Fatima: The Most Inconvenient Truth

by Edwin Faust
July 16, 2010

The art of fence-sitting is a delicate one, as is admirably illustrated by Inside the Vatican editor Dr. Robert Moynihan. No matter how pressing the impetus to mount the barrier between competing claims, the ascent must be made with measured step and no suggestion that self-interest has ever raised its ugly head during the judicious considerations that have culminated in non-commitment.

Dr. Moynihan chose the 93rd anniversary of the July 13 apparition at Fatima to offer us his thoughts on the subject of apparitions in general and to balance himself carefully on his perch between the two controverted questions of the Third Secret and the Consecration of Russia.

It was on July 13, 1917, that Our Lady revealed to the three shepherd children that Russia must be consecrated to Her Immaculate Heart by the Pope and the bishops. She also confided what has come to be known as the Third Secret, which was to be made known in 1960.

The Third Secret was not disclosed until June 2000, and Russia has never been consecrated by name and under the specified conditions. The Vatican party line is that Pope John Paul II’s 1984 consecration of the world, done without the bishops and with no mention of Russia, satisfied Our Lady’s request, and that the Third Secret has been fully revealed and concerns past events.

This “official” position is most vigorously espoused by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who has insisted in person, in print and on television that the chapter on Fatima is closed.

But to the surprise of many, and the consternation of some, Pope Benedict has reopened it.

On his trip to Portugal to mark the 93rd anniversary of the first apparition on May 13, 1917, the Pope said “one deceives himself” in thinking that Fatima is in the past. The corollary is that one also deceives others in publicly proclaiming Fatima is in the past.

Where does this leave Cardinal Bertone? As one deceived and deceiving. And where does it leave Vatican insiders such as Dr. Moynihan, who need to protect their credibility while maintaining a cordial relationship with the curial prelates who supply them with needed information? Between the Pope and a hard place.

Thus, Dr. Moynihan’s attempt simultaneously to acknowledge the significance of the Pope’s pronouncements and to shy away from exploring that significance too closely. His technique is worth noting, as it is a model for Vatican journalists who must navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of truth and power to sail safely on into the doldrums of neutrality.

Dr. Moynihan begins with a bow to modern skepticism about the supernatural, admitting that the possibility of Heaven-sent visions strikes many today as “silly.” Yet, he points out that apparitions do occur, citing the Miracle of the Sun as verification that at Fatima “something happened.”

Next, he ruminates about why it happened, opining that such theophanies are graces that set in motion a spiritual “healing process” and that such a process might occur even in the life of a contemporary Vatican journalist. A seeming requisite for such graces, he says, is that one must be “small, and weak, and broken,” like the poor shepherd children.

He then appears to take a tentative metaphorical approach to “seeing” graces, concluding with an agnostic shrug: “It is all a mystery.”

It is only after this considerable meandering that Moynihan obliquely approaches the Pope’s startling pronouncements that the Fatima Message and mission are “not over” and that the Third Secret prophesied the clerical sexual abuse crisis. This brings Moynihan close to the edge of his comfort zone and he immediately retreats from the particulars of the Pope’s statements to a reflection that Fatima is fundamentally about the perennial need for penance, prayer and deeper conversion.

But Dr. Moynihan cannot escape acknowledging that there are those who are not content to submerge Fatima in generalities but insist that Our Lady made very specific requests, which appear to many not to have been honored by those to whom they were addressed, i.e. the Pope and the bishops.

Dr. Moynihan then takes great pains to establish his bona fides as one who takes the Fatima Message seriously. He tells of his conversations with Archbishop Loris Capovilla, former secretary to Pope John XXIII, who told journalist Solideo Paolini that there are two texts of the Third Secret.

Dr. Moynihan mentions that Capovilla told him he wrote certain words on the outside of the envelope that contained the Third Secret, as the Pope instructed him to do, and that he wrote in ink. Dr. Moynihan then scurries away from his Capovilla interview, avoiding any mention of the fact that Bertone displayed on Italian television an envelope he claimed contained the Third Secret, but which bore no such writing as described by Capovilla. This led to public accusations that Bertone was engaged in deception and coverup. But you would never know this by reading Moynihan’s account.

Usually, journalists are attracted to controversy as a shark to blood, but Dr. Moynihan appears curiously averse to following up the line of his own reasoning if it will lead him into the heart of the dispute.

He recounts the many conversations he had with then-Cardinal Ratzinger about the Fatima Message, as well as meeting with Antonio Socci, author of The Fourth Secret of Fatima and the severest critic of Cardinal Bertone's claims. But Dr. Moynihan does not give us the slightest hint of what transpired in any of these interviews. He just wants us to credit him with having done his homework, but won't show it to us.

As an added testament to his sincerity, he includes an affecting description of his visit to Sister Lucy’s cell at Coimbra after her death in 2005, and offers us a few details of the surroundings in which the last of the Fatima seers lived.

He then tells us that he has also talked to high-ranking (though un-named) churchmen who are dissatisfied with the “lack of clarity” concerning Fatima, despite Cardinal Bertone’s clear and insistent pronouncement that Fatima is finished. He confides in us that he feels these men are “quietly encouraging” him to study the Fatima controversy, although he alleges he doesn’t know “why that should be so.”

For one who has so assiduously researched Fatima, as he tells us he has (including 15 trips to Russia to see if that nation had yet been converted), Dr. Moynihan appears amazingly obtuse. Are we expected to believe that he can’t imagine why high-ranking churchmen should want him to pursue the truth about Fatima? Really, Dr. Moynihan?

Dr. Moynihan then says that what has changed our understanding of the Fatima Message these past 10 years is the clerical sexual-abuse scandal, and that this scandal has reinforced the essential message of Fatima, which is the need for prayer, penance and sacrifice. Again, Dr. Moynihan retreats from the particular to the general.

He concludes his piece by asking point-blank whether the full Third Secret has been released and whether the Consecration of Russia has been done. And he refuses point-blank to give an answer. He notes that many Church officials answer yes to both questions, but that “many simple faithful continue to have doubts.”

Is Dr. Moynihan among the doubting simple faithful, or is he allied to the aforementioned Church officials? After having claimed our attention during the course of a rather long article, we would seem entitled to an answer. But no answer is given and we are asked to be content with a demure abnegation: such matters are not “for me to judge,” he says, with a humility redolent of Uriah Heep.

In a sort of postscript, Moynihan, having irresolutely mounted to the judgment seat, ends by washing his hands of the matter and turning it over to Wikipedia. He does not endorse the article either for accuracy or balance, but notes that this is the source from which thousands of people get their information about Fatima.

Like the Cheshire cat, Dr. Moynihan then disappears, but instead of leaving behind his smile, he leaves only his sealed lips and his perplexed readers.

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