Feature Articles – The Lies of Fatima
The apparition of the Virgin Mary at Fatima in origin had nothing to do with prophecies or, indeed, the Virgin Mary. But through a series of manipulations, the Church created one of the most elaborate lies, which formed the backdrop of major political events.
by Philip Coppens
In the last two centuries, the Church has made apparitions of the Virgin Mary an evermore important part of the Christian religious experience and doctrine. Some critics argue the popularity of the Catholic Faith is largely maintained by the popularity of the Virgin Mary. The so-called “Marian Era”, i.e. the period when the Virgin Mary began to appear and offer messages to those that saw her, began in the early 19th century, with a series of apparitions, of which Lourdes is no doubt the most famous. But the most intriguing apparition occurred in the early 20th century, in the Portuguese hamlet of Fatima.
The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared at Fatima six times, starting on May 13, 1917, with a final apparition on October 13, 1917, when she performed a great sun miracle, “which all shall see so that they may believe”. On the second or third apparition, the three young witnesses were allegedly given three secrets by the Virgin Mary. Two secrets were revealed in subsequent years, but the so-called “Third Secret of Fatima” was kept secret by the Vatican for almost a century. As a result, there was endless speculation about the nature and its importance. Rightfully so, as the Second Secret was linked with major political events of the 20th century. But what if all of these “secrets” were fabricated by the Vatican, for political and religious reasons? The Secrets of the Virgin According to the standard accounts, the first secret was a vision of hell and a prediction of the imminent death of two of Lucia’s cousins, who were eyewitnesses to the Fatima apparitions. Lucia did not reveal the contents of the second and third secret and informed the Vatican of the second secret only in July 1941, following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The Virgin, Lucia said, had proclaimed that if Russia was converted back to Christianity, many years of war and persecution could be avoided, but since 1917, communism had only expanded its reach. It seemed that Lucia was advocating that the invasion of the Soviet Union was a good a thing, as per the Virgin Mary herself. Nazi Germany, of course, lost the Second World War and with its demise, communism spread across Eastern Europe. The Cold War came to be seen as “many years of war and persecution [of Christians]” and so it seemed, the Second Secret was true. It also meant that there were great expectations to know the Third Secret, which was assumed to be as accurate as the Second and no doubt of even greater importance.
Indeed, the Third Secret of Fatima became the subject of extra-ordinary conspiracy theories, with suggestions ranging from the Virgin’s announcement that extra-terrestrial life existed elsewhere in the universe to the end of the world. Lucia had received the information in 1917, but she only informed the Vatican of the Secret in January 1944. When it was delivered, the Vatican refused to make it public. Lucia therefore proclaimed that the secret had to be revealed upon her death, or at the latest in 1960.
Lucia, however, had been a hostage of the Vatican for many decades: shortly after the Fatima apparitions, she was forced into a convent (she was not a devout Catholic when the visions happened; her father was actually an atheist), sent to a nunnery where she could not communicate with anyone because language barriers, and was later placed in solitary confinement, to make sure she didn’t speak to anyone; access to Lucia required the consent of the highest Vatican circles and it was rarely granted. What Lucia desired, was therefore totally at the Pope’s discretion. Keeping the Secret The assassination attempt on Pope John Paul I on May 13, 1981 It was not until mid-March 1957 that Pope Pius XII asked for the document, but he apparently did not read it. Instead, the document was placed in the Secret Archives of the Holy Office on April 4, 1957 and, ahead of its intended revelation in 1960, the envelope was brought to Pope John XXIII on August 17, 1959. On February 8, 1960, the pope announced that the contents of the secret would not be revealed: “We shall wait. I shall pray. I shall let you know what I decide.” Nothing happened.
