On October 13, 2017 Angelus Press hosted a debate at their annual Conference in Kansas City. It was devoted to the question of whether there is more to the Third Secret of Fatima than the text published by the Vatican. Kevin J. Symonds argued that there is not another missing text, and Christopher Ferrara defended the theory that there is such a document.
In our 62-page booklet Fatima and the Third Secret, we gave a brief summary of the history of this controversy, which began days after the publication of the Secret on June 26, 2000. In that booklet we described how the theory of a missing document picked up momentum when Italian journalist Antonio Socci published a book defending the existence of this “Fourth Secret” – and then, in October of 2007, Italian Church historian Roberto de Mattei published in his journal Lepanto an essay responding to Antonio Socci, an article written by Brazilian Fatima scholar Antonio Borelli Machado, “Some Friendly Reflections for the Clarification of a Debate.”
More than two years later Christopher Ferrara wrote a lengthy reply to Antonio Borelli Machado that appeared on the web site of the Fatima Center of the late Father Nicholas Gruner. While trying to defend the existence of a “fourth secret,” Mr. Ferrara characterized Antonio Borelli Machado’s interpretation of the Third Secret as a mere repetition of the Second Secret. However, it was Sister Lúcia herself who had pointed to this relationship between the second and third parts of the Secret of Fatima, in her letter of May 12, 1982 to Pope John Paul II. In that letter Sister Lúcia described the third part of the Secret as referring back to and revealing the fulfillment of the prophecy in the second part, where Our Lady had warned that Russia would spread its errors throughout the world if Her requests were not heeded.
During the Angelus Press debate, Kevin Symonds spoke of Sister Lúcia’s letter as one of the indications of how the Third Secret was to be interpreted, after part of the letter was published by the Vatican in its documentation containing the Third Secret itself, The Message of Fatima. However, Christopher Ferrara characterized this kind of evidence as “vague,” and he has repeatedly called into question the authenticity of Sister Lucia’s letter, even as Kevin Symonds was pointing out that the Carmelites of Coimbra authenticated the letter in their 2013 biography of Sister Lúcia.
There is a reason for this rejection, by advocates of the fourth secret, of the authenticity of Sister Lúcia’s own interpretation of the Third Secret. While insisting that the Third Secret must be a description of the crisis in the Church, fourth secret advocates artificially separate the internal crisis within the Church from what Our Lady and Sister Lúcia had associated with the errors of Russia. Shortly after the debate between Kevin Symonds and Christopher Ferrara, The Remnant in its October 31, 2017 issue published an article by Jesse Russell, “The Fog of War and Fatima: A Review of A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.” Jesse Russell interprets the book by Paul Kengor as holding that “the message of Fatima was fulfilled by the collaborative efforts of John Paul II and Ronald Reagan to replace authoritarianism in Russia with American liberalism.” And in this context Dr. Russell offers the following hypothesis: “Under Vladimir Putin, Russia appears to be undergoing a revival in Orthodoxy and traditional values.” In other words, for Jesse Russell it is not merely the errors of Russia that represent the primary concern of the Church, but also the errors of what he calls “liberal democracy.”
These statements come after an initial one declaring, “Catholic traditionalists all agree that the third secret was not fully revealed and that the message of Fatima is not complete.” Such a generalized observation overlooks the fact that Roberto de Mattei had published Antonio Borelli Machado’s 2007 essay challenging Antonio Socci’s thesis. Unlike the analysis of Antonio Borelli Machado, that of Dr. Russell shifts the message of Fatima away from Our Lady’s reference to the errors of Russia to what he himself calls “American liberalism,” or what is now known as libertarianism, which he identifies not only with Ronald Reagan but also with John Paul II. This analysis by Jesse Russell is somewhat problematic, and one of the reasons is that the policies of Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan were not entirely identical. For John Paul II continued the policies of Pope Paul VI favoring Ostpolitik or Détente with the Communist governments, while President Reagan pursued a policy of military strength and deterrence. Also, as Cardinal Ratzinger indicated during the press conference in June 2000 – as was explained by Antonio Borelli Machado in his October 2016 interview – the Vatican postponed the publication of the Third Secret for forty years precisely because the Third Secret posed a problem with regard to this policy.
Our Lady appeared in Fatima in 1917, the year of the Communist revolution in Russia. This was during the First World War, which saw the overthrow of monarchies and the ascendency of the democracies. However, the rise of the totalitarian regimes of Communism, Nazism and Fascism during the twentieth century positioned democracy no longer as a challenge primarily to monarchy, but instead as a potential obstacle to the rise of totalitarianism. Whereas Communism, Nazism and Fascism are all totalitarian forms of government representing organized opposition to the Church, democracy is a neutral form of government that of itself is neither promoted nor condemned by the Church, but rather is morally judged by her according to whether it upholds or opposes the principles of the natural law. As totalitarianism was on the rise in the decades following Our Lady of Fatima’s warnings, the popes before, during, and immediately after the Second World War made efforts to guide Catholics toward working within democratic governments to defend the rights of the Church and Christian Civilization.
The tendency manifested in the article of Dr. Russell, on the other hand – and, along with him, in the theories of other advocates of the “fourth secret” – is to interpret contemporary history and the role of the Church as a battle not between what Dr. Russell calls “authoritarianism in Russia” and the Church, but between the Church and what is perceived to be “liberal (libertarian) democracy,” seen as the contemporary center of opposition to the Church. In such an interpretation of current history, Sister Lúcia’s May 1982 letter to John Paul II about the Third Secret and the errors of Russia is seen as a distraction from what advocates of the fourth secret perceive to be the primary threat facing the Church, both in its religious and political aspects. To understand this in greater detail, we turn to another recent response to the debate about the Third Secret.
