A major part of Taylor Marshall’s argument in Infiltration rests upon highly dubious traditionalist interpretations of the ‘secrets’ associated with two famous Marian apparitions, thus providing another link between Infiltration and fringe Catholic conspiracy theory and apocalypticism. In this third part of my look at Infiltration (see parts one and two), I will compare Marshall’s interpretations of the secrets of Our Lady of La Salette and Our Lady of Fatima with interpretations that are more in accord with authentic sources.
My intention is to bring into focus two very different ways of understanding the failings and troubles of the Catholic Church. All of us should recognize that the Church Militant or Pilgrim Church on Earth, though it is ultimately indefectible, is certainly not immune to persecution, upheavals, corruption, and decadence. It has endured schism, tragedy, and failures in leadership. Some of its members have done terrible things. But Marshall’s vision, or at least the vision he has borrowed and repackaged, is not one of the suffering Church Militant: it is one of an infiltrated Church Apostate, in which a large segment of the Church, including even the pope, seeks to destroy the faith. The mode of analysis employed by those, like Marshall, who promote this vision always relies upon what Pope Francis has described, in a different context, as a “hermeneutic of conspiracy.”
(I should add here, in case anyone is wondering, that although I maintain a healthy skepticism toward private revelation, I do follow the Church in considering these two apparitions worthy of belief.)
The Secret of Our Lady of La Salette
There are two versions of the secret told to Mélanie Calvat by the Blessed Mother in 1846. The first, which I will refer to as the 1851 Vatican version, is the original, which was delivered to the Vatican in 1851 but lost until it was discovered in 1999. It describes an apocalyptic vision of the future in which the pope or popes will endure great suffering and even death (all quotations of these secrets are from the reprints in Marshall’s book):
The Pope will be persecuted on all sides: he will be shot at, he will be put to death, but nothing will be done to him. The Vicar of God will triumph again this time. The priests and nuns, and the true servants of my Son, will be persecuted, and many will die for the faith of Jesus Christ.
At some point after this period of persecution and disaster, and after a subsequent period of penance and peace, many in the Church will become corrupt and the Antichrist will appear:
Among the ministers of God and the Brides of Jesus Christ, there will be those who will indulge in disorder, and that is what will be terrible. Finally, hell will reign on the earth. It will be then that the Antichrist will be born of a nun: but woe to her! Many people will believe him, because he will say he came from heaven, woe to those who believe him! The time is not far; it will not happen twice 50 years.
Thus, the 1851 Vatican version, although it is difficult to interpret and doesn’t easily line up with world history from 1846 to 1946, essentially presents a vision of the Church Militant making its way through the great trials of salvation history. If we project this vision into the future, we can say that although there may one day be a “great apostasy,” there is no suggestion that it will penetrate into the core of the Church.
The second version of the secret is the 1879 version. It was published by Mélanie much later in her life. It also presents an apocalyptic vision, but it is much longer than the original secret and contains many changes and additions. Like the 1851 Vatican version, it describes the persecution of the pope, though it seems to suggest that the papacy may end at some point:
The Holy Father will suffer a great deal. I will be with him until the end and receive his sacrifice. The mischievous will attempt his life several times to do harm and shorten his days, but neither he nor his successor will see the triumph of the Church of God.
It also, significantly, adds a new twist to the vision of what will follow the appearance of the Antichrist:
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.
It is notable that the Antichrist is described as being born of “a Hebrew nun,” since this may be an anti-Semitic metaphor reflecting the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theories of the time, but it is the last sentence in the quotation above that that has provided the real fuel for fringe Catholic movements. It seems to describe a great apostasy in the Church that will involve a replacement of the pope with the Antichrist: “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist.”
Pedro Gabriel has written in Where Peter Is on how this sentence should be interpreted if one takes it to be genuine, but he is also rightly skeptical about its content. Indeed, there is no reason to take it seriously. Even at the time of its publication it was controversial. The Old Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) provides some context, suggesting that one should distinguish between the “two Mélanies”—the young Mélanie who received the secret and the much older Mélanie who self-published the 1879 version after falling under the influence of apocalypticism and conspiracy theory:
Mélanie’s [secret] was inserted in its entirety in brochure which she herself had printed in 1879 at Lecce, Italy, with the approval of the bishop of that town. A lively controversy followed as to whether the secret published in 1879 was identical with that communicated to Pius IX in 1851, or in its second form it was not merely a work of the imagination. The latter was the opinion of wise and prudent persons, who were persuaded that a distinction must be made between the two Mélanies, between the innocent and simple voyante of 1846 and the visionary of 1879, whose mind had been disturbed by reading apocalyptic books and the lives of illuminati.
