In the last installment of my primer on Marian apocalypticism, I looked at the ideological Fatima movement in relation to the Second Secret of Fatima. Here I will continue my look at this movement with a focus on the controversy surrounding the Third Secret of Fatima.
At the heart of traditionalist mythology involving the Third Secret of Fatima is an apocalyptic narrative that speaks of a current or future apostasy within the Church. Unlike Second Secret apocalypticism, which focuses on the threat of the Church’s external enemies, Third Secret apocalypticism is focused on an internal threat. It positions its adherents as a faithful remnant, standing amidst the ruins of both human society at large and a Church that has largely capitulated to the forces of the prince of this world.
Third Secret apocalypticism tends to incorporate elements of a broader tradition of visions of apostasy, and one of its important precursors is the Secret of Our Lady of La Salette. I wrote extensively about this secret in my look at Taylor Marshall’s Infiltration, and Pedro Gabriel has also analyzed it, so I will be brief in my comments here.
There are two versions of the Secret of Our Lady of La Salette as recounted by the visionary Mélanie Calvat: the original 1851 version, which had been lost and was only discovered in the Vatican in 1999, and the 1879 version published by Mélanie later in her life. The 1851 version describes the rise of the Antichrist and the persecution of the pope and Church by external forces, but includes nothing that contradicts what the Church typically teaches regarding the “end times.” The 1879 version, however, is significantly different and suggests (according to one particular reading) that the Antichrist will rise within the Church:
It will be during this time that the Antichrist will be born of a Hebrew nun, a false virgin who will communicate with the old serpent, the master of impurity, his father will be B. At birth, he will spew out blasphemy; he will have teeth; in a word, he will be the devil incarnate. […] Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist. (Taken from Marshall’s reprinting of the text.)
This 1879 version, though it was taken seriously by many, was dismissed in The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) as the product of a person “whose mind had been disturbed by reading apocalyptic books and the lives of illuminati.” It was put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1923, though that hasn’t stopped it from being promoted by some adherents of traditionalist apocalypticism, including most recently Taylor Marshall.
There are numerous other alleged messages from Our Lady that offer visions of apostasy, although they are all of dubious authenticity. Examples include the following:
Our Lady of Good Success
These messages, allegedly given to Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres in Quito, Ecuador in the sixteenth century, speak of Masonic attacks on the Church, corruption and loss of faith amongst priests, and even what sounds like the absence of the pope at some point in the twentieth century. They appear to be most often promoted by TFP and TFP-related groups. The book that contains them, which is allegedly from 1790 and based on “lost” original documents, is most likely a nineteenth or twentieth-century pious forgery. (The mention of Freemasons in messages from the sixteenth century is just one red flag.)
Our Lady of Akita
The Our Lady of Akita messages were given to Sister Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa in Japan in 1973, and popularized (at least in part) in the English-speaking world by Blue Army co-founder John Haffert beginning in the late 1980s. Of particular interest is the third message that Sister Agnes received, on October 13, 1973: “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against other 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.” The Vatican has not commented on any of the apparitions. A new message was allegedly received by Sister Agnes in 2019.
Our Lady in Civitavecchia
These apparitions, recently brought back into the spotlight by Archbishop Viganò in a recent interview with LifeSiteNews, have long been a subject of controversy in Italy. They date from 1995, when a small statue of Mary—a souvenir from Medjugorje, owned by the Gregori family of Civitavecchia—began weeping blood. A young child in the Gregori family, Jessica, received messages that spoke of apostasy in the Church. These apparitions have a convoluted reception history, but it is safe to say that they have never been fully accepted by the Church.
Father Gruner and the Third Secret
All of the examples listed above have their place in the cottage industry of books and pamphlets on Marian apparitions, but the Third Secret of Fatima, in North America at least, looms largest in any discussion of Marian messages of apostasy. The person primarily responsible for creating and promoting traditionalist myths surrounding the Third Secret was the Canadian priest Fr. Nicholas Gruner, who died in 2015. He started the Fatima Crusader journal and the Fatima Center (headquartered in Fort Erie, Ontario) in 1978, and by 1989 had his own television show, Fatima: The Moment Has Come. Those curious about Father Gruner’s television work may wish to check out this vintage episode with guest Michael Matt, editor of The Remnant:
Part of Father Gruner’s crusade was based on Second Secret Apocalypticism. He believed that communism was an existential threat to the Church, and that in accordance with the warning of the Second Secret of Fatima it was poised to envelop the world. It could only be stopped through the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by the pope and the world’s bishops as requested by Our Lady. He did not accept that Pope John Paul II’s 1984 consecration of the world (including Russia) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary fulfilled the request, even though Sister Lucia herself confirmed that it did. The validity of the 1984 consecration was made clear in the 2000 document on the Third Secret released by the Vatican:
Sister Lucia personally confirmed that this solemn and universal act of consecration corresponded to what Our Lady wished (“Sim, està feita, tal como Nossa Senhora a pediu, desde o dia 25 de Março de 1984”: “Yes it has been done just as Our Lady asked, on 25 March 1984”: Letter of 8 November 1989). Hence any further discussion or request is without basis.
Today there are still some who reject this assertion and continue to repeat Father Gruner’s call for the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. One such person is Cardinal Raymond Burke, who said the following in 2017:
Regarding the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I do not doubt for a moment the intention of Pope Saint John Paul II to carry out the consecration on March 25, 1984. The Servant of God Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart indicated that Our Lady had accepted it. But it is evident that the consecration was not carried out in the manner requested by Our Lady. Recognizing the necessity of a total conversion from atheistic materialism and communism to Christ, the call of Our Lady of Fatima to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart, in accord with her explicit instruction, remains urgent.
