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Fatima: A Strangely Persistent Mystery (An Introduction)

During the long history of the Church, there have been numerous apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Most of these were private revelations, reserved to one or a few privileged persons. Some have since taken on public status, and have become the focus of widespread devotions, such as those associated with Lourdes in France and Guadalupe in Mexico. Only one series of apparitions, however, has become the center of a prolonged and profound controversy within the Church. Those apparitions occurred at Fatima, in rural Portugal, in 1917.

Why have the Fatima apparitions been the subject of so much controversy for so long? Why would an appearance of the Mother of God bearing a message for all mankind provoke decades of deceptions and cover-ups, devious manipulations and the illicit suppression of documents and witnesses? These are questions any reasonable Catholic might ask, because Church authorities have provided very curious and contradictory leadership on this subject over the years.

There was a time, back in the 1940s and ’50s, when devotion to Our Lady of Fatima was actively encouraged by the Vatican, and millions of Catholics looked forward to fulfillment of the Blessed Virgin’s request (that Russia be consecrated to Her Immaculate Heart). Now, half a century later, this request remains unfulfilled, and Vatican authorities are telling the faithful that Fatima — once officially declared “worthy of belief” — is a thing of the past. How did this happen? And what does it tell us about what’s going on in our troubled Church?

There are many aspects of the Fatima story, each following its own tortured path through time since the apparitions occurred.

One of these aspects concerns the three shepherd children who actually saw the Virgin appear. Two of them died only a few years later, but the third seer, Lucia dos Santos, has spent her life as a cloistered nun, and is now over 95 years old. The Church’s treatment of her raises some troubling questions. Sister Lucia is uniquely able to resolve issues that have kept the Fatima controversy boiling for decades — but the Vatican won’t allow her to speak. Why? Why silence the one person who knows the answers to fundamental questions, and is ready, willing and able to give them?

Another aspect of Fatima concerns the consecration of Russia. Why has the Vatican repeatedly refrained from performing this ceremony, deliberately phrasing various consecrations to avoid mention of Russia? Why have there been repeated attempts by Church officials to claim falsely that this consecration has actually been done?

A further aspect concerns the so-called Third Secret, a document written by Sr. Lucia, giving the third and final part of the message imparted by Our Lady of Fatima. Why wasn’t this one-page document revealed, as agreed, in 1960? Why did the Vatican release a different, four-page document 40 years later, and claim it was the Third Secret? What does the real Third Secret say that makes the Vatican so determined to hide it?

Yet another aspect of the story concerns the man who has devoted his priestly life to promoting the Message of Fatima. Fr. Nicholas Gruner has been the object of an escalating series of attempts by Vatican officials to silence him, as they have so effectively silenced Sr. Lucia. Why is the Vatican so anxious to silence a priest who has done nothing wrong, even by manifestly unjust and illegal means that have not been applied to the Church’s worst offenders?

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