May 2010

The Fourth Secret of Fatima.  By Antonio Socci. Loreto Publications. 238 pages. $19.95.

Antonio Socci's Fourth Secret of Fatima, published three years ago in Italian, has finally been translated into English. Socci is a respected and sometimes controversial Italian investigative journalist who has to his credit serious studies of abortion, the Medjugorje apparitions, Padre Pio, Don Bosco, and Pope John Paul II. He began his own investigation of the "third secret" of Fatima accepting Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's 43-page presentation and theological interpretation of the message of Fatima as accurate and complete. Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, had prepared it in the year 2000 when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, working under Angelo Cardinal Sodano, then Vatican secretary of state. It was published as the Vatican's official translation and interpretation of the long-awaited "third secret'" of Fatima.

The Vatican revealed the vision of a "bishop dressed in white" who walks uphill in the midst of corpses toward a cross, where he is killed by some soldiers. Immediately connected to the assassination attempt on John Paul II on May 13, 1981, the much-anticipated announcement disappointed many. Socci asks some obvious questions: "Is it possible that a message kept hidden for so long, and with such care, refers to an event that had already happened? Why, then, wait almost twenty years to communicate its contents? Who really is the bishop dressed in white? What of that long silence and that isolation imposed on [Fatima visionary] Sister Lucia starting in 1960 until her death in 2005? And how does one explain certain of her words?" These questions reveal the respectful yet insistent tone of Socci's investigation. But they barely scratch the surface of this thorough and penetrating analysis of Heaven's initiative at Fatima and the Church's response to the 1917 revelation.

After a comprehensive investigation of the available documents, Socci had to "surrender" to the facts; he concluded that the crucial interpretation of that vision, told to the children by our Blessed Mother had not in fact been revealed. It began with Mary's words, "In Portugal the dogma of the faith will always be preserved, etc.," written in Lucia's fourth memoir. Leading Fatima scholars have always concluded that those words are the beginning of the third secret, and imply that outside of Portugal the Church will experience a severe crisis of faith, equivalent to apostasy, beginning with the upper hierarchy. Terrified by this, Sr. Lucia was unable to complete that sentence begun in her memoirs and wrote down the Blessed Mother's full explanation only after Our Lady told her to in a new vision. Official interviews with Sr. Lucia by Fr. Joseph Schweigel in 1952 and by Fr. Augustine Fuentes in 1957 confirm this. Seeming contradictions between dates and messages are resolved by the existence of two parts of the third secret: the vision written on four pages in Lucia's notebook, which the Vatican revealed, and the Blessed Mother's explanation written by Lucia in a letter on a single sheet of paper, which the Vatican has not yet revealed, but whose existence was confirmed by Archbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla, then secretary to Pope John XXIII.

Socci's analysis of whether the consecration of Russia by the Holy Father and his bishops has been done as our Mother asked, and why it is of crucial importance to the implementation of Heaven's plan to convert millions of souls and bring a period of peace, is compelling.

En route, he briefly reviews the history of the Vatican's "Ostpolitik," or attempt to establish friendly relations with Russia and other communist countries from Benedict XV to the present. Even Pope Pius XII limited himself to a solemn consecration of "the world" to Mary's Immaculate Heart. "Ostpolitik" became official Vatican policy in the secret Moscow-Vatican agreement at Metz, France, in 1962. In return for the Soviet agreement that two Russian Orthodox priests might be observers at the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII agreed that the Council would not condemn communism, thereby removing a fundamental moral and social issue from the consideration of the Council Fathers. The Holy See still considers itself bound by that agreement!

John Paul II believed that he could not consecrate Russia as Heaven asked and, like his predecessors, formally consecrated the world to the Immaculate of Heart of Mary in 1984. Socci presents several accounts of Sr. Lucia asserting emphatically that the Blessed Mother asked specifically that Russia, not the world, be consecrated. He questions the accuracy of Tarciscio Cardinal Bertone's claim that Lucia had asserted that Heaven had accepted such consecrations as fully complying with the request. Such a denial would contradict all that she had said earlier and so emphatically, and the Cardinal has never produced a full account of his two lengthy interviews with her in the years preceding her death, when he had a perfect opportunity to elicit her answers to crucial questions before the Church and the world.

Socci recounts Sr. Lucia's statement that the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pius XII in 1942 was accepted by Heaven. Jesus told her that, although it was pleasing to Him, it was not what had been asked for, and therefore Russia would not be converted. However, in response to that consecration, the war would end sooner. Socci notes that 1942 marked a turning point in military fortunes with Nazi defeats in North Africa.

Likewise, Heaven accepted the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1984 by John Paul II, but since it was still not what had been asked for, Russia would not be converted. However, Socci suggests that, in response to that consecration, Russia's plan to invade Western Europe in 1985 was frustrated by an immense nuclear accident that destroyed the Kremlin's capability to attack.