Burke made this call once again in the May 2020 virtual Rome Life Forum, within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If one half of Father Gruner’s ideology was Catholic anti-communism, the other was a conviction that the Church was falling into apostasy and that this had been foretold in the unreleased Third Secret. The evidence undergirding the claim that the Third Secret was concerned with apostasy was fragmentary and second-hand when it wasn’t merely speculative, but this did not stop Gruner from proclaiming his interpretation as a certainty as he campaigned for the release of the text. In 1990 he published a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for the release of the Third Secret and for the Church to defend itself against the forces that Our Lady allegedly warned about: “We call upon the leadership of the Church to defend the integrity and holiness of the Faith and to resist demands which call for the surrender of our unique Catholic heritage for the sake of supposed ‘Christian unity’ or for the sake of ethnic or cultural diversity (‘inculturation’).” Ultimately, for Father Gruner, such alleged abuses could only be prevented through the release of the Third Secret and the consecration of Russia.
Two historical events presented serious but not insurmountable obstacles to Father Gruner and the ideological Fatima crusade. The first was the collapse of communism in Europe, which suggested that either the prophecy regarding the errors of Russia had been misinterpreted or Pope John Paul II’s 1984 consecration had actually been valid, as Sister Lucia claimed. But rather than accept the good news of the fall of communism, the ideological Fatima movement shifted its attention (as many other anti-communist movements did at the time) to fighting what they saw as a more dispersed creeping communism that sought to usher in a global New World Order. The second major event was the official release of the Third Secret in 2000, which did not speak of apostasy within the Church. Rather than accept the official Third Secret and admit that they had been wrong, some Fatimists, like Gruner, came to the conclusion that the Vatican was continuing to hide a “second part” of the Third Secret.
The evidence offered by Gruner and others that the full secret has not been revealed has been thoroughly examined and refuted by Kevin J. Symonds in On the Third Part of the Secret of Fátima (2017), and most Catholics simply trust that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI did not lie to the world (check out the recent Peter’s Field Hospital podcast, “Fatima and Conspiracies: A Portuguese Perspective,” featuring Pedro Gabriel and Claire Navarro for more on this). Still, there are some who continue to push conspiracy theories surrounding the Third Secret, the most prominent of whom are Antonio Socci, Taylor Marshall (in his book Infiltration, which I have looked at here) and Archbishop Viganò.
Viganò, in an interview with the Portuguese website Dies Irae published on April 21, 2020, brought multiple threads of Fatimist thinking together in a typically overwrought and pretentious attack on the institutional Church. Robert Moynihan published a translation on his Inside the Vatican site, which I am using for citations here.
The interviewer asks Viganò if he agrees with those who associated Pope Francis’s televised March 27 Urbi et Orbi address and blessing with the imagery of the official Third Secret (which describes how “the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow…”). Viganò doesn’t respond directly to the question, but instead offers recycled Fatimist material, claiming that Pope John XXIII started a “cover-up operation” to hide the Third Secret, “evidently because the content of the message would have revealed the terrible conspiracy against the Church of Christ by its enemies.” He then goes on to address the release of the secret in 2000, saying that “during the pontificate of John Paul II, Cardinal Sodano presented as the Third Secret a version of his own that in several elements appeared clearly incomplete.” He also accuses Cardinal Bertone of interpreting the Third Secret in such a way as “to cause the people of God to believe that the words of the Virgin had nothing to do with the crisis of the Church and the marriage of modernists and Freemasonry that was contracted behind the scenes at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).” As an added bonus, he echoes Cardinal Burke in asking for the Church to “not forget Our Lady’s unheeded appeal for the Pope and all the Bishops to consecrate Russia to Her Immaculate Heart, as a condition for the defeat of Communism and atheistic materialism.”
Allegations of coverups regarding the Third Secret or of hidden “second parts,” incessant calls for the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (along with the rejection of the validity of the consecrations that were intended to fulfill Our Lady’s request), and talk of predictions of widespread apostasy within the Church, up to and including the pope—all of these are, and always have been, tools used divide Catholics and separate the laity from the clergy. They may sound new and exciting coming from people like Taylor Marshall and Archbishop Viganò, but they have been around for many decades. Communism did not envelop the world; it simply withered and collapsed. The Third Secret did not describe an infiltration of the Vatican by Freemasonry; it described a pope and Church under threat. The Fatimists have almost always been wrong, but their absolute faith in a particular apocalyptic vision and their dislike of post-conciliar Catholicism means they will never admit it.
In my next installment, I will turn to an examination of the Marian apocalypticism that thrives among some charismatic-leaning Catholics, and which appears to be growing in popularity during these times of uncertainty.
Print Works Cited
Symonds, Kevin J. On the Third Part of the Secret of Fátima. St. Louis, MO: En Route Books & Media.
Yasuda, Father Teiji. Akita: The Tears and Message of Mary. English version by John M. Haffert. Asbury, NJ: 101 Foundation, Inc., 1989.
People in Fatima, Portugal, viewing the Miracle of the Sun, from Ilustração Portuguesa, 29 October 1917
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D.W. Lafferty, PhD, is a Catholic husband, dad, and independent scholar from Ontario, Canada. He works in higher education and has published articles on the literature of Wyndham Lewis, the conspiracy theory of Douglas Reed, and the life and legacy of Engelbert Dollfuss. Online, he tweets as @rightscholar.