This “lively controversy” should have come to an end in 1923, when the 1879 version of the secret was added to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books). As far as I know, it was never removed. Nevertheless, a small number of Catholics continue to regard the statement as genuine and prophetic. Marshall himself mentions that the 1879 version was put on the Index, but he doesn’t see this as an obstacle to considering it genuine and sees both versions as “equally true.” Michael Cuneo, in one section of his book The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism (1997) (to be distinguished from Philip F. Lawler’s more recent book, also titled The Smoke of Satan) offers a study of one such group of Catholics. They are the Apostles of Infinite Love (widely regarded as a cult), located in St. Jovite Quebec and founded by Fr. Michel Collin (also known as ‘Pope’ Gregory XVII) and Gaston Tremblay (later known as Father John or ‘Pope’ Clement XV). Cuneo describes Father John’s 1975 encyclical, Peter Speaks to the World, in which this secret of Our Lady of La Salette plays a pivotal role:
Like Michel Collin before him, Father John explicitly links his papacy to the famous Marian apparition that allegedly took place at La Salette, France, in 1846. While speaking with the two shepherd children at La Salette, Father John says, the Virgin Mary warned that the day was coming when ‘Rome will lose the Faith and become the seat of Antichrist.’ And with the rise of theological liberalism and false ecumenism after the Second Vatican Council, according to Father John, this day has now arrived. The entire institutional church under Rome has fallen into apostasy, and a new church, headed by Gregory XVII, has been raised up to preserve authentic Catholicism. (125)
Does this sound familiar? We hear echoes of such ideas quite a lot these days. It is grossly irresponsible for Marshall to tap into and attempt to popularize this vision of the Church Apostate. The 1851 Vatican version of the secret, although we are not obliged to find it credible, presents no challenge to the faith. The 1879 Index version, however, contains a poisonous idea that has, historically, led people away from the Church, into isolation, paranoia, and schism.
Our Lady of Fatima
Marshall takes a similar approach to the secrets of Our Lady of Fatima. I won’t tell the story of the famous Fatima apparitions, since the history is readily available online and many readers will be familiar with it. Marshall’s focus is the Third Secret, which remained unpublished until the year 2000, and this is the secret that has been the focus of many radical traditionalists.
The authentic Third Secret of Fatima, released by the Vatican in 2000, reads in part as follows:
And we saw in an immense light that is God: “something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it” a Bishop dressed in White “we had the impression that it was the Holy Father.” Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; 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. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.
When this secret was finally published, it disappointed those who had been led to expect that it would describe a future apostasy in the Church. That expectation had been fostered by speculations and rumours that were seized upon by some Catholics frustrated by the reforms of Vatican II. Fr. Nicholas Gruner was the primary proponent of the idea that the Third Secret, once revealed, would expose the apostasy of the post-conciliar Church. Through his Fatima Crusader magazine (started in 1978) and the Fatima Centre (fatima.org) he made the Third Secret and the request of the Blessed Mother for the consecration of Russia to her sacred heart (a request that Fr. Gruner claimed was never properly granted) the foundation of a deeply conspiratorial vision of world affairs. Many in the Fatima movement refused to accept that the Third Secret had really been published in its entirety and still believe that the “second part” of the Third Secret has yet to be revealed. Marshall is clearly in that camp. He rehashes all of the arguments used by Fr. Gruner and others, and comes to the blunt conclusion that “The full Third Secret describes the great apostasy in the Church” (15).
Once again, we are presented with two visions of suffering and disorder in the Church. The vision in the authentic Third Secret is one of the pope being terribly persecuted and ultimately killed. The vision of the entirely speculative “second part” of the Third Secret is one of the Church Apostate, which we are already familiar with from the secret of Our Lady of La Salette.
This idea of the Church Apostate has such a powerful appeal because, once accepted, it fills the world with meaning. One suddenly sees signs of infiltration everywhere. It is a “red pill” that removes the scales from one’s eyes. The rot extends all the way to the highest levels of spiritual authority, including even the pope himself, and there are only a select few—a “remnant”—standing in defense of the true, the good, and the beautiful. It is ironic that this vision of apostasy on a colossal scale is so often held by those outside, or on their way out of, the Church.
Cuneo, Michael W. The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Marshall, Taylor R. Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church From Within. Manchester, NH: Crisis Publications, 2019.
Image: Photograph of Mélanie Calvat, from Wikimedia commons