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The Mystery of the
"Third Secret of Fatima"
The mysterious "Third Secret of Fatima" remains under lock and key in a Vatican archive, while Vatican bureaucrats attempt to silence a Canadian priest leading a movement for its disclosure.
On February 8, 1960, Catholics around the world were stunned when the Vatican announced in an unsigned press release that the famous "Third Secret of Fatima" would not be disclosed that year, as expected, and would probably remain a secret forever. Thus began a controversy in the Catholic Church which shows no signs of dying out, more than 35 years later.
What is the "Third Secret", and why is a Canadian priest, Father Nicholas Gruner, under fire by the Vatican bureaucracy for probing into it?
The Message of Fatima
The three "secrets" of Fatima are part of the overall "Message of Fatima" said to have been conveyed by the Virgin Mary in a series of apparitions to three shepherd children, Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia, at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. The apparitions culminated on October 13, 1917, when 70,000 people gathered in a field to witness a sign the children said would be given to confirm the truth of their account. At the appointed time, the terrified crowd saw the sun descend from the sky, spin about and throw off dazzling colors. The event received worldwide press coverage and was even the subject of a Warner Brothers movie entitled "The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima."
After a lengthy investigation by Catholic Church authorities, the Fatima apparitions were pronounced authentic and worthy of belief. With the consent of Pope Pius XII, the first two "secrets" of the Fatima Message were disclosed to the world in 1942. These secrets predicted World War II and the rise of international Communism. They also call for the "consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary" by the Pope in union with the bishops in order to end Communism and bring peace to the world. Whether this "consecration" has been done is another matter of high controversy in the Church, with some Catholics claiming it was done by Pope John Paul II in 1984. An article in Newsweek magazine suggests that the putative 1984 consecration is related to the collapse of the Soviet empire.
The "Third Secret" Suppressed
In 1957 a sealed envelope was transmitted from Fatima to the Holy Office at the Vatican. It contained the full text of the mysterious "Third Secret" in the handwriting of the only surviving Fatima seer, Lucia, who is now a cloistered nun in Coimbra, Portugal. By publicly announced agreement, the Third Secret was to be disclosed to the world not later than 1960. Then came the unexpected Vatican announcement that it would be suppressed.
To this day the Third Secret remains under lock and key in the Vatican archives, and Sister Lucy has been forbidden to discuss it with anyone. But Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II all read the Secret in private, as has John Paul II's right hand man, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The suppression of the Third Secret has naturally led to speculation among Catholics that its contents must be nothing short of explosive. Yet the official Vatican line is that the Secret contains nothing that has not already been revealed in Scripture. If that is so, then why is it being suppressed?
In November 1984 Ratzinger gave a tantalizing hint of what the Third Secret contains when he admitted that it refers to "dangers which threaten the Faith and the life of the Christian, and therefore of the world."
Enter Father Gruner
Father Nicholas Gruner has given voice to the growing movement for disclosure of "The Third Secret." Ordained in Avellino, Italy in 1976, Father Gruner received permission in 1978 to reside in Canada, his home country, where he has since been engaged in a worldwide Catholic apostolate devoted to promoting awareness of "the full Fatima Message". The apostolate has used print, radio and television media to petition for disclosure of the Third Secret, as well as the "consecration" of Russia to the Virgin Mary, which many Catholics believe has yet to be done. The media effort has included an open letter to the Pope in a major Italian newspaper, which caused a furor in the Roman press.
The "Great Apostasy"
Father Gruner has widely publicized the work of several Fatima experts who believe they have deduced what the Third Secret contains: a warning that the Catholic Church will undergo a catastrophic loss of faith and discipline beginning around 1960 - the "great apostasy" predicted in Scripture as a harbinger of the end times.
As evidence for this view, these experts point to unprecedented change and upheaval in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council was convened in 1960: the abandonment of all traditional forms of worship in Latin, the collapse of traditional orders of priests and nuns, the exodus of Catholics from the Church, the precipitous drop in Mass attendance among those remaining, the drastic decline in priestly and religious vocations, the innumerable sexual scandals involving priests and even bishops, and the widespread refusal of nominal Catholics in the pews to adhere any longer to Papal teaching on contraception, divorce, abortion or any other matter on which they "disagree" with the Pope.
