When President Donald Trump announced in December of 2017 that he would move the American embassy to Jerusalem, he met with opposition from both religious and political leaders throughout the world. For us as Catholics, Jerusalem and the Holy Land are significant in Church history not primarily for political reasons – they represent places of pilgrimage to the holy places, and ultimately they are related to the Church herself as the Mystical Body of Christ. For the Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches that “the great city of Jerusalem…in Scripture often means the Church.” The Jews and the Moslems, on the other hand, are not guided by Catholic teaching about the Church, and make conflicting claims to Jerusalem, each group tending to see the city as being exclusively its own.
President Trump’s treatment of the question of Jerusalem, as well as the reactions to his decision, must therefore be understood in the light of the history of the Church’s attitude toward the Holy Land. An example of the negative responses to the president’s decision came from an article in Catholic Family News, which characterized the historical alliance between the State of Israel and the United States as a “wound” on the United States and its history. Negative reactions of this kind are generally based upon the assumption that President Trump acted in violation of international law. However, the history of the Church’s treatment of international law with regard to Jerusalem clearly allows for the role that the United States has played in the recent history of the Holy Land.
It is necessary first of all to consider the full history of the Holy See’s position. After the First World War, with the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a British mandate in the region, Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI upheld Catholic supremacy over the holy places, for Our Lord established only one religion and one true Church. Then, after the Second World War and the establishment of a Jewish state, Pope Pius XII favored the internationalization of Jerusalem proposed by the United Nations, as a political solution compatible with the Catholic Church’s right to the holy places. By the 1960s, however, after the Second Vatican Council, the Vatican abandoned previous papal policy of Catholic supremacy, and adopted a new policy that would give Jews and Moslems, along with Christians, equal status with regard to Jerusalem. At the same time, faced with the failure of the United Nations to implement or enforce international political status for Jerusalem, the Vatican began to acknowledge that Western nations which had historical ties to the Holy Land would have to provide leadership for achieving a political solution, namely, Italy, France, Spain, Britain and the United States. And in the absence of significant leadership on the part of the other nations, the United States emerged as the primary nation involved in peace negotiations.
For these reasons, President Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem did not violate international law, to the extent that the Vatican had recognized the leadership role of the United States in negotiating a settlement, and President Trump explained that his decision did not determine the final international status of the city. However, in more recent years the Vatican has moved away from a former acknowledgement of the historical roles of individual nations, and instead toward an emphasis on the United Nations alone as the central authority in international affairs.
It is in this context that columnist Msgr. Owen F. Campion (“Capital Offense,” Our Sunday Visitor, January 7, 2018) criticizes the decision of the Trump administration regarding Jerusalem, and he mentions in this context the decision of Pope John Paul II who, after the Vatican had established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1993, located the Vatican embassy in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. The implication of Msgr. Campion’s observation is that the pope made the right decision, whereas the president did not act appropriately when implementing a decision of the U.S. Congress made in 1995. However, the two decisions are unrelated, for the Vatican does not claim jurisdiction in international law for the decisions made by other governments in the location of their embassies. The argument of the Trump administration is that this is a decision that is left to the jurisdiction of each country. Also, the decision of the Holy See itself was not a doctrinal one, intended to define divine positive law regarding Jerusalem, but rather was a prudential judgment following from its current diplomatic policies.
During the pontificates of Benedict XV and Pius XI after the First World War, the Holy See viewed the Holy Land from the perspective of Catholic supremacy, which was related to a subsequent encyclical of Pope Pius XII on the Church, defining the Catholic Church as the sole realization on earth of the Mystical Body of Christ. Departing from this papal tradition after the Second Vatican Council, members of the hierarchy of the Church began to consider the three religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam as having equal rights to Jerusalem. This was a new orientation in Vatican policy, differing from that of the pre-Vatican II popes, and was based upon the primarily pastoral rather than dogmatic nature of the Second Vatican Council.
Debates at the Council that had an effect on the questions relating to the Holy Land began with a proposed schema that related specifically to the Jews. However, bishops from Moslem countries expressed concern that such a document on the Jews would provoke a reaction among the Moslems, leading to hostile action against Christians. Those debates then gave rise to the decree Nostra Aetate, treating non-Christian religions in general and both Judaism and Islam in particular. Seeking common ground between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the Council Fathers paved the way for a Vatican policy in the Holy Land based upon interfaith dialogue, rather than on a comprehensive statement of Catholic doctrine relating to Jerusalem.
St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews had taught that Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified not in Jerusalem itself but “outside the gate,” and then he added: “Let us therefore go to Him outside the camp…for here we have no permanent city, for we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:12-14). Catholic doctrine, as affirmed in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, sees Jerusalem as a symbol of the spiritual city, the Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Jews and Moslems, on the other hand, see Jerusalem in political terms, each group aspiring to make the city its capital, giving rise therefore to a political and military conflict that has not been resolved, in the seven decades since the United Nations called for granting parallel rights to both Jews and Palestinians living in the Holy Land.
The religious role of the hierarchy of the Church, and the respective political roles of both the United Nations and the United States, are therefore central to understanding the present debate about the status of Jerusalem, following the decision of President Trump to move the American embassy. In 1851, nearly a hundred years before the establishment of a Jewish state of Israel in the Holy Land, Spanish statesman Juan Donoso Cortés began his Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism with a chapter on the relationship between politics and religion, explaining why every political question is ultimately a theological question. As Donoso Cortés explained, human society is founded on the institution of the family, and only on this foundation can the nation be built, and only lastly the international community. For human society to exist in this manner, there must be a proper equilibrium between local authority and national and international solidarity, and this equilibrium between them can only be provided by Catholic dogma, and ultimately therefore by the action of God Himself.