This book is at heart a plea for faith, prayer, and obedience to Heaven's plan for conversion and peace given at Fatima and authenticated by the great Miracle of the Sun witnessed by 70,000 on October 13, 1917, and again in a private vision given to Pius XII in the Vatican gardens in 1942. Socci writes, "Thus it is right to conclude — from the complicated history of the unheeded requests of the Madonna of Fatima — that all of us Christians (not only the pontiffs) bear responsibility for the fate of the world. And it is thanks to the prayers of the simple that the Madonna has until now been able to protect humanity, because the simple have always loved her as their Mother and their help."

- Fr. James Anderson



A Postcard From the Volcano: A Novel of Pre-War Germany.  By Lucy Beckett. Ignatius Press. 520 pages. $19.95.

Fifty-five-year-old Max Hof­mann issues deathbed pleas to his music student during the London winter of 1961: Preserve my violin and pen my biography. Hofmann's only directive for writing his life story is a postcard with his own name, birth, and death data for six friends, and a declaration that "one way or the other, Hitler killed all of us." A Postcard from the Volcano, an epic tale of pre-World War II Germany by Lucy Beckett, is fashioned from Hofmann's request through multi-threaded braids of politics, economics, culture, and religion that confer a chilling fluidity on a complex era.

Hofmann was born a Protestant count in Prussia in 1905, and his early education was completed at the family estate under the supervision of Dr. Mendel, a Jewish tutor. Beckett uses Mendel to assess the Habsburg Empire's frailties, immediately engaging readers in the 1914 murder of the Emperor's heir by Serbs coveting Bosnia: "Whether Bosnia is part of Serbia or part of the Empire is not a matter of truth but a matter of politics. Politics is about power, not about truth. And now nearly all of Europe is at war because of these foolish boys." Mendel's lessons continue through discussions of continental blood feuds and the boost given to these vendettas by the 1918 armistice. Geography is revealed as an enemy unto itself as little republics are created between the former Russian and German empires: "Old countries reinvented, and completely invented new countries."

Young Hofmann moves to his grandfather's home in the city of Breslau for further education. Grandfather Meyer is a professor of medicine, a German Protestant, and a Jew by heritage. The boy recalls Mendel's explanation of Jewish identity: "A Jew does not ever quite belong to the country in which he lives. I have been a French Jew, and I have been a German Jew, but I have never been a Frenchman or a German." Hofmann's other beloved teacher is Dr. Fischer, a Catholic. Both mentors — Mendel and Fischer — are leery of each other. Mendel warns of Fischer: "It took hundreds of years to free people from the constriction, the oppression of the Catholic Church." Beckett's canny pairing of the instructors as foils, foes, and, at times, quiet allies, amplifies Germany's ongoing political convulsions, although some dialogue becomes overly didactic, and several events are rendered through needless repetition.

Hofmann and Polish classmate Adam Zapolski study law, while their roommate, Joachim von Treuburg, studies both medicine and paramour Eva Grossmann, the daughter of an influential Jewish doctor. Hofmann and Treuburg form a string quartet with Jakob Halpern and his sister Anna, Jews fleeing from Russian persecution. The quartet's practices are a bright spot in the book; the era's evening entertainment consists of music and conversation centered on composers, philosophers, and politics. Halpern is not a fan of Zionism — it implies race, "an alien race." He fears both nationalistic and religious excesses: "Bolshevism and Aryanism are as powerful as religion: they identify enemies, they direct hatred, they have done much harm and will do much more. The same is, alas, often true of religion; certainly it has often been true of Christianity and even of Judaism…."

Zapolski plays Hamlet in a production of Shakespeare's masterpiece, labeled by Fischer as a "deeply Catholic play." Intricate parallels to Hamlet are constructed throughout the book, and Beckett uses Fischer to reveal Shakespeare's supposedly "Catholic head" full of "hell, purgatory, judgment, and all." Halpern is wary of Shakespeare's use of Jews as villains, but Fischer counters with a complex explanation of Jews as persons "needed but scorned." This thesis requires a bit of contemplation.

A sublime piece of travel writing colors Hofmann and Zapolski's Venetian holiday in the "new Italy of Signor Mussolini." An excursion to Ravenna's exquisite early-sixth-century church prompts Zapolski to remark: "Everyone, everywhere, always wants to be Roman. Caesar. The Kaiser. The Tsar. Even America has a Capitol Hill and a Senate." Back in Germany, catastrophic economic conditions in 1930 are blamed on Jews and capitalism, advancing the Communist Party. Happily, Hofmann and Treuburg are in stable professions: "Even utopia will be hard-pressed to manage without doctors and lawyers." German education lurches toward Aryanism, and the country establishes a Department of Racial Hygiene. Fischer weighs in on the impending Second World War: "The certainties within which people used to grow up have gone. Everyone now who has any education or reads a newspaper has to make up his own mind about everything. Of most people, that is asking too much…."

In 1932 Zapolski is ordained a priest in Cracow, and readers should linger over lilting descriptions of a noble city crawling with beggars. Posted to a poor district, Zapolski opines on jealousy of Jews: "The Jews have always done better, because they teach all their children to read and they work harder and drink less than the peasants." Hofmann converts to Catholicism after Fischer's admonitions to hear Mass, study St. Augustine, and read Luther's Bible.

