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In his well known book on the Third Secret, Fatima archivist Father Alonso indicated very clearly – at the time when he wrote, still prior to the publication of the Secret – that the exact day of Our Lady’s apparition to Sister Lúcia in January of 1944 was unknown.* Other sources, however, gave an approximate date based on the testimony of Mother Cunha Matos. That hypothetical date was January 2. But after the publication of the Secret, and later the publication of the Carmelite biography of Sister Lúcia, it became known that Sister Lúcia herself had indicated, in the text of the Secret itself and in her diary, that it was on January 3 that Our Lady appeared to her and that she wrote the Third Secret.
This discrepancy of one day has recently given rise to yet another theory by proponents of a “fourth secret” – that there was not one January apparition but two, on both January 2 and January 3, and from two apparitions came two separate documents. However, based upon Father Alonso’s statement that the exact date was unknown, previous speculation about January 2 could only be considered hypothetical, and after the publication of Sister Lúcia’s own statements the hypothesis of January 2 gave way to the reality of January 3 instead. For the proponents of the fourth secret, on the other hand, it was the theory that guided the interpretation of the facts, so that the former hypothesis of January 2 became itself a “fact,” added to the known facts revealed in Sister Lúcia’s texts regarding the January 3 date.
There is another and equally important reason behind this reluctance of the defenders of an alleged missing document to abandon the theory, even in the face of growing evidence against it. If the Third Secret is about the errors of Russia, as Sister Lúcia explained to Pope John Paul II in 1982, proponents of a missing document are not likely to accept or even understand what Sister Lúcia explained if they do not understand what Our Lady Herself meant by the errors of Russia. The same author who launched the theory of two January apparitions also wrote a book touching on the recent history of Russia, in which arguments were advanced to portray the Western democracies rather than Russia as the focal point of the contemporary crisis threatening the Church and the world.
Behind this historical perspective of the above cited author, motivating the continued promotion of the theory of a missing document of the Third Secret, there is a specific interpretation of the history of the Church in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Outstanding among the documented histories of Fatima is the famous three-volume work by the French author Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité. Students of Fatima are very indebted to Frère Michel’s research, but they are also confronted with the author’s political perspective brought to play in the interpretation of Fatima. The Second World War, as shown in the previous article in the present series, found Catholics and members of the hierarchy on both sides giving different interpretations and applications of how the message of Fatima applied to the events of the conflict. Influenced by one such interpretation, Frère Michel is understandably critical of the manner in which England and the United States carried out their alliance with Soviet Russia to defeat Nazi Germany. Not limiting himself to criticizing the errors of the Allies, however, he also questions the wisdom of a radio address that Pope Pius XII gave in 1944, concerning the role of the Church in relation to the democracies.
What is not sufficiently clear in Frère Michel’s analysis is that Pius XII was not exalting democracy above other legitimate forms of government, but seeking instead to Christianize the existing democracies of the time, just as the Church had Christianized the monarchies of the past, for the purpose of defending Christian Civilization. A body of doctrine was developed by St. Pius X, and Popes Benedict XV, Pius XI and Pius XII, under the name “Catholic Action,” to show how the laity within the Church were to be mobilized in the defense of the Church and a Christian political order.
Among the Catholics of France, however, suspicions arose during the pontificates of Pius XI and Pius XII, which involved not only their judgments relating to political affairs, but also their understanding of the papal role in formulating and guiding Catholic Action. Frère Michel received training in the religious life from the Abbé Georges de Nantes, a priest well known for his political views and his suspicion of democracy. He was part of a French school of political thought that was influencing traditionally minded Catholics in other countries, an evolving perception of political events which, more and more, would see not Russia, but Western democracy, as the primary danger to the Church.
While this school of thought was developing, a different perspective arose in South America under the leadership of the Brazilian layman Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. His 1943 work In Defense of Catholic Action not only explained the doctrine of the Popes in a way that showed its continuity with all of Catholic Tradition, but also made the specific applications to the moral and political crisis of the twentieth century. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, in a manner consistent with a consensus among theologians and canonists, saw Catholic Action as the Church’s answer to the emerging totalitarianism, as a moral and religious response that also had political consequences.
In the midst of these separate perspectives on two continents, led from France and Brazil respectively, a common consensus about the fundamental importance of Fatima, to help guide the Church through the present crisis, began to form throughout the Catholic world among those adhering to these two schools of thought. Both perspectives converged in the 1960s in their agreement about the threat of Russian Communism. While differing in their judgments about how to mobilize Catholics worldwide, and in their understanding of various national and political movements, they were able nevertheless to come together to form a common consensus regarding certain Catholic principles on which to act. This unity of action began to form during the first session of the Second Vatican Council in 1962.
