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Cardinal Ratzinger Speaks On
With Commentary by Father Joseph de Ste. Marie
As we promised in Issue No. 17, we print here Cardinal Ratzinger's enlightening comments about the Secret of Fatima. They are especially enlightening when seen together with the commentary of the world-renowned Fatima theologian, Father Joseph de Ste. Marie. Father Joseph is Professor of Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Faculty of St. Theresa in Rome.
The Secret of Fatima was revealed by Our Lady on July 13, 1917. It was written by Sister Lucy on orders from her religious superior and sent to the Vatican in a sealed envelope. The Secret was to be opened in 1960. It was opened and read during the Pontificate of John XXIII but never released to the public as it had been expected. Cardinal Ratzinger deliberately chose to let himself be interviewed on this and other subjects. His remarks were first published with his permission in an Italian magazine and now have been published in book form. The following is the entire text of Cardinal Ratzinger's comments published in the magazine. Father Joseph de Ste. Marie's comments were first published in France. The article starts with his commentary.
Sister Lucy with Pope John Paul II.
Something moved in Rome between the end of summer and the beginning of autumn (1984). Two facts bear witness to it and indicate in what direction the movement is going: on the one hand, the condemnation of "liberation theology" by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith by an "Instruction" dated August 6 and published on September 3; on the other hand, the authorization under certain conditions of the use of the traditional Roman liturgical rite (improperly called "the Mass of St. Pius V" or the "Tridentine Mass"), which authorization was given in a circular letter from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship dated October 3 and made public on October 15 (it was published in an Italian translation in the L'Osservatore Romano of October 17).
The combination of these two acts, one condemning error, the other re-establishing the truth, is symptomatic. Does it not show that the Church is today at a turning point in its history, nearly 20 years after the end of the Second Vatican Council.1
It is possible to think so, even if other facts can be cited in the contrary sense, for both cases cited above indicate merely a first step in a movement which by the force of things will go on developing.
In a long interview accorded the Italian review Jesus on November 11, 1984 - an interview at one and the same time both serene and clarifying - Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, explains the direction of this movement
The text of this interview will be published in full in a book due to be published in January 1985. After reading this text, it is possible to say that as from now it will be a landmark in the history of our time. The Cardinal's replies cover most spheres of the life of the Church: the Council, the post-Conciliar period; the Church and the world; the crisis in the Church; theology, morality, etc. Here we shall confine ourselves to what concerns the Blessed Virgin Mary and, more precisely, the "Third Secret of Fatima". But it was necessary to place these declarations in the context we have just outlined.
The Cardinal very honestly admits that he now understands the role Tradition attributed to Mary much better than he did at the time of the Council. And it is altogether possible that a more profound knowledge of the message of Fatima may have something to do with that. As he says: "I've had to change my mind."
At a certain point, after explaining to readers that one of the four sections of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith deals with Marian apparitions, the Jesus interviewer tells us that he had asked the Cardinal the following question: "Have you read what is called 'The Third Secret' of Fatima; i.e., the one that Sr. Lucia had sent to Pope John XXIII and which the latter did not wish to make known and consigned to the Vatican archives?" In reply, Cardinal Ratzinger said: "Yes, I have read it, " which frank response provoked a further question: "Why has it not been revealed?" To this the Cardinal gave the following most instructive reply:
"Because, according to the judgment of the Popes, it adds nothing (literally: 'nothing different') to what a Christian must know concerning what derives from Revelation: i.e., a radical call for conversion; the absolute importance of history; the dangers threatening the faith and the life of the Christian, and therefore of the world. And then the importance of the 'novissimi' (the last events at the end of time). If it is not made public — at least for the time being — it is in order to prevent religious prophecy from being mistaken for a quest for the sensational (literally: 'for sensationalism'). But the things contained in this 'Third Secret' correspond to what has been announced in Scripture and has been said again and again in many other Marian apparitions, first of all that of Fatima in what is already known of what its message contains. Conversion and penitence are the essential conditions for 'salvation'."
If this reply is attentively re-read, it can be seen that it is of capital importance and that it confirms what is already known or what can be inferred from what is already known.
(1) The Third Secret has not been revealed to the Church and the world because the popes have judged and decided that it ought not to be made known. Which they have effective power to do.
(2) The first reason for their decision is that this secret adds nothing to the apostolic revelation of the Gospel, and particularly concerning the following points: (a) the call to conversion; (b) the absolute importance of history; (c) the dangers which weigh on a world which refuses to believe in God and which particularly concern the faith and the life of Christians and therefore the life of the entire world; (d) the importance of meditating the doctrine of eschatology … The classical theological treatise De Novissimis studies these mysterious events of the end of time. It is these events and the importance of meditating on them concerning which the Cardinal is speaking here.
(3) The second reason given for Papal silence is concern that religious prophecy be not mistaken for a quest for the sensational.
