«Satan can even clothe himself in a cloak of humility, but he does not know how to wear the cloak of obedience»
— St. Faustina Kowalska, Diary, Par. 939
Besides Fatima, the most popular Marian apparition in dissident circles is the one that allegedly took place in Akita, Japan. According to what has been reported, a nun named Agnes heard a voice coming from a wooden statue of Our Lady, and these messages were accompanied by an array of miraculous signs (like the statue bleeding and sweating on numerous occasions).
These Marian communications to Sr. Agnes were very ominous, warning about various calamities that would afflict the Church if men didn’t repent and offer penance. One of such misfortunes would be an apostasy that would affect even the higher clergy. Here is the passage most frequently quoted in favor of the Great Apostasy narrative:
«The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres…churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.»
Since Amoris Laetitia (AL) is seen as “accepting compromise” with the world on the matter of divorce and remarriage, and since this document has led to some heated discussions among bishops and cardinals, conspiracy theorists feel vindicated in assuming Pope Francis’ reforms to be “the work of the devil” infiltrating the Church. According to this logic, dissent from AL is, therefore, justified.
Is there any merit to this interpretation, though?
Now, first of all, it bears saying that, contrary to what is popularized in more traditionalist media, this apparition has not been officially approved by the Holy See. See here and here. Even EWTN states: «Despite claims that Cardinal Ratzinger gave definitive approval to Akita in 1988, no ecclesiastical decree appears to exist, as certainly would in such a case.»
But let us suppose Akita is worthy of belief and engage this apparition on its own terms. Can it be used to support dissent from the Pope and a magisterial document?
My contention is that no. It can’t. Just like in every other apparition I have dealt with, the dissenters assume too much, projecting their own predetermined narrative into the texts of the apparitions, leading to conclusions which are obvious and univocal for them, but not for anyone who doesn’t share from that narrative.
They assume the apparitions are talking about Pope Francis. They assume that AL is heretical or, at least, a compromise from the Devil. They therefore assume they are the ones on the right by opposing the Pope. However, if we look at Akita without that deterministic lens, we can get a very different picture.
Now, it bears saying that it is unquestionable we have cardinals opposing cardinals and bishops opposing bishops nowadays. However, there is one key element missing from the prophecy: though it speaks of bishops and cardinals, there is no mention to the pope. Of course, we could be very technical and claim the pope is indeed a bishop… but I think that if the apostasy would involve the pope himself, then this would be explicitly mentioned. It is not an insignificant detail. Remember: Our Lady said “bishop against bishop” and not “priest against priest”, even though bishops are technically priests, because saying bishop instead of priest highlights the gravity of the situation. And what situation could be more grave than the pope himself falling into apostasy?
I have said elsewhere that any private revelation speaking about an apostasy involving the papacy can’t be true, since private revelations are not required belief for a Catholic, while assent to the magisterial utterances of the Holy Father is. Therefore, my salvation can’t hinge on me accepting a private revelation urging me to disobey the pope.
Therefore, if there are cardinals opposing cardinals and bishops opposing bishops, then a fortiori, the cardinals and bishops who are on the right side are the ones who remain in communion with the pope.
However, let us not take this for granted. Let us assume that the pope is just another bishop, and that he is one of the bishops opposing bishops.
If we do this, we can see that there are two factions. Supposing the faction in communion with the pope does not automatically have any higher moral standing, which one of these factions is Our Lady warning us against?
The conspiracy theorists will tell us: “The ones in the Church who accept compromises”. The term “compromise” has entered the lexicon of the Catholic apologetic community as referring almost exclusively to those (be them clergy or laymen) who adopt a lukewarm position regarding the Church’s stance on sexuality. It is according to this definition that AL is seen as a “compromise” on matters of divorce and remarriage.
However, I would like to note that no sector of the Church is exempt of compromises. Can it not be said it is a compromise to reject huge chunks of Catholic Social Doctrine to earn the support of certain political forces, with the intent of winning a Culture War?
No, the “compromise” hint is not as straightforward as it seems. If we are to know which faction is wrong, we must find the answer on a proper exegesis of Akita. Namely, we must see what the overall tone is, what the overarching theme is, what the context is.
Fortunately, the interpretative key may reside in the previous elocution from Our Lady (emphasis mine):
«Is what you think in your heart true? Are you truly decided to become the rejected stone? My novice, you who wish to belong without reserve to the Lord, to become the spouse worthy of the Spouse, make your vows knowing that you must be fastened to the Cross with three nails. These three nails are poverty, chastity, and obedience. Of the three, obedience is the foundation. In total abandon, let yourself be led by your superior. He will know how to understand you and to direct you».
Please note, obedience is the foundation, even greater than chastity itself. We know this to be the true interpretation of Akita, since in it Our Lady never tires to urge Sr. Agnes to be obedient to her superior.
Now, I must be very clear: Chastity is a fundamental virtue. It is paramount for any true Christian to exercise it. It is true that chastity is under attack nowadays and we must strive to preserve it in the midst on an adverse culture. However, certain sectors of the Church seem to take a disproportionate view of chastity, as if chastity was the only virtue, or the most important one, to the detriment of every other single Christian virtue… namely obedience. They use chastity, not as an essential expression of the virtue of temperance that may help the soul attain salvation, but rather as a weapon to throw against those who they deem as sinners, or against a pope they dislike, or magisterial teachings they dislike, or an alleged “apostate” Church. To do so, they will spare no compromises with extra-Catholic forces, as long as they help them win the Culture War for chastity.
If we must try to know what the dangers Akita is warning us against are, we must see who is practicing obedience to their superiors… and who is using every possible justification and pretext to excuse acts of disobedience.
Since the Pope is the Vicar of Christ here on Earth, judged by no other earthly authority, and the true interpreter of the Magisterium, to whose teachings every faithful must give assent of will and intellect… we can easily conclude that “the work of the devil infiltrating the Church”, to the point of having “cardinal opposing cardinal” and “bishop opposing bishop” is, in fact, the sowing of widespread disobedience, which finds its ultimate expression in the disobedience against the Holy Father.
I do not wish this article to be viewed as an endorsement of the Akita’s apparitions. I have many reservations to accept them. However, if the reader is so inclined to trust them, I have to suggest an accurate framework to properly interpret its message. The foundational virtue in Akita is obedience.
This is fitting. Mary and the Devil are waging a war since the Proto-Evangelium mentioned in Genesis 3:15. As mortal enemies, Mary and the Devil have two diametrically opposed mottos: Hers is “Fiat!”, let God’s will be done through me; Satan’s motto is “Non Serviam”, I shall not serve. It was the Devil’s disobedience that brought forth misery, sin and death unto this world, for he propagated his own disobedience to our humanity, by enticing Adam and Eve to disobey God. On the other hand, it was Mary’s obedience, more than her virginity, that allowed the Messiah to come forth and save this fallen world… and He did so by obeying the Father unto death.
Let us, therefore, not use Mary to postulate any kind of disobedience. If you do so, bear in mind that the person you are supposedly emulating or heeding cannot ever possibly be Mary. But the Other One can cloak himself even under the guise of light…
[Photo credits: Icon of the Virgin of Silence, Kiko Arguello]
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Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.