While the Popes of the modern period prior to the Council were expressing their concerns about the threat to the Church posed by the modern secular State, a debate began, already in the Preparatory Commission prior to the Council, about the Church’s understanding of the relationship between the Church and modern governments. The traditional doctrine had emphasized that in Catholic countries the State should recognize the Catholic Church as the true Religion. The newer theological opinion, on the other hand, focused on a concept of the rights of conscience and the religious liberty of the individual citizen. From this debate the following question arose: If the State no longer recognizes the authority of the Church, what will be the resulting attitude of governments toward the Church, her authority and her rights? Among those who were warning of the dangers of the secular State were the voices of a layman, and of bishops themselves, who expressed their common concerns during the Council.
The lay voice was that of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. To explain the moral dangers that he saw as a layman, he wrote The Freedom of the Church in the Communist State, a book-length essay that was distributed to all the bishops at the Council. He argued that the Church can never co-exist with Communism, even when the Communist State would offer the Church a certain freedom of worship. For the Church, he argued, must preach not only the theological virtues, but also the moral virtues, which include the virtue of justice and the right of private property, upheld by the seventh and tenth commandments. Communism, on the other hand, determined to abolish all private property, is in total opposition to the Church’s teaching with regard to these commandments of the Decalogue.
The second warning against any abandonment of the traditional doctrine of the Church came from a group of bishops within the Council, led by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Central to their argument was the fact that Blessed Pius IX had condemned in Quanta Cura the proposition that religious liberty must be the norm, and that it can only be limited when the public order requires it.
The proposition affirmed by the Council seemed to be saying the same thing, word for word, that Pius IX had condemned. Years later, with the publication of Catechism of the Catholic Church, this conflict between the pre-Conciliar and post-Conciliar teaching was partially addressed with the explanation that what Pius IX condemned, by the term “public peace,” was a naturalistic notion of society completely separate from the influence of religion, whereas the Council understood “public order” as having broader social significance to include the role of the Church. The Church, in other words, is free to carry out her mission to influence society. But a question still remained regarding how this principle was to be applied.
In the fourth century, when the emperor Theodosius ordered the killing of seven thousand inhabitants of Thessalonica, St. Ambrose of Milan reacted by proclaiming Theodosius excommunicated. Theodosius promptly learned his lesson and repented, and was readmitted to Communion. Today, more than sixteen centuries later, an analogous situation prevails when various Catholic politicians and judges support the killing of untold numbers of unborn babies, by enacting and enforcing laws that approve of abortion, and often even financing the procedure.
In the face of this abuse of political authority by certain nominal Catholics, Bishop Raymond Leo Burke, the former bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, later archbishop of St. Louis, and finally Cardinal of the Roman Curia and of the Knights of Malta, published two pastoral letters on the duties of Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials. In the meantime he insisted that Catholic politicians who oppose Catholic moral teaching cannot receive Communion, thereby giving an example of the episcopal leadership manifested centuries before by St. Ambrose. Various other bishops, however, have countered Cardinal Burke’s action, making the consciences of these politicians the norm of their behavior rather than the authoritative judgment of the hierarchy of the Church.
It is the modern totalitarian State, epitomized and brought to power by the Communist Revolution in Russia, that spread such errors throughout the world, claiming for the secularized State an absolute power over the life and death of its citizens. The leadership of Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke is a manifestation of the steadfastness of the Church in the face of such claims of the secular State, and of the moral obligation of Catholics in public life to uphold the Church’s teaching, lest the very sanctity of the Church and of her Sacraments be compromised, and in order that the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ might be extended over all of human society.
While Western democracies in recent decades have allowed these errors to spread within their own societies, it would be another error itself to assume that Russia has in some way already converted. When Pope Francis met with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch in Cuba and signed a joint declaration, the Major Archbishop of Kiev on behalf of the Catholics of Ukraine appropriately responded by warning fellow Catholics that Russian aggression has not ended in Catholic Ukraine, and by questioning whether the recent Russian military action in Syria truly merited the title of “holy war” claimed for it by Russian Orthodox bishops. The fact that other nations have joined Russia in spreading its errors does not mean that Russia itself has ceased from exercising its leading role, but, on the contrary, that it has been successful in promoting its errors worldwide, bringing wars and persecution of the Church as Our Lady foretold.
* 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
** Father Joaquin Maria Alonso, CMF, The Secret of Fatima: Fact and Legend (Cambridge: The Ravengate Press, 1979), p. 41
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