Behind the mistaken notion of a “fourth secret” of Fatima, there is the implied separation of two expressions used by Our Lady in the Second Secret: the “errors of Russia” on one hand, and the “dogma of the Faith” on the other. The “errors of Russia” are wrongly understood as representing merely a political phenomenon, while “dogma” is seen as a reference to purely Church-related considerations, and specifically to events involving the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical changes that followed it.
In reality, however, these two expressions of Our Lady manifest two aspects of a single prophecy involving both the Church and the world together. Our Lady’s reference to the dogma of the Faith mentioned a particular country, Portugal, and the errors of Russia refer to yet another country. Our Lady was not implying that Russia was the embodiment of all that is evil, while Portugal alone represented the Church’s resistance to this evil. Pope Leo XIII taught that “no people is altogether without worth” (Exeunte Jam Anno, Dec. 25, 1888). And Pope Pius XII referred to Russia as “an immense people…renowned in history…for piety toward God and the Virgin Mary” (Apostolic Letter Carissimis Russiae Populis, July 7, 1952). What Our Lady was indicating, rather, was that all nations do not play identical roles in fulfilling Our Lord’s command to His Apostles, to preach the Gospel to all nations. Therefore, to understand the message of Fatima, we must reflect on what Our Lady was revealing about the history of the Church in the modern world.
Possibly the very first public launching of the theory later called the “fourth secret” was a monthly circular letter of the controversial Bishop Richard Williamson, formerly a member of the Society of St. Pius X, but now acting independently of that priestly society. Writing on July 4, 2000, from the German seminary where Bishop Williamson gave his provocative interview about Nazi Germany eight years later, he used the argument that the Secret was written on a single sheet of paper, whereas the published text was a different document because it had four separate pages – an argument that was disproved when Cardinal Bertone appeared on Italian television in May of 2007 showing the original text, a single folded sheet with four sides.
Underlying Bishop Williamson’s argument, however, was the assumption that the Secret had to speak specifically about the present crisis in the Church. What Our Lady revealed in the Secret, however, concerned the Church and society together, or the nations of the world, because it is in human society itself that the Church fulfills her mission as she labors to convert the nations. In the Third Secret Vision the Church is under attack. Why is the Church opposed, and in what manner have governments turned against her?
In the Catholic society of medieval Europe, Church and State were firmly united, with the Church increasingly gaining respect as her authority within society was more and more recognized in society’s laws and in its institutions. This harmony between the Church and the State was later challenged by Protestantism in the sixteenth century, with the Holy Roman Empire in Germany becoming divided by the Lutheran revolt, with England becoming officially Protestant, and with France’s unity being threatened by Protestant minorities. Spain and Portugal, on the other hand, preserved their Catholic unity, and after the discovery of America a new development was taking place in the relationship between the Church and temporal society. When English colonies in North America declared their independence, Catholics in the state of Maryland supported their new nation because it provided them with religious freedom denied to them by the Protestant Church of England.
This historical move toward independence among the nations of the Americas has been interpreted in a purely negative manner by the previously mentioned Bishop Williamson, who sees it as a work of Freemasonry. The secret societies, however, were not active merely in North America, but also in the mother counties of Europe. It was the French Revolution, not the American war of independence, that brought persecution of the Church. The Napoleonic wars that immediately followed led to the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by Napoleon, and as a result the royal family of Portugal went to Brazil. When the royal family returned to Portugal in 1821, the son of the king of Portugal remained in Brazil as Pedro I, the first of two emperors of Brazil, making Brazil itself an independent nation, under a monarchy from 1822 until 1889. In the meantime when the Spanish colonies in the New World claimed their independence from Spain, the Holy See, working through the papal nunciature in Rio de Janeiro – since Brazil had led the way as a South American nation in being recognized by Rome – gradually established diplomatic ties with the new Spanish American countries.
The move toward independence on the part of new nations cannot be reduced to a simple formula, for circumstances vary in different parts of the world. But a central question in all the modern political debate concerned the relationship between authority and freedom. Juan Donoso Cortés showed in Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism that the proper equilibrium between freedom and authority can only be provided by Catholic dogma. During the Second World War the totalitarian regimes of Communism, Nazism and Fascism, representing the ultimate abuse of government authority, have been seen in contrast with secular western democracies, viewed at times as embodiments of false liberty or libertarianism. However, the errors of Russia referred to by Our Lady of Fatima were manifested most aggressively in the totalitarian regimes. During World War II, as in the First World War that preceded it, Europe became an immense battlefield – and France, Eldest Daughter of the Church, was invaded by the totalitarian forces of Nazism. During this time, in 1942, a Eucharistic Congress was held in Brazil, and Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, as a leader of Catholic Action in the country, was called upon to speak to those attending. In his address he recalled the famous adage which states that God works through the French – Gesta Dei per francos. He then added that if Brazil lived up to its role as a Catholic country, it would come to be said also of that nation: Gesta Dei per brasilienses. He himself measured up to that role in his 1943 book on Catholic Action, when he wrote that while “liberalism was an evil,” it is also true that “totalitarianism is a catastrophe.” He was calling attention to the fact that the Communist errors in Russia, and with them Nazism and Fascism, represented the central threat that was menacing the contemporary world and ultimately the Church herself, and that totalitarianism is never the answer to a false concept of liberty, known as liberalism.