Matthew Gaspers, the new editor of Catholic Family News after the death of John Vennari, writing in the November 2017 issue, states the following regarding the Angelus Press Conference in October: “Perhaps the most exciting event of the weekend was the debate between Christopher Ferrara and Kevin Symonds over the question, ‘Is the Third Secret Entirely Revealed.’” Mr. Gaspers, after providing some of the highlights of that debate, clearly take sides in his final paragraph describing aspects of the debate: “For my part, I stand with Mr. Ferrara . . . .” Already in the first of four points of the debate that he had highlighted, he hinted at his doubts about a key document cited by Kevin Symonds, Sister Lúcia’s May 1982 letter, which Mr. Gaspers refers to skeptically as “supposedly addressed to Pope John Paul II (no mention of him is found in the excised text).” This letter of Sister Lúcia is an obvious embarrassment to proponents of the fourth secret because the “errors of Russia” mentioned by Sister Lúcia in the letter do not fit into the arguments of the fourth secret theory. If the present threat to the Church is not “authoritarianism in Russia,” in the terms of The Remnant article by Jesse Russell, but in “liberal democracy,” as Dr. Russell suggests, Sister Lúcia’s insistence to Pope John Paul II about the ongoing threat of Russia’s errors seems irrelevant, for Dr. Russell proposes that the Pope and President Reagan had formed an alliance to promote the errors of American liberalism (libertarianism) instead. Therefore the authenticity of Sister Lúcia’s warning to Pope John Paul II about the errors of Russia is understandably called into question.
However, in the very same issue of Catholic Family News, Mr. Gaspers himself presents overwhelming evidence of precisely what the errors of Russia mean in the present historical crisis. The title of the article is “The End of Islam: Russia’s Future Role – Part II.” “To help set the tone,” he states in the first paragraph, “let’s return to the words of Our Lady of Fatima concerning the ‘errors’ of Russia.” He then continues in the next paragraph: “What are the ‘errors’ of Russia? I would argue that one of Russia’s gravest errors, which predates but harmonizes with Communism, is her rejection of the Catholic values of Western civilization.”
Mr. Gaspers has done extensive research on Islam, including its relation to Communism, and he follows the facts where they lead him in describing the present world crisis, precisely in light of the errors of Russia. The alliance between Communism and Islam, not only during the Soviet era but continuing into the post-Soviet era of Putin, is extensively described and documented in his article. He therefore provides historical context for interpreting Sister Lúcia’s May 1982 letter to Pope John Paul II, the same letter he had referred to with skepticism in his previously cited article. And he relates these political events to the Church herself, when he describes them as manifesting Russia’s “rejection of the Catholic values of Western civilization.”
However, while providing this religious and historical context for understanding what Our Lady Fatima meant by the errors of Russia, which Sister Lúcia explained in her May 1982 letter, Mr. Gaspers has also committed himself to defending the existence of a fourth secret, and to an interpretation of history associated with it. In short, is it the errors of Russia, or is it libertarian or “liberal democracy” – which Jesse Russell associates with President Ronald Reagan – that constitutes the contemporary threat to the Church? Even in his article Mr. Gaspers seems to be struggling with this ambiguity, for in the midst of his lengthy documentation of the alliance between Russia and Islamic totalitarianism, he inserts a paragraph on Zionism and the United States, followed by another paragraph that begins with the words, “Back to our discussion” – suggesting, in other words, that American democracy and Zionism needed to be brought into an analysis of the errors of Russia, but as a somewhat artificial insertion, without a sufficiently clear analysis of what the ultimate role of these various political forces might be, above all in relation to the message of Fatima.
While Kevin Symonds insisted upon the authenticity of Sister Lúcia’s May 1982 letter to John Paul II, citing the Carmelites of Coimbra as confirming its authenticity, Christopher Ferrara, and Matthew Gaspers who now supports him, appear to flee from this document as a fundamental obstacle to the theory of a fourth secret. Not only did Sister Lúcia explain that the Third Secret was about the errors of Russia, but also in that letter she described the Secret as a “symbolic revelation” – clearly referring to the vision described in the Secret, and not to another interpretation of the Secret that proponents of a fourth secret define as the essence of an alleged missing document.
What became evident in the October 13 debate between Kevin Symonds and Christopher Ferrara was that one cannot dismiss the entire contents of the Vatican’s document The Message of Fatima, simply because of disagreements about certain elements of its interpretation of Fatima. The Vatican in June 2000 had possession of the text of the Third Secret and of related documents. By publishing these texts of fundamental importance, the Vatican still left the door open to further study and discussion about the interpretation of the Third Secret. But proponents of a “fourth secret” have turned their attention away from this documentation toward a new interpretation of Fatima, one based not on all the words of Our Lady in the Second Secret, and Sister Lúcia’s application of Our Lady’s words to the Third Secret, but instead on a new religious and political interpretation of Fatima. It is an interpretation which, while partly that of Our Lady Herself and the seers of Fatima, is also partly an invention of the proponents of the fourth secret themselves – for it is no longer about the errors of Russia primarily, but about the errors of other nations, such as the United States and Israel, selected for political as well as religious reasons, and without an adequate explanation of how this might be related to what was revealed by Our Lady of Fatima.
how the false theory of a “fourth secret,” or an alleged missing part of the Third Secret, has turned attention away from Sister Lucia’s interpretation of the Third Secret in a letter to Pope John Paul II – her explaining that the Third Secret describes the fulfillment of Our Lady’s prophecy in the Second Secret, that Russia would spread its errors throughout the world
by Juan Donoso Cortés
demonstrating how every political question
is ultimately a relgious or theological question