In his turn, Pope Paul VI read the contents on March 27, 1965, and returned the envelope to the Archives of the Holy Office, also deciding not to publish the text. The next pope who took an interest was Pope John Paul II, who asked for the envelope following the attempt on his life on May 13, 1981. Once again, it was returned to the archives. However, was it a coincidence that the pope was shot on May 13 (1981) and that the first apparition of Fatima occurred on May 13 (1917)? Was this evidence of “divine synchronicity” – or careful planning? After the assassination, it was clear that the Pope believed there was a connection. On the occasion of a visit to Rome by the then Bishop of Leiria (the bishopric to which Fatima belongs), the Pope decided to give him the bullet which had remained in the jeep after the assassination attempt, so that it might be kept in the shrine. By the Bishop’s decision, the bullet was later set in the crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
On May 13, 1991, the Pope was in Fatima, to meet with Lucia. The event, of course, was the tenth anniversary of his miraculous escape from death and it was clear – even though the contents of the Third Secret had not yet been released – that he wanted to commemorate his narrow escape from death in Fatima. During the mass, he specifically said thanks to the Virgin Mary for the liberation of Europe from Communism. Indeed, whereas in 1981, communism was believed as having ordered the papal assassination, a decade later, communism had just died across Eastern Europe.
The 1990s would see intense speculation on the nature of the Third Secret, so much so that the Church began to be depicted as the evil keeper of a secret that should have long been revealed to the world, as per Lucia’s wishes. The Pope visited Fatima (again) on May 13, 2000, to celebrate the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco, two of the Fatima witnesses, and again spoke to Sister Lucia. As early as 1935, there had been attempts to have the two visionaries beautified. That same day, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, then Vatican Secretary of State, announced that the Third Secret would be revealed, and disclosed what he claimed was a portion of it. Sodano announced that the secret spoke of “a bishop clothed in white” who, while making his way amid the corpses of martyrs, “falls to the ground, apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire.” Cardinal Sodano went on to indicate that this was a prediction of the 1981 assassination attempt against John Paul II.
Finally, just over a month later, on June 26, 2000, Pope John Paul II released its contents, claiming that the 1981 assassination attempt was the fulfilment of this Secret. The announcement received mixed reactions. For some, it was the Church finally officialising what had been “known” for years, if not decades. For others, there was doubt. The Secret Revealed The letter of the Third Secret of Fatima Though labelled a secret, in 1917, the Third Secret was actually a prophecy: “If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. […] To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”
The war that was going to end in 1917 was obviously the First World War. The “worse one” was going to be the Second World War. Interestingly, Pius XI presided over the Church from 1922 till 1939 and one should rightfully query whether the Virgin truly dictated this in 1917, or whether it was edited in by Lucia. And if Lucia edited this in, the question might be asked what else she edited in – the letter itself was only composed in 1944.
Even though such doubts should exist, it is clear that no such doubts existed in the heart of Pope John Paul II. He immediately thought of consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary after the assassination attempt and composed a prayer for what he called an “Act of Entrustment”, which was to be celebrated in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major on June 7, 1981.
On May 13, 1982, exactly a year after the assassination attempt that was at the core of the Third Secret of Fatima, John Paul II was in Fatima, both to thank Mary for saving his life, and also to carry out a public act of consecration of the whole world, including Russia, to her Immaculate Heart – as per the Virgin Mary’s instruction, as dictated to Lucia in 1917… or so it seems. The full text was released by then Cardinal Ratzinger on the Vatican internet site. But upon its publication, it was apparent that the Third Secret did not say that the Pope fell “apparently dead”, but says that he was killed. This is the passage of the officially published text: “before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions.”
It is clear that the “Holy Father” is killed, at a top of a mountain, by a group of soldiers, and that he is not alone to die, as “one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women” die too. In short, this is a vision of carnage, and not at all like what happened on May 13, 1981. While the Pope was driving through St Peter’s Square, he was first of all driven, not walking; nor were there any corpses around him; he did not climb a mountain, or kneeled at the foot of a big cross. The only potentially matching correspondence is that you might argue that assassin Agca was a soldier and that he did indeed try to kill the pope with a gun. Even though some bystanders were injured in the shooting, no bishop or priest, let alone several of them, died.