Let us have another look at the words "for the time being." They give us to understand that should the perils facing us become greater still, the publication of this "Third Secret" can yet take place one day.
(4) Returning to these two reasons, the Cardinal: (a) reaffirms that the content of the Message is in accordance with that of Scripture; (b) adds that at the level of prophecy it can be found in other revelations by the Virgin; (c) beginning with that of Fatima in what is already known [of its Message].
(5) Finally, making a resumé of what is more urgent in it, he says it is the need for conversion and penitence as necessary conditions for salvation.
(1) The first thing to emphasize, as is shown by the fifth point of our analysis, is that it concerns a message of salvation. The supreme criterion which must decide the opportuneness of its diffusion is therefore man's supernatural good: what is called the salvation of souls. In effect, it is there that the purpose of the entire Fatima message is to be found.
(2) Its content is resumed here in the words "conversion and penitence," which is indeed the eternal call of the Gospel; but it is also revealed in the reasons [given by the Cardinal] for the silence of the Popes. Moreover, it is indeed evident that having read the "Third Secret" and in referring explicitly to what is already known of the Fatima message as a whole, the Cardinal is not unaware of the role that God gives to Mary, and more precisely to her Immaculate Heart in order to obtain the salvation of souls and of the world, particularly the salvation of Russia. He replies to a precise question which is a very delicate one for him, given his position in the Church; he is not dealing with Fatima as a whole.
(3) So far as the "Third Secret" is concerned, Cardinal Ratzinger throws singular light on its content by what he tells us of the reasons why the Popes have until now not wanted to publish it.
(a) With reference to the first reason: In saying that its content is already in apostolic revelation (the first reason given for the Pope's silence) the Cardinal points to aspects of this revelation which are particularly to be found in the "Third Secret" — i.e., over and above the necessary conversion, the importance of history, the dangers threatening us and the last events of the end of time. For anyone who can read and knows a little about Fatima these three reasons are transparent. The absolute importance of history signifies that the facts of temporal, social, political and military history are directly related to the history of salvation. Now the historical fact which is central to the Message of Fatima, as to all the 20th century, is atheistic, militant Communism and all its expansion throughout the world beginning with Soviet Russia. It is therefore this major fact that the Third Secret is concerned with. The evil of this supreme revolt against God is the consequence and the punishment of sins which precede it. In turn, it becomes a cause of sin and an instrument of punishment for a world that increasingly rejects God.
It is to the ultimate form of this chastisement that Cardinal Ratzinger refers when he then speaks of "dangers which threaten the faith and the life of Christians and therefore of the world." He even specifies the nature and order of these evils: the loss of faith, the loss of life (temporal and eternal, physical and spiritual) by Christians and consequently loss of life — i.e., the destruction of the world. Atheism is the fundamental evil of our time, the evil which the prophetic revelation of Fatima came to combat from the very beginning. It threatens to drag all men in its wake, Christians included.
Its ultimate consequence is the destruction of the world: that also is contained in apostolic revelation. Theology studies the events of this final phase of history in the treatise De Novissimis. It distinguishes between the last ends of man as an individual (death, particular judgment, Heaven, hell, purgatory); and the last ends of man collectively speaking (the return of Christ or the Parousia, the resurrection of bodies, the last universal judgment, the end of the world and its transformation). It is with reference to the one and the other aspects [of man's last ends] that the Cardinal speaks here of "final events": with reference to the first aspect because what is important for each individual in this message is the salvation of his soul; but also with reference to the second aspect, and perhaps even more so to it because "the importance of history" — in which nowadays everything has assumed a global dimension from which we cannot exclude the prospect of universal destruction, with atomic weapons — confronts us necessarily with the possibility of the end of the world.
(b) With reference to the second reason: That the content of the Third Secret is of such gravity is confirmed by the second reason for the silence of the popes — their wish to avoid confusing prophecy and "sensationalism." This very wish implicitly acknowledges the "sensational" nature of this message and thereby allows it to be understood. It would overwhelm those taking cognizance of it and give rise to limitless speculation. It is in order to avoid these deplorable consequences that "for the time being" the popes have judged it preferable to keep silence concerning this secret.
Let us point out, nevertheless, that to speak of eschatology is not to announce the end of the world, for nothing is more mysterious than these "events of the end of time." And it would seem that there must be a certain period of time between the first facts announcing the return of Christ and this return itself. It would therefore be these first facts that concern us here. They consist first of all in a mobilization and an unleashing on a global scale of the forces of evil against Christ and His Church, then in the victory of Christ over these forces momentarily triumphant (Apocalypse 13:7) and then in the extraordinary renewal of the Church following this victory, a renewal in which it will be possible to see a first manifestation of the Lord's glorious reign.