Father Gruner, too, is convinced that the Third Secret warns of precisely these events, and that this would explain its suppression: "Obviously, no Vatican official would be eager to reveal a warning from Heaven which says that the great apostasy in the Catholic Church is going to happen on his watch."
Father Gruner's pursuit of the Third Secret has earned him the enmity of certain members of the Vatican bureaucracy.
Father Gruner says that over the past few years two high-ranking Vatican officials in the Congregation for the Clergy, acting outside the proper channels of canon law, have been issuing a stream of deceptive "declarations" stating that Father Gruner's apostolate lacks "permission of ecclesiastical authority" and that no bishop should support him or the apostolate.
Father Gruner says these pronouncements are misleading to the faithful because Church law guarantees all Catholics, including priests, the right to form private associations of the faithful to express their concerns about Church affairs. He notes that he has received private expressions of support from over 1,500 bishops and 72 cardinals "who aren't fooled by the bureaucratic propaganda."
Over the past several years opposition to Father Gruner's work has taken on the appearance of an international campaign, orchestrated in large part by the two Vatican officials:
In October 1992, while in the Sacristy of the Fatima Shrine in Portugal, Father Gruner was beaten up by two men who fled the scene. They were later identified as employees of the Shrine. The rector of the Shrine at first denied that Father Gruner had been assaulted, but was forced to admit it when eyewitnesses came forward.
After this incident the Blue Army, an international Catholic organization with close ties to Vatican bureaucrats, began publishing stories highly critical of Father Gruner in its magazine. These were followed up by "bulletins" in local Blue Army newsletters repeating the "declarations" made by the two officials.
Father Gruner points out that some years earlier his own magazine ran an article demonstrating that a purported interview with Sister Lucy published by the Blue Army "never took place and was a complete fabrication, as they were later forced to admit." He says that the "fake interview fiasco" resulted from increasing bureaucratic control over the Blue Army, making it a vehicle for propaganda against disclosure of the Third Secret and the "consecration" of Russia.
Father Gruner says that the campaign to "neutralize" him climaxed in 1994, when the bishop of Avellino, under pressure from Rome, suddenly ordered him to return to Avellino immediately and drop his work of 18 years. The only reason given for the order was that Father Gruner had failed to find another bishop to sponsor him. Father Gruner says that several bishops have offered to sponsor him, but each one was approached by a Vatican representative and pressured into withdrawing the offer. "It's the Catholic version of Catch-22: They order me to find another bishop. Then they tell all the bishops not to accept me."
Father Gruner's files contain one particularly telling document: A benevolent Archbishop's decree of "incardination" invites Father Gruner into his Archdiocese and states that "evil forces have conspired to put an end to your work of love, but ... bureaucratic forces cannot stifle God's work." Father Gruner says that the Archbishop was soon pressured by those same "bureaucratic forces" to retract the decree. "The Archbishop wrote me to say that he hopes I understand his predicament, and his assistant told me that he feared reprisals against the whole Archdiocese if he accepted me there."
An Unprecedented Appeal to the Pope
Father Gruner is appealing the order to return to Avellino in the Church's canonical court system. He has also filed an unprecedented canonical lawsuit with Pope John Paul II himself, charging the two Vatican officials and their collaborators with "abuse of ecclesiastical authority". He believes he is the first priest ever to take advantage of a new Church law permitting such suits. Several lay women who are directors of the apostolate filed their own canonical lawsuit with the Pope, claiming that their right to engage in the apostolate as members of the laity has also been violated by abuse of authority.
Father Gruner is hopeful about the outcome of these appeals to the Pope: "We are praying for the Holy Father's intervention. I know that he is very devoted to Our Lady of Fatima." Father Gruner is emphatic in his denial that the Pope has anything to do with the effort to silence him: "This is a case of some Vatican bureaucrats running a rogue operation and covering their tracks. They even sat in judgment on the first level of my appeal, upholding their own actions against me!"
The Mystery Continues
The worldwide campaign by Vatican bureaucrats against a lone Canadian priest suggests there may be something to the hypothesis that the Third Secret of Fatima foretells a "great apostasy" during the tenure of current Vatican officials. Is this a case of guilty parties concealing a heavenly indictment of their governance of the Church?
Disclosure of the Third Secret would answer the question. Until then, Catholics will continue to wonder about the mystery of its suppression.