January 2007By Christopher Beiting
Christopher Beiting is Ci-devant Chairman of the Department of History, Politics, and Economics at Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Celestial Secrets: The Hidden History of the Fatima Cover-Up. By Joaquim Fernandes and Fina D'Armada. EcceNova (308-640 Dallas Rd.; Victoria BC; V8V 1B6; Canada). 276 pages. $19.95.
It's a natural human tendency to perceive patterns where none exist, as anyone who has seen faces in firelight or shapes in the clouds can attest. By our nature, man imposes order on chaos, and this ability sometimes enables us to make valuable discoveries. But it sometimes leads us astray, too, which is what makes the whole genre of conspiracy theories so amusingly muddle-headed. People confront a series of real-world events and assume that they must be related, when, in fact, they are not. People then dream up the most elaborately baroque explanations to connect these actually unrelated phenomena, and, curiously, the more outlandish the theory becomes, the more it can be stretched to fit the phenomena. And, incidentally, the more likely it is to be utterly and totally wrong, if not ridiculous as well. Okham's Razor is not a law of logic, but it is a very useful tool just the same, particularly regarding matters like these. Alas, one wishes the authors of Celestial Secrets had made use of it.
Ostensibly, this book claims to be an exposé of the Fatima apparitions, which, it concludes, are a result of UFO visitations. But practically, it's a grab bag of varying attempts to attack the authenticity of the Fatima apparitions, and along the way manages to rope in a variety of New Age, paranormal, and conspiracy theory elements. Ironically, this scattergun approach to the topic ultimately winds up making the entire farrago even less plausible, if that's possible. From the simple perspective of narrative and logic, Celestial Secrets is an overwrought mess, and that's before one gets to its content. All that is missing are gun-toting albinos.
The notion that the Fatima apparitions were the product of UFO visitations is nothing new, and dates back to the work of French UFOlogist Jacques Vallée, if not earlier, which means that Celestial Secrets is essentially redundant even from the beginning.
The book is written in two parts, neither of which has much connection with the other, which suggests that Fernandes wrote one part and D'Armada the other. The first part is the more New Agey of the two, and by far the weaker. In its attempts to prove the thesis of the extraterrestrial nature of the Fatima apparitions, it presents a cornucopia of paranormal explanations for all manner of things. The reader is not just presented with the standard recounting of UFO contactee lore and its similarities to religious experiences, oh no. Along the way, we are treated to accounts of spiritualists, automatic writing, psychics, the history of Marian apparitions in Portugal, the nature of telepathy and psychic phenomena, "telluric energy" and grotto cults, the effects of atmospheric ionization and microwaves on the brain, magnetic disturbances and sunspots of the time, summaries of folklore (particularly concerning fairies), and even the healing powers of certain kinds of clay! An entire chapter details, with breathless excitement, the "discovery" of another visionary at Fatima (whom the book elevates to the status of a Fourth Witness), a woman named Carolina who was a child in 1917. The authors recount Carolina's tale of watching her sheep one day, and being visited by an angel in the form of a young blond child, who wordlessly told her to go off and pray three Hail Marys. By some bizarre twist of logic, the authors conclude that this must, in reality, have been a visitation by an extraterrestrial since some of them are represented as being either small or blond in UFO lore, and can communicate without speech. Oh, and the image of the Immaculate Heart that "Mary" bore in her hand during one of the Fatima apparitions? Doubtless a sphere-shaped extraterrestrial telepathic translation device. No, really.
The cumulative effect of having to sift through 140 pages of this sort of wild paranormal free association is a bit like being trapped on a long car ride with Fox Mulder on a sugar buzz, and as fine a demonstration as any of the need for Okham's Razor and an acknowledgment of the simple fact that correlation is not causation. While some religious phenomena and some paranormal phenomena share some of the same qualities, that does not mean they are all the same thing, and none of what the authors breathlessly present as "evidence" proves anything conclusively, be it normal, paranormal, or religious. Ironically, this "kitchen sink" approach to the material actually weakens the authors' case, rather than strengthening it. The exasperated reader is left asking, "All right, so what was behind the apparitions? How can it be due to aliens if you're spending this much detail talking about telluric energy, folklore, and spiritualists and such? Come on, guys, pick one explanation and stick with it."
The authors' case is not helped by the numerous simple errors they make along the way, describing the vision of Belshazzar in Daniel 5:5-7 as "automatic writing" it is nothing of the kind or concluding that angelic presentation of the Eucharist to the Fatima visionaries actually masked an extraterrestrial giving them some food substance, since "in Catholicism, it is forbidden for anyone, even an angel, to give Communion to children who are not prepared to receive it," which doubtless may come as some surprise to the many, many Eastern Rite Catholics who follow the Eastern Orthodox practice of giving First Communion to infants.