Beckett's mastery of sustained tension propels unstoppable momentum as the Nazi noose tightens around Jews in Germany: "German music, German art, German culture is henceforth to be Jewfree." Newspapers are banned, constitutional freedoms are suspended, and Parliament votes "its own authority out of existence." Catholic Church officials make wrong calls through all of it: the Cardinal supports Hitler, Hofmann's priest rants against Jews as Christ-killers, and Rome signs a Concordat with the Nazis to protect Church properties. Fischer reveals that these acts — "too much Aquinas and not enough Augustine" — were designed to keep Catholics away from heavily Nazi (patriotic) Protestant churches as catastrophe is unleashed.

Beckett's saga delivers a maelstrom drenched in suffering and symbolism, all the while broadcasting truths about the devastating political consequences of economic freefall. What would Hofmann, a 20th-century Renaissance man, make of a 21st-century fascist threat that seeks to demolish traditional Western civilization?

- Mary McWay Seaman



The New Ecumenism: How the Catholic Church After Vatican II Took Over the Leadership of the World Ecumenical Movement.  By Kenneth D. Whitehead. Alba House. 214 pages. $19.95.

Kenneth Whitehead is a prolific Catholic author whose modus scri­ben­di is to do his homework and then present his results in a relaxed, engaging style. Whitehead can always be depended on to give his readers an honest and fair but still authoritative view of the Catholic position on any subject he treats.

His latest offering, The New Ecumenism, is no exception. On the subject of ecumenism, Whitehead makes it clear that the Catholic position has changed in the past four-plus decades, not doctrinally but tactically. When ecumenism was strictly a Protestant project during the first half of the 20th century, Rome showed little or no desire to participate, making it clear that, for Catholics, meaningful ecumenism would be possible only when those who had broken the unity of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" showed themselves willing to "return" to the flock.

With Vatican II the Catholic Church made an "irrevocable" decision to pursue ecumenism in order to fulfill Christ's prayer at the Last Supper that "they may be one as you, Father, and I are one." The Council's schema, De Oecumenismo, roughly outlined Catholic principles of ecumenism and led, after debate and vote, to the issuance of the decree Uni­tatis Redintegratio ("Restoration of Unity"). Apart from issues liturgical, traditionalist Catholic ire toward the work of the Council focuses primarily on Dignitatis Humanae, the decree on religious liberty, an ecumenical decree that invites opposition. Opponents fear a watering down of doctrine and point to the clear lack of any solid progress toward unity after more than four decades of effort. Whitehead readily admits this deficiency but documents conclusively that there has been no relaxation of doctrine by the Vatican itself.

While some traditionalists might not approve of Whitehead's sympathetic treatment of the overall ecumenical effort, their position lacks coherence because the doctrinal and structural point they are most anxious to defend and protect — Petrine supremacy — has been exercised repeatedly in this arena by the last four successors of Peter (I omit John Paul I because of the brevity of his reign), each of whom has publicly and vigorously pursued every opportunity to fulfill Christ's prayer for unity. Only those Catholics who believe the Holy See has been vacant (sede vacante) since Pope Pius XII's death can claim to be logically consistent in their opposition, and not many Catholics wish to go the sedevacantist route.

Whitehead treats objectively and fairly the fractures in Christian unity over the centuries. The separations in the wake of Christological dogmas pronounced by the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon in the fifth century (the Ancient Churches of the East), the Great Schism between Rome and the Eastern Orthodox churches in the 11th, and the split between Rome and the "Reformation communions" in the 16th are all respectfully treated, in a genuinely ecumenical spirit, without deviating from any traditional teachings of the Catholic Church.

While sympathetic to the new ecumenism, Whitehead raises no false hopes. He shows unsparingly that the chief obstacle to unity is the papacy itself and the nearly two millennia of claiming Petrine primacy — a tradition few Catholics and certainly no popes would be willing to bargain away. Popes in recent decades have developed a new tone, however, downplaying the Catholic viewpoint that primacy necessarily involves centralized teaching authority and jurisdictional claims, stressing instead new concepts of Petrine "ministry."

Whitehead notes that Orthodox patriarchs — who admit that the bishop of Rome is an honorific primus inter pares but who are resistant to the idea that primacy is also jurisdictional — exercise jurisdiction over other Orthodox bishops. Whitehead thinks the attachment of the Ancient Churches of the East to the Christological doctrines that separated them from the larger community has grown weak and that reunion with them is a distinct possibility. He is much less optimistic about prospects for unity with the Anglican Communion due to its embrace of women and homosexuals in the priesthood and episcopacy. This reviewer wishes that The New Ecumenism had been published after last November's apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, so that Whitehead could weigh in on that important development.

Whitehead is not discouraged by the lack of solid progress to date. He takes the long view and believes that the many dialogues, meetings, common declarations of belief, and other signs of improved Christian comity might be prologue to future achievements. Whitehead says that, in any event, final outcomes are always in God's hands.

- Frank W. Creel





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