Understood in this context, the question of the Holy Land can only be resolved on the basis of Catholic doctrine, and therefore Divine Revelation. In the seventy-year history of United Nations resolutions regarding the Holy Land, it is not this international body alone but the roles of religious leaders, on one hand, and individual nations, on the other hand, that have exercised important influence in the region. However, whereas Donoso Cortés had explained the indispensable role of Catholic dogma, and the popes immediately after World War I had emphasized Catholic supremacy in the Holy Land, the emphasis after the Second Vatican Council on interfaith dialogue and the role of the United Nations affected Catholic attitudes toward the Holy Land differently. The role of the Catholic Faith itself came to be de-emphasized, in favor of equal status for Jews and Moslems, and a majority vote in the United Nations was seen as excluding decisions of individual nations.
To understand the current disagreement between various Catholic leaders and the policies of the American president, one must examine recent events in the light of traditional Catholic teaching on the roles of the Church, the family and the nation in the context of international affairs. In emphasizing the primacy of the family in relation to the nation, and that of the nation in turn in relation to the international community, Juan Donoso Cortés was merely articulating the constant teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, against the rise of liberalism and ultimately socialism. In this context Donoso had also insisted on the leadership role of Catholic nations within the international community.
When Donald Trump gave his inaugural address after his election, he elaborated on the meaning of his campaign theme of “America first,” which he later clarified in his speech before the United Nations – as a claim not for American supremacy over other nations, but as a statement of principle that all heads of state have an obligation to defend the rights of their citizens in the international community. And, in his speech in Poland, he paid tribute to the role of that Catholic nation by calling it the “soul of Europe,” just as he was indirectly paying tribute to Europe itself, the cradle of Christian Civilization.
A more recent event in defining Trump’s understanding of international affairs came with his signing of a 1.3 trillion dollar appropriations bill, a decision creating a dilemma for Catholics whose consciences are opposed both to an enlargement of the size of government and to federal funding of abortion – a moral dilemma made possible precisely by pro-abortion Catholic politicians, whom the Bishops’ Conference allows to act with impunity. At the center of this debate is Catholic moral teaching regarding an indirect voluntary act, or what evils both politicians and voters alike may tolerate for a greater good. For Trump, it was a question of tolerating evils contained in an appropriations bill for the sake of what he considers his primary responsibility, that of national defense. And his policy toward Jerusalem and the Holy Land is part of his global defense strategy, insofar as he considers Israel to be an ally in the face of a global Islamic threat.
Those members of the hierarchy, on the other hand, who have voiced opposition to his stand regarding Jerusalem, may have placed themselves unknowingly on the opposite side of an international political and military conflict. All members of the Church, knowing their duty to apply Our Lord’s mandate to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, face a debate about Jerusalem that manifests the moral judgments they themselves must make – as citizens of their nations, and ultimately as members of the Church, outside of which, in the words of St. Paul, they have “no permanent city,” not even Jerusalem, now claimed by Jews and Moslems, insofar as these latter remain outside the one true Church, and who therefore are not yet guided by the Church’s doctrine, and who mistakenly confuse the things of Caesar with those of God.
If the Third Secret of Fatima were not the vision described by Sister Lucia and published by the Vatican, but instead another unknown document that the Vatican refused to publish, Sister Lucia’s explanation of the Secret given to Pope John Paul II in her letter of May 12, 1982 would have to be abandoned. In that letter Sister Lucia explained that the Third Secret was about the fulfillment of Our Lady’s prophecy in the Second Secret, namely that Russia would spread its errors throughout the world if Our Lady’s request were not heeded. If, on the other hand, the Secret is instead a prophecy about something else – as the theory of the “fourth secret” proposes – Our Lady’s reference to the “errors of Russia” would have to be set aside or reinterpreted, in order to accommodate the message of an alleged missing document.
It is precisely this development that has been playing out in the analysis of history and of current events offered by advocates of the “fourth secret.” A recent example of this is an article posted on the web site onepeterfive.com, and written by Dr. Maike Hickson, who acquired a certain prominence on Pentecost Sunday, 2016, when the same web site posted an article by her in which she reported on an interview she had conducted with the late Father Ingo Dollinger, the German priest who stated that in conversations with the then Cardinal Ratzinger, he had been told that there was more to the Third Secret than what the Vatican published. By Saturday within the octave of Pentecost the Vatican denied the story by quoting Benedict XVI, but the authenticity of this was challenged on the basis of the grammatical construction of the words attributed to him!
Since a detailed analysis of Father Dollinger’s testimony has been provided already by Fatima specialist Kevin Symonds, we limit ourselves to calling readers’ attention to another aspect of this latest article by Dr. Hickson. In attempting to analyze recent events in the Church and the world, she focuses not on the errors of Russia, but instead she attacks the West, especially the United States, and also Israel, a subject we have analyzed in the article above. Russia becomes not the source of errors spreading through the world, but instead a victim of Western aggression.
This confusion about Russia and the West is analyzed in detail in the booklet Fatima and the Third Secret, which we have published in order to expose the error of the “fourth secret” theory. Now that this error is being taken to its ultimate consequences, this study becomes even more urgent. In warning about the errors of Russia, Our Lady of Fatima was not demonizing that nation, but instead was revealing Her plans for Russia when it and all nations come to the fullness of the Catholic Faith.