When the authors define (correctly) the term angelos as "messenger," and then use that wording to describe (fatuously) Neil Armstrong as "an angelos from Earth," they are clearly going out on a limb, and sawing it off behind themselves. Such a selective approach to phenomena is quite common in paranormal research circles; after all, for every John Mack out there who claims that UFO contacts and abductions are a wonderful and positive experience, there are other researchers, such as David Jacobs, who claim they are intrusive and traumatic for the experiencers. Furthermore, there is the nature of message. UFO contactees routinely report being given dire warnings of atomic or environmental collapse, and New Age "space brother" platitudes to overcome them. I am not familiar with a single case in which the saucer people tell the contactees to say three Hail Marys, pray the Rosary, do penance for sin, or pray for the Pope.
Of more interest is the second portion of the book, which surveys the written history of the accounts of the Fatima event, and points out several notable discrepancies in recorded accounts of it over time. This section of the work is more substantive, based as it is on actual textual evidence, and might possibly have risen to the level of a serious and reasoned critique of the Fatima apparitions. Unfortunately, yoked as it is to the vast crazed mess of the first half of the book, it is impossible to take seriously. Nor are its arguments helped by the authors' tendency to take cheap shots at their subject. The authors' biases become pretty evident when they describe devotions to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts as vestiges of "Christianity never fully liberated from polytheism" and given to worship "body parts sliced off to become celestial beings in their own right." Furthermore, the authors weaken their argument when they use such lines as, "Lúcia, a Capricorn, was not a woman to give up easily ," and when they intimate that Lúcia, a "healthy girl" who would "want to call attention to herself," was paired with one confessor with "handsome features" and another with "an extremely intelligent countenance," and so on. Despite the authorial fig leaf of "We are not suggesting that the reader make any fatuous deductions" later on, it is pretty clear that the authors are trying to imply some rather unsavory appetites on the part of Lúcia.
And who were these powerful men in Lúcia's life, whom the authors claim are the ones responsible for bending the original message of Fatima to their own sinister ends? Why, none other than those perennial Catholic heavies, the Jesuits! It's almost quaint to see them resurface as villains in something these days, and to have the authors repeat ridiculous canards about them, like the well-known habit of serving as confessors to the powerful and wealthy, and then getting together as an order to pool what they secretly heard in confessions into a worldwide strategy to "submit the state to the church." It's a pity the Fatima apparitions didn't happen 11 years later. Then Opus Dei could have been the villains of this piece! Yes, it turns out that no matter how strong-willed a Capricorn she was, Lúcia was nothing more than a puppet in a giant Jesuit conspiracy to bury an extraterrestrial visitation behind a smokescreen of Catholic piety to help them in their efforts to take over Portugal, and ultimately Russia (forget the fact some of the strongest opposition to the Fatima apparitions came from Belgian Jesuits). Seems that whole "conversion of Russia" stuff in the Fatima messages was a later interpolation on the part of a fiendish collusion of the Jesuit order and the right-wing Salazar dictatorship of Portugal. Why single out Russia for criticism, the authors complain, when there were so many other bad people in the 20th century? Their true sympathies become apparent when they conclude, "The historical reality shows that Catholics, particularly the ecclesiastical hierarchy, were not the good guys.' If anyone was persecuted during the 48 years of dictatorship between 1926 and 1974, it was actually the communists, and those who fought against the regime." Those poor communists! They're really the victims here. Furthermore, the authors display a nasty stream of anti-foreign bigotry when they lament how the "conversion of Russia" has actually resulted in a bunch of skilled immigrants from eastern Europe migrating to Portugal these days, taking up menial jobs, "sleeping on park benches," and generally cluttering up the country. How can having all these foreigners in Portugal be a good thing? And so on, and so on.
Celestial Secrets is simply a bad book: badly thought-out, badly organized, and badly written, with quite a lot of bad will toward its subjects running throughout.
What accounts for the existence of such a tome?
Let's consider a different conspiracy. Call it: "Terrestrial Secrets: The Hidden History of the Authorship of Celestial Secrets." Suppose there was a conspiracy of like-minded Portuguese liberals who reject the oppressive norms of a traditional, Western patriarchal society; you know, things like "hierarchy" and "logic" and "truth." Furthermore, they loathe their country's right-wing past. And above all, they despise the Catholic Church, and all her trappings and teachings, which have played such an important part in Portuguese history. What's the best way to yoke all of these disparate hatreds together? Why, in an attack on the authenticity of the Fatima apparitions, of course, from every single vantage point possible! It doesn't matter if the end result doesn't make any sense, which Celestial Secrets doesn't. What matters is that that hateful God-thing in their midst is discredited, by any means possible. "Any stick to beat a dogma," opined Chesterton, and Celestial Secrets is as fine a demonstration of that maxim as you'll find. A surprising number of people's belief in UFO lore is based on their rejection of their Catholic faith (noted UFO author Whitley Strieber is a good example), and I would not be surprised at all to find that the same was true of the authors of Celestial Secrets. Perhaps one of the lesser-known reasons for the Fatima apparitions was to give people a demonstration of what a real celestial visitation is like, so that they wouldn't accept New Age-based counterfeits. If that's the case, then ninety years later, the true message of Fatima still needs to be heard.