The temptation today, seven decades later, is one of assuming that after the political collapse of the Soviet Union, the errors of Russia are now a phenomenon of the past. To reach such a conclusion is to ignore history, and above all it is to ignore the implications of the message of Fatima. Russia posed a problem for Christendom because historically it aligned itself with the Greek Orthodox schism and therefore joined in the separation from Rome. This had consequences for Russia not only religiously, but also socially and politically. The Orthodox never completely abandoned the pagan Roman ideal of State superiority over religion and the Church. Religious and political developments in Western Europe, on the other hand, increasingly developed a more profound doctrinal and legal definition of the respective roles of Church and State, and of the rights and duties of the faithful as members of both spiritual and civil society. The West gradually replaced purely Roman and tribal laws with statutes and customs that manifested more profoundly the principles of ecclesiastical and civil law guided by the Catholic Church.
In both Western Europe and its colonies, Catholic principles of international law continued to be articulated by the Church’s theologians, when the discovery of new lands raised questions about pagan nations and how they were to be treated in anticipation of their conversion, how relations between the European nations themselves were to be governed, and how the Church was to carry on relations with governments having non-Catholic populations that did not recognize the authority of Rome.
Russia was involved only as an outsider to these developments, led by a legal tradition different from that of the West – one lacking a full recognition of the Church as having an authority higher than that of the State, and not having the West’s understanding of the relationship between authority and freedom within civil society itself. There were times when Russia could join forces with the West, such as in the defense of legitimate authority after the Revolution in France had overthrown the monarchy. But its role could never be fully receptive to Catholic influences over society, since it did not recognize the authority of the Catholic Church, nor give full freedom to the practice of the Faith by members of the Church.
Whereas Russia had separated from the Catholic Church by its identification with the Eastern schism, the revival of ancient culture during the Renaissance became the occasion for governments in the West to challenge the Church’s authority through the gradual secularization of its political institutions. However, in the face of this revolt, the laws and institutions that the Church’s influence had brought to Western societies left the Church as a force within society that not even governments could fully overpower. The Church summoned and mobilized a militant Catholic laity, under the guidance of the popes and the hierarchy, that allowed the Church to influence Western nations even in the face of persecutions.
The form that this took with the rise of totalitarian governments was mentioned in the previous chapter. The popes called it Catholic Action, to distinguish it from the term previously used, action of Catholics, insofar as it was not merely the private initiative of Catholic laity, nor even the organization of Catholic political parties, but the action of the laity in union with the hierarchy – working at times outside the strictly political realm, but influencing politics according to the guiding principle of Pope St. Pius X, that of restoring all things in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Something changed, however, in the 1960s, the decade of the Second Vatican Council. Lay Italian Church historian Roberto de Mattei points out in his history of the Council that from 1963 to 1979 enrollment in Catholic Action in Italy declined from 3,600,000 to a mere eight hundred thousand. Catholics not only in Italy but throughout the world ceased to be as organized under the hierarchy as they had been in previous decades. How and why did this come about?
In the previous chapter we mentioned the case of Catholic politicians who depart from Catholic teaching in their political offices, and the failure of many bishops to follow the example of Raymond Cardinal Burke, who continually insisted that such politicians cannot receive Communion as long as they persist in ignoring Catholic teaching. This has prompted many of the laity to ask why the bishops are not providing appropriate moral leadership. A recent article  by the associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, Msgr. Owen F. Campion, blames Catholics in general – implying thereby the laity – by arguing that it is they who elect dissident Catholic politicians. However, it is the bishops who were given the mandate by Our Lord to teach, govern and sanctify the faithful. If certain Catholic politicians violate Catholic teaching in public office, and if it is the laity who vote them into office, it is members of the hierarchy who have allowed this to happen and even encouraged it, when they permit such politicians to receive Communion while not adhering to Catholic teaching. Such bishops fail to uphold the “dogma of the Faith” mentioned by Our Lady of Fatima, thereby allowing the errors of Russia to spread, and the Faith itself, which Our Lady promised would be preserved in Portugal, to be compromised throughout many nations of the world.
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