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Francis at Fatima: The Good and the Bad

by Christopher A. Ferrara
May 15, 2017

The papal visit to Fatima is over. Pope Bergoglio canonized Jacinta and Francisco, and for this we should give thanks to God.

Once again, the Fatima event is front-and-center in the life of the Church, for Our Lady will have it so. The Message of Fatima will never be forgotten because it involves a request by the Mother of God that has yet to be fulfilled. Hence the fourth Pope in a row has made a pilgrimage to the site of the apparitions. It is almost as if the Popes are supernaturally drawn to the place despite the best efforts of their worldly-wise collaborators to consign Fatima to the post-Vatican II memory hole.

But, sad to say, Pope Bergoglio, despite the great good of the canonizations, could not leave Fatima without leaving his own imprint on the place, by which I mean his peculiar brand of liberal Jesuit theology that so often strikes at the foundations of what Catholics believe.

Hence during his remarks for the Blessing of Candles the night before the canonizations on Saturday, Pope Bergoglio deployed his all too-familiar rhetorical devices of caricature and the false alternative, along with a dash of Luther’s sola fides, the net effect of which is to employ divine mercy to obscure divine judgment, rendering the latter of no account. This, essentially, was to eliminate the Fatima event as a salutary warning to the Church and the world.

Said the Pope of the Virgin Mary:

“Pilgrims with Mary… But which Mary? A teacher of the spiritual life, the first to follow Jesus on the “narrow way” of the cross by giving us an example, or a Lady “unapproachable” and impossible to imitate? A woman “blessed because she believed” always and everywhere in God’s words (cf. Lk 1:42.45), or a “plaster statue” from whom we beg favours at little cost?

“Virgin Mary of the Gospel, venerated by the Church at prayer, or a Mary of our own making: one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God; one sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge; one more merciful than the Lamb slain for us?”

Of course, Mary is no mere “teacher of the spiritual life,” nor merely “the first to follow Jesus,” nor merely one who is “giving us an example.” She is the Immaculate Conception, the sinless Virgin Mother of God, the Mediatrix of all Graces, and the Co-Redemptrix, Who from all eternity was destined to play Her central role in the Redemption by bearing the God-Man conceived by the Holy Ghost in Her own womb, flesh of Her flesh, Her true Son.

Nor do Catholics view Mary as “unapproachable,” “impossible to imitate” or just a “plaster statue.” This is a haughty caricature of the simple faithful to whom Francis professes to be humbly subservient. Add this to the pile of insults he has hurled at believing Catholics over the past four years.

And then the false alternative, combined with caricature: it is either the “Mary of the Gospel” or the “Mary of our own making: one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God; one sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge; one more merciful than the Lamb slain for us…”

Implicit in this snide distortion of the traditional Catholic view of Mary is, first of all, an implicit negation of the entire Message of Fatima, which involves precisely the ultimatum that God will inflict terrible punishments on humanity and that souls will be lost for all eternity unless the Virgin’s requests are granted. Moreover, the vision the Vatican itself published in 2000 depicts the destructive rays emanating from the avenging angel being repelled by none other than the Blessed Virgin.

Moreover, that Catholics believe God deigns to withhold His punishment because of Our Lady’s intercession does not mean that Christ is a “ruthless judge” or that She is “more merciful” than Christ, but rather that His mercy extends, through Her, to souls that have recourse to Her. That is, God deigns to allow His Mother a singular intercessory power possessed by no other human creature. 

And yet, any faithful soul can intercede with God to stay the hand of His just punishment — punishment of oneself or others. This too belongs to the heart of the Fatima message: that the prayers and penances of Catholics can save souls from eternal damnation, and that without those prayers and penances, souls will be lost forever. As John Paul II noted in his homily during the Mass at Fatima during which he beatified Jacinta and Francisco:

“In her motherly concern, the Blessed Virgin came here to Fátima to ask men and women ‘to stop offending God, Our Lord, who is already very offended’. It is a mother's sorrow that compels her to speak; the destiny of her children is at stake. For this reason she asks the little shepherds: ‘Pray, pray much and make sacrifices for sinners; many souls go to hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them.’” 

Apparently, Pope Bergoglio does not think very much of Our Lady of Fatima’s explicit warning that God imposes eternal punishment because people do not pray for the souls that are lost. Does this mean that God is a “ruthless judge” or that we are more merciful than He? What demagogic nonsense, which invites booing and hissing at the very idea of an economy of salvation involving human cooperation, of which Mary is the grand exemplar.

Then there is this dash of Lutheranism in the papal remarks:

“Great injustice is done to God’s grace whenever we say that sins are punished by his judgment, without first saying – as the Gospel clearly does – that they are forgiven by his mercy! Mercy has to be put before judgment and, in any case, God’s judgment will always be rendered in the light of his mercy.

“Obviously, God’s mercy does not deny justice, for Jesus took upon himself the consequences of our sin, together with its due punishment. He did not deny sin, but redeemed it on the cross. Hence, in the faith that unites us to the cross of Christ, we are freed of our sins; we put aside all fear and dread, as unbefitting those who are loved (cf. 1 Jn 4:18).”

This is misleading at best. At the time of the particular judgment, there is no longer any opportunity for mercy. The wayfaring state has ended, and souls who die in a state of unrepented mortal sin can no longer obtain mercy. As Saint Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, writes in her Dialogue: “When you are alive, you have a season of mercy, but once you are dead it is your season of justice.” (Dialogue, Paulist Press Ed., p. 112)  Again, the rescue from final impenitence and the fires of hell is the very point of the Message of Fatima.

Furthermore, the notion that the Redemption means not only that Christ atoned for our sins, making possible the reconciliation of repentant souls with God, but also that He suffered the punishment due to our sins in our place, so that there is no longer any punishment for sin — here or hereafter — so long as we have faith, is pure Luther. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, it is an error to “treat the Passion of Christ as being literally a case of vicarious punishment. This is at best a distorted view of the truth that His Atoning Sacrifice took the place of our punishment, and that He took upon Himself the sufferings and death that were due to our sins.”

We must be grateful for Pope Bergoglio’s gesture in canonizing Jacinta and Francisco at Fatima. We cannot be grateful, however, for what he said there, which is at odds with the Fatima event and the truths of the Faith it teaches. But then, at this point in the Bergoglian pontificate, we should be accustomed to the intrusion of Pope Bergoglio’s peculiar ideas into what the Church has always believed.