We are living in this moment of the increasing unleashing of the forces of hell. Their forthcoming victory, their defeat, and the coming of the reign of Christ: such must be the contents of this Third Secret. It is formidable only because it accurately describes hell's victory. But it remains a message of Salvation and therefore of hope, for at the same time it announces the victory of Christ over those forces and the establishment of His Reign, both victory and reign being achieved through Mary and her Immaculate Heart (Apoc. 12).
According to the Prefect of what was formerly the Holy Office, confirmation of this Message is to be found, on the one hand, in other apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, and on the other hand, in what is already known of the message of Fatima. Among the other apparitions, we think first of all of La Salette but also of those which have occurred more recently, as, for example, that of Garabandal, which has always been followed with attention and sympathy by the Holy Office.
But to keep to Fatima, it is necessary to recall that what is called "The Third Secret" is in reality only the third part of the message given to the children on July 13, 1917, and of which the first two parts are already known. These three parts therefore form a whole, and the third part can be understood only in line with the two preceding parts. Now these remind us of the existence of hell, a vision of which was given to the children, and they announced, in a conditional manner, the second world war and the expansion of Communism throughout the world. The first part then told us of the eternal punishment merited by the supreme sin of refusing God and His mercy; the second part announced to us, in the form of a threat and to put us on our guard, the temporal punishments of this same sin. In order to enable us to avoid these two forms of punishment, through His Mother, God calls upon us once more for prayer and sacrifice, and moreover He offers us this last recourse to His mercy: the Immaculate Heart of this Mother who is also ours. He demands the devotion of all and the consecration of Russia to this Immaculate Heart, which is the instrument of His grace and His mercy.
On the basis of all this, and as today people have not yet done what God demanded, neither in the sphere of conversion nor in that of devotion and conversion to the Heart of the Immaculate, the third part of the Secret of July 13, 1917, cannot but denounce the expansion of the sin of atheism and announce the punishments which will be proportionate to that sin. When we realize what that has become today and the growing influence of Communism and other forces of evil in the world and even within the Church itself, it is understandable that the content of the "Third Secret" must be fearsome and that it is likely to cause a "sensation".
But is that a sufficient reason for its still being kept secret?
On reading these declarations and on reflecting on their content and their implications one cannot prevent oneself from asking two questions: What are we to think about it all? And, what must we do?
For our part, what we think is that the Cardinal here gives proof at one and the same time of both audacity and prudence.
Audacity, first of all, because he cannot but be aware of the implications of his words, which are transparent for anyone who has made some study of the prophetic mystery of Fatima. Yet prudence also, for he says nothing we do not already know or are unable to know by an attentive analysis of the "Fatima dossier."
What on the contrary fails to convince are the reasons for which the Popes had judged it necessary to remain silent. It isn't that they are other than those given here. It is their validity as a basis for the decision to keep silent that is not evident. For by definition, all prophetic revelation cannot but repeat the content of Gospel or apostolic revelation; such conformity to the revealed truth of the faith being indeed the first condition of the truth of a prophecy. But there, precisely, is the raison d'être of prophecy as such: to recall the Gospel according to the precise needs of a determined moment in the life of the Church. Now the most urgent need of our time is conversion, accompanied by sacrifice and reparation; and the prospect of the evils provoked by sin is among the most relevant if not the most elevated means of stimulating conversion. The history of the people of God in the Old Testament and that of the saints bears this out. One requires only to open the book of Jonas: his call for penitence was accompanied by the threat of Nineve's destruction. Now it was this very threat which decided the King and the people to become penitent. And Nineve did penance. "And Nineve was not destroyed."
As for the sensational form which prophecy often takes, the biblical example just quoted shows that it is sometimes inherent in the Divine message, even in the majority of instances. When one thinks of the prophecies of Elias, Isaias and Jeremias and all the prophets before the exile, they announced nothing less than the taking and destruction of Jerusalem, an indeed "sensational" and even absolutely unthinkable event for a Jew of that period.
What, then, must we do? Let us recall the words of this declaration: "for the time being"; and that up till now the popes have thought that they must keep silent. Lucia would have had them speak, after her death or after 1960 (cf. De Marchi Témoignages sur Fatima, 2nd edition, p. 117). And let us keep on hoping.
Above all, in what concerns us, let us understand the anguished appeal of the Heart of Mary, Mother of the Church, and of all those confided to her. In her merciful love, she thinks only of saving them. Let us therefore understand her suffering in seeing them sink deeper into sin and hasten towards their doom. In working for our own conversion, let us pray, let us sacrifice ourselves, let us make the Message of Fatima known and understood in all its implications so that by men becoming converted and the Hierarchy accomplishing the acts demanded of them, the chastisements which weigh on us may be avoided or at least diminished and that peace may be given to the world and salvation to souls through the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus: in order that their reign of love may be established throughout the entire world.
1. Needless to say, this had been written before the public announcement concerning the forthcoming extraordinary Synod in Nov./Dec. 1985. — Ed.