However much Pope John Paul II might have believed in Fatima and that the Virgin of Fatima predicted his assassination attempt, however much there is this coincidence of dates (May 13), based on the official publication of the document in 2000, it appears that the Third Secret does not apply to the failed assassination attempt of 1981. How was this explained? The Pope believed that the Virgin altered the course of history and that he should have died by Agca’s bullets, but that the Virgin personally intervened and rescued him. In short, that the Virgin Mary herself stopped her own prediction from happening! Which begs the question why she simply did not say so!
Amidst all of this, however, were a number of questions that weren’t asked, like why Sister Lucia had been so adamant that the Secret had to be revealed by 1960 at the latest, even though the events foretold in it were for 1981 – a gap of two decades, making us wonder why Lucia felt the Third Secret had such urgency. However, in retrospect, it is but a small mystery in a much larger enigma! Faked Secrets The central question as to whether the secrets are genuine or not is the credibility of Sister Lucia. Questioned by canon Formigao, only six days after the October 13, 1917 apparition, she was asked: “The 13th of this month, did you ask that the people would look at the sun?”
Lucia: “I don’t remember having done that.”
Formigao: “Did you ask them to close their umbrellas?”
Lucia: “The last time, I cannot remember whether I asked them.”
Formigao: “Did She tell you that the people would be punished if they did not repent their sins?”
Lucia: “I do not remember whether she said that; I think not.”
Formigao: “The 13th, you did not have such doubts as you have today about what the Virgin has said. Why do you have such doubts today?”
Lucia: “That day I could remember better; it was closer to the events.”
Lucia clearly had a rather short-term memory, which begs the question how she could possibly correctly remember decades later what had transpired in 1917, when six days after the apparition, most of what had happened, she had already forgotten.
One might argue that the secrets were nevertheless forcefully imprinted on her memory, but the evidence suggests otherwise. That same day, on October 19, 1917, in front of Father Ferreira de Lacerda, when she was asked “What did the lady say the fifth time?” (i.e. September 13), Lucia replied “I do not remember well, but it appears to me that she said…” “It appears to me that she said” doesn’t invite confidence and it begs the question of the contents of the Second and Third Secret, written down decades later, could have been remembered correctly. Indeed, Father Rolim would later conclude: “Because of the interrogations we have submitted them to, the visionaries were the first to hesitate about the words that the lady had truly used.”
But it gets worse. There are clear contradictions in what Lucia said in 1917 and what she wrote in 1942 and would comment on later. In 1917, Lucia declared to Formigao that “The Virgin did not speak about penitence”, but in 1946, to Father McGlynn, Lucia claimed: “She continued to demand sacrifices and penitences.” Worse still, in 1917, Formigao asked Lucia whether she had been given a secret, which Lucia confirmed. Asked whether she gave it only to Lucia or to all three children, Lucia replied “all three.” Most importantly, he asked: “If the people were to know the secret that Our Lady revealed to you, would they be sad?” Lucia answered: “I think they would remain as they are, more or less the same.” It suggests that the secrets as given by the Virgin Mary were quite modest, and seem not on par with the revelations of the Second and Third Secret several decades later. This is underlined when Lucia went on the record stating that the secret only applied for the good and happiness of the three children present, and not anyone else.
Should one draw the conclusion that the Second and Third Secret as revealed by the Church had nothing to do with the message the Virgin gave to the three witnesses in Fatima? It definitely appears to be. In fact, seeing Lucia was kept a hostage by the Church for several decades, there is no way to verify at all that what the Church claimed was what Lucia was told. We simply have to take the Church’s word for it.
