in this change. In chapter four mention was made of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s work The Freedom of the Church in the Communist State, which had been distributed to all the bishops at the Council. This work showed the diametrical opposition of Communism to Catholicism, because of Communism’s rejection of the seventh commandment through government control of all of a nation’s wealth, denying private property.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent went into extensive detail in explaining many of the different ways in which the seventh commandment is violated – how those who break this commandment unjustly deprive others of their property. Sister Lúcia herself followed an identical approach in the explanation of the seventh commandment in her book “Calls” from the Message of Fatima.
Reflecting the new orientation mentioned by Cardinal Ratzinger in the June 2000 press conference, the new Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the role of government in the distribution of property. But warning of the danger of abusing such a role on the part of modern governments was Juan Donoso Cortés, in his 1851 Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism. Juan Donoso Cortés had explained how modern liberalism assaulted the rights of the Church and of the family in the ownership of property, and limited this right to the individual and the state. With socialism this development is taken a step further, as governments take control of all property, increasing thereby their power over the Church, over families, and over all institutions within society. In the face of these errors, it is important to consider how the analysis of Donoso Cortés reflects the traditional mind of the Church, and how this is manifested in turn in the Third Secret of Fatima.
That government has a role in the distribution of wealth, the principle taught in the new Catechism, has always been the teaching of the Church, derived from the mandate of Our Lord to “render to Caesar.” However, this authority is often and at times aggressively misused by those in positions of political authority. The Catechism of the Council of Trent refers to one such abuse when mentioning bribes that are accepted by judges, whereby they enrich themselves and others instead of using their authority for the common good. St. Augustine illustrates this in The City of God, by citing the case of a pirate apprehended for his piracy, who then responds by explaining that theft is committed by the emperor himself, who steals possessions from the whole empire – far more, the pirate argued, than what he, the pirate, had stolen.
The above mentioned opening up to the modern world, including to the Communist governments which represent the ultimate abuse of political authority, marked the decades of the Church after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Historian Eric O. Hanson describes how this trend brought a reaction from within the Church, and he selected two prominent figures as representing this reaction – the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and Brazilian layman Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Prof. Hanson does not treat these two recent historical figures in isolation, but within the context of the religious traditions of their two nations, France and Brazil. They represented the ways in which these Catholic countries had served the universal Church – France through its leading role in the work of its clergy in the foreign missions, and Brazil in what Prof. Hanson describes as “Latin-American neo-Christendom,” the ideal of a social order inspired by the doctrine of the Church. Furthermore, both reactions represented opposition to the errors of Russia mentioned by Our Lady of Fatima, which can be seen in both a false ecumenism and in collaboration with political forces hostile to the Church.
The Catholic Church’s relationship with other Christian religions was always marked in the past by the Church’s desire to restore Christian unity, by returning non-Catholics to the unity of the Catholic Church. This manifested itself also in the Church’s relationship with governments, and in particular with that of Russia. When Czar Alexander I in the early nineteenth century was advocating religious and political collaboration between Catholic Austria, Orthodox Russia and Protestant Prussia, Pope Pius VII warned Austria against collaboration with schismatics and heretics. This was a clear indication from the Church that Catholic statesmen must not compromise the truths of the Catholic Faith. As the Greek Orthodox were confronted with Moslem persecution at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in the 1820s and appealed to Orthodox Russia for help, Russia’s support for Greece received help in turn from France, but not from Catholic Austria, nor from the Holy See, for fear that Russian persecution of Catholics might be worse than persecution from the Sultan. As a defense of Christian Europe, however, Russia’s response in the face Moslem domination might be interpreted as a foreshadowing of the final conversion of Russia foretold by Our Lady of Fatima. But before this was to happen, Russia became the victim of the Communist Revolution of 1917, and as a result Russia for decades served not as a defender of Christian Europe, but as the leader of a world revolution against the Church, a role foreseen in the nineteenth century by the previously quoted Juan Donoso Cortés.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s position in the world entered a new phase. However, at the present time, a quarter of a century later, Archbishop Sviatoslav of Kiev, speaking as the representative of the Ukrainian bishops, critically analyzed the political motivation of Russian Orthodoxy, when the Patriarch of Moscow signed an agreement with Pope Francis in Cuba. In an interview shortly afterwards the Ukrainian archbishop indicated that the Moscow Patriarch “openly supports the aggression of Russia against Ukraine,” while, on the opposite side, “Churches and religious organizations in Ukraine never supported the war.” His Beatitude Sviatoslaw describes Ukrainian Catholics as seeking the welfare of Ukraine while at the same time desiring peace, whereas the Russians committed acts of aggression against Ukraine.
Furthermore, Russia dominates the Greeks and the other Orthodox because of its size, and it dramatically reflected religious division among the Orthodox when it declined to participate in the recent Orthodox Council on the Island of Crete, due to rivalry with the Greeks over the question of primacy. Insofar as the Orthodox fail to recognize the primacy of Rome, national and therefore political divisions define their religious affiliations, instead of allowing them to benefit from the supernatural unity that comes from the Catholic Church. In the nineteenth century the Russian convert Vladimir Solovyev, even before his conversion to the Catholic Faith, refuted a Russian Orthodox theory aimed at seeking a primacy outside of Rome, that of making Jerusalem the center of Christendom. It was a proposal, Solovyev argued, that had no foundation in Christian tradition.
In the meantime, Russia’s political role in the present world crisis is manifested not only in Ukraine but also in the Syrian civil war. Whereas many Syrian Catholics were supportive of their government before the present conflict, and therefore have seen a positive significance in Russian military involvement, Catholics in neighboring Lebanon have viewed the Syrian government as a threat to their own country, because of Syria’s alliance with the Moslems in Iran, and its support for militant Moslems within Lebanon. Catholics throughout the world do not yet have a united consensus about the role of Russia in the present Syrian crisis. Our Lady of Fatima’s words about Russia continue therefore to manifest their prophetic significance, but the interpretation of Her prophecy still awaits the moment when the world will arrive at a complete understanding of its meaning. Sister Lucia’s May 1982 letter to Pope John Paul II, describing the Third Secret as the spreading of the errors of Russia, remains the explanation that must guide the Catholic interpretation of Fatima and the Third Secret.
Fatima and the Third Secret: A Historical Examination based on a Letter of Sister Lúcia & the Carmelite Biography (Series 1-4), 2016, 30 pages / pamphlet $8. #57221