In the first installment of my look at Marian apocalypticism I focused on the foundational ideas that underlie both its traditionalist and its charismatic variants. In the next two installments, I will cover the history of traditionalist Marian apocalypticism and identify some of the current promoters of this ideology.
One of the many good reasons to be cautious about end-times speculation, especially when it involves prophecies of an imminent chastisement, is that it may give rise to a certain perversity of thought regarding the course of world events. Those who hold firm to such prophecies may on some level welcome chaos and destruction in the world, because they see these as foreordained signs of the Second Coming—or, in the case of some Fatima devotees, of a new era of peace on earth. They may, in surveying the news, focus only on the bad things happening in society, and the troubles the world is facing, to convince themselves they are approaching or living through the narrative of the end times. If they are among those adherents of Marian apocalypticism who believe that, according to prophecy, the Church itself will one day fall into apostasy, they may be more likely to exaggerate the failings of the Church or see heresy and apostasy wherever they look. Anyone who has spent time in the Catholic media-sphere has certainly come across examples of people with such tendencies.
Just one example of a proponent of Marian apocalypticism who thrives on a pessimistic and sensationalist reading of the news is longtime Fatima-enthusiast Michael Matt of The Remnant. In the outlook of The Remnant, the world and the Church are always on the brink of total collapse:
This sort of worldview blossomed among Catholics after World War II, and early examples are characterized by anti-communism and Cold War paranoia. After the fall of communism, which was a perplexing event to those who were convinced that communism would continue to swallow the world if Russia was not consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the focus shifted to opposition to a globalist New World Order.
The ideological Fatima movement in the US began with the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima (which now goes under the name World Apostolate of Fatima), founded by Fr. Harold V. Colgan and Catholic author John Haffert in 1947. The ideology of the Blue Army was an anti-communism that J.S. Bennett asserts “echoed the thought style exhibited by figures such as Senator Joseph McCarthy and Robert W. Welch Jr during the 1950s and 1960s” (272). Haffert tied communism to the warnings about Russia in the Second Secret of Fatima, and he portrayed the American battle against communism as one of Mary versus Satan (Bennett 270). Although we don’t hear much from them now, the Blue Army remains a historical symbol of Cold War America and the McCarthy era.
In an unintended way, the Blue Army contributed to the development of the distinctly American sedevacantist movement. Francis Schuckardt, who was a popular champion of the message of the Blue Army, left the group after Vatican II and became the first known sedevacantist bishop, forming the Tridentine Latin Rite Catholic Church. Schuckardt’s career ended in disgrace, but sedevacantism still exists on the far-fringes of American Catholic life and Twitter, with its conspiratorial take on Fatima (involving an alleged imposter-Lúcia who supposedly misled the world regarding the true message of Fatima):
Another early apocalyptic movement—similar to the Blue Army in its sources of inspiration and its anti-communism, but with a different character—is Tradition, Family and Property, which was founded in Brazil in 1960 by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. By fusing the Second Secret of Fatima with a fanatical adherence to the teaching of St. Louis de Montfort, Corrêa de Oliveira created a movement that proved extremely attractive to young men with traditionalist tendencies, offering them a community in which they could imagine themselves as spiritual warriors awaiting the Bagarre (or “fight”) that would accompany the impending chastisements so that they could play a central role in establishing the glorious earthly Reign of Mary.
TFP splintered after the death of Corrêa de Oliveira, but the various strands of the movement are still going strong. The American TFP often shows up at pro-life events, dressed in their characteristic red sashes, and they are also behind the “America Needs Fatima” campaign. TFP Student Action is a related group that targets college campuses. The modus operandi of both groups is the same: radical opposition to abortion, homosexuality, Satanism, and other evils, expressed in the most apocalyptic terms possible. They promote a dualism that borders on Gnosticism, portraying the modern world as thoroughly debauched and depraved and positioning themselves as people of heroic chastity and virtue.
TFP still has a Brazilian presence in the form of the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute (IPCO), which teamed up last year with other TFP groups to create the Pan-Amazon Synod Watch campaign, which attempted to undermine the message of the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region. The same TFP grouping recently launched a new campaign, Fatima Today: Tragedy and Hope, which seeks to portray the coronavirus pandemic as—somehow—both a divine chastisement and a giant scam being used to usher in a leftist-globalist-communist-environmentalist “new world.” The centerpiece of the campaign is a ponderous document with the catchy title The Most Monumental Social Engineering and Ideological Transshipment Effort in History Is Bolstered by Mass Hysteria and Vatican Support.
The influence of TFP can also be found in the work of Roberto de Mattei, author of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: Prophet of the Reign of Mary, who is a prominent anti-Francis figure and current advocate of the coronavirus-as-chastisement narrative. Although he does not appear to be a TFP member, his thought is deeply reflective of that of Corrêa de Oliveira. In a March interview with Maike Hickson of LifeSiteNews, he linked coronavirus to the chastisements foretold in the Second Secret. Here are de Mattei’s words, as reported by Hickson:
De Mattei also puts this current crisis in the context of the messages of Our Lady of Fatima, saying that this is the moment ‘to remember the message of Fatima, because the divine punishments, which have already been affecting the Church for many years, are making themselves visible to the whole society.’
. . .
With reassuring words, Professor de Mattei concludes his comments to LifeSite, saying that everything that happens “is for the salvation of the elected and for the triumph of the Church,” adding that “the closer the punishment is, the closer will be the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that Our Lady has promised us.’
Here he clearly invokes the powerful pseudo-millenarian dynamic promoted by Corrêa de Oliveira, speaking of how “the punishment,” which includes the coronavirus, will usher in the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Montfortian influence is apparent as well where he talks of “the salvation of the elected.” The language of predestination is used extensively in Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary where he speaks of the gulf separating those who are “reprobate” from those who are “predestinate.” (Although the language of predestination is unusual in a Catholic context, it can be interpreted in an orthodox way, even if it can also be twisted to suggest other more Manichean meanings.)
The emphasis on the Second Secret and divine chastisement in the examples above, however, only tells part of the story of traditionalist apocalypticism. The other part comes from theories surrounding the Third Secret and predictions of widespread apostasy in the Church, which I will cover in my next installment.
Print works cited:
Bennett, Jeffrey S. “The Blue Army and the Red Scare: Politics, Religion, and Cold War Paranoia.” Politics, Religion & Ideology 16:2-3 (2015). 263-281.
Grignon de Montfort, Louis-Marie. A Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Trans. Frederick William Faber. London: Burns and Lambert, 1863.