If this were to be the case, then it is no wonder that the official records of these 1917 interrogations were placed under seal by Church officials for several decades, as they completely tear apart any credibility these “secrets” have. It is clear that in 1917, the secrets revealed by the Virgin were not that important, at least not to the world as a whole. What was important – and remains the case – is that in October 1917, a truly supernatural event was witnessed by thousands: the sun seemed to stop on its tracks, a phenomenon that convinced hardened skeptics who had travelled to Fatima to be shown how fake it all was that something truly magical had just happened. But as supernatural events are unimportant – if not demonic – in the eyes of the Church, the entire event was redefined into a more Christian context. Soon, a political dimension was added it to. And one of the greatest lies of the 20th century was created: The Third Secret of Fatima. The Greatest Lie Based on Sister Lucia’s memoirs written down between 1935 and 1941, it is clear that the “secrets” and their contents are at best to contain some errors, but is likely completely erroneous, and potentially fraudulent, written by those who were in charge of this visionary.
All the first-hand testimony, taken down in 1917, shows that Lucia was confused about many things and even though she was given a – one – secret, the secret had to do only with the children themselves. Specifically asked whether people would take note of the secret if they were told, and whether it would impact them, Lucia highly doubted this might happen.
Yet since 1942, that is precisely what we are meant to believe: that there are powerful secrets, revealed by the Virgin to Sister Lucia, one to do with the need for the Soviet Union to convert and a third that continued to intrigue thousands if not millions of Christians. It is nothing more, or less, something that either Lucia on her own, or with the help of her entourage, concocted after 1935. Seeing Lucia was a nun in solitary confinement, with no political agenda, the Church is a more likely suspect, using an innocent girl – and the Virgin Mary – as the posterboard for a political campaign.
No-one seems to have realized that the entire scheme of the secrets was a game of cat and mouse, part of a deliberate campaign to gain support from the Catholics in the fight against communism. The secrets transformed the fight against communism from a political, western agenda, to a divine call to arms, the express desire of the Virgin Mary – and by extension Jesus – which was not only of vital importance for the future of Mankind, but, also, part of the “End Times”, that were said to be upon us. Religious, apocalyptic imagery was painted upon an otherwise rather bland political agenda. The Unthinkable Thought Pope John Paul I with Sister Lucia Is it a coincidence that the first of the most famous series of apparitions occurred on May 13 and that the Pope was shot on the same day of the year? Maybe. But the Pope did not believe so. However, as the assassination attempt was an act of man, the question is whether the date was chosen by accident, or by careful planning. If so, the question should be asked whether the assassination attempt on John Paul II is part of an extraordinary political framework, the boundaries of which have never been defined.
It is now commonly accepted that the assassination was ordered by the leaders of the Soviet Union, who via the KGB ordered it down to a satellite intelligence agency, who eventually managed to recruit an assassin. Though this is the accepted sequence of events, it has never been proven, as such matters are simply hard to prove – they were designed that way. The reason normally given is that the Pope was always suspected of being a staunch anti-Communist and that the Soviet Regime realized that this Pope would stop at nothing in his fight against Communism. That the Kremlin therefore ordered his assassination; stop him, before he would stop them.
Maybe. Another hypothesis is that someone realized that if the Pope was shot – dead or not – on May 13, this could be used as part of the worldwide anti-communism campaign that had been in operation around Fatima for several decades. If the Pope survived, it was evident that he would embrace Fatima – which he did. If he died, his entourage could make him into a martyr and persecute communism – with the full co-operation of the Western political powers. Finally, let us remember that 1981 was a time when the Vatican was embroiled in extraordinary difficulties, most of these political and financial, and of its own making. A dead or injured pope would – and did – completely shift the focus and momentum.
The unthinkable thought therefore is whether someone – a non-communist – decided to use the date of May 13 to try to assassinate the Pope, as part of a larger, anti-communist religious agenda, one in which the Secrets of Fatima had been used for a number of decades, and would continue to do so for several more.
That is speculation, but what is fact, is that the Church incarcerated a nun for most of her life, and abused her image in a political and religious anti-communist campaign. She, definitely the image of the Virgin Mary, and maybe the Pope himself, were used as pawns in a game of charades.