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placeholder Five decades
of leadership

Bishop Floyd Begin,
a bridge builder for all

Oakland diocese's
first parish celebrates
its jubilee, too

The first priest
of the diocese

Commitment to a demanding life

Bishop Begin:
Blessed beginning, blessed ending

Fond memories of Bishop Floyd L. Begin

'Where were you …'

Pastoral Council made diocese a leader in giving laity a voice

Interfaith good feeling, openness part of our diocesan heritage

Housing to rise at former cathedral site

At Cooper Chapel, building community, Catholic identity

'Community' crypts provide peace of mind

Stewardship of the end-of-life

Institute aims to refute atheist influence in science

New film tells story of Cristero War


Catholic population at nearly 59 million in 2010

Religious freedom rally set for June 8

Fundraiser on May 26 for Haitian children

Visitation of the
Blessed Virgin:
What it means for us

50 years later, still answering Fatima questions

Magnificat Maternal Health: Mission to protect women in childbirth

Special collection
for Catholic Communication

Parishes lifeblood
of the diocese

placeholder May 21, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA
50 years later, still answering Fatima questions

Archbishop Loris Capovilla, 96, the personal secretary of Blessed John XXIII, holds a copy of the papal bull opening the Second Vatican Council at his residence in Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, Italy, Feb. 21.
Paul Haring/CNS

SOTTO IL MONTE GIOVANNI XXIII, Italy — The feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, is the occasion every year for millions of devotees to celebrate the apparition of Mary to three Portuguese peasant children in 1917 and to meditate on her call for repentance and conversion by the modern world.

For a much smaller but highly dedicated group of people, the anniversary of the first apparition is also an occasion for exploring their belief that, 95 years later, the Vatican is still hiding a portion of Mary's revelations.

The controversy is associated in a particular way with the pontificate of Blessed John XXIII, because one of the Fatima visionaries, Sister Lucia dos Santos, committed the so-called "Third Secret" to writing, with instructions that the pope should read it in the year 1960. Blessed John, who was pope from 1958 to 1963, declined to reveal the secret, which was published by the Vatican only in 2000.

The official version of the secret comes with a Vatican commentary interpreting it as an allegory of the Catholic Church's past struggles with 20th-century ideologies and characterizing its description of a "bishop dressed in white" shot down amid the rubble of a ruined city as a prophecy of the 1981 assassination attempt on Blessed John Paul II.

But some argue that the long-suppressed document must contain something even more disturbing, perhaps a prophecy of what they call the "great apostasy": the modernizing changes that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which was called by Blessed John.

One man with whom such skeptics would very much like to talk is Archbishop Loris F. Capovilla, Blessed John's personal secretary, who was present when the pope read the secret for the first time.

Archbishop Capovilla, now 96, dismisses reports that he told an Italian writer in 2006 that part of the secret remains unpublished. He says that he noticed no discrepancy between the published version and the original.

Yet he qualifies his statement with a rare admission of doubt about his own remarkable memory. "I remember a bit," he says, "but you will understand, after so many years I wouldn't know how to reconstruct (the secret) fully."

Nor does he rule out the presence of such a document elsewhere in the archives of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, often referred to as "the Holy Office."

"At the Holy Office there must be a kilometer of paper regarding Fatima," the archbishop says. "I don't deny that there may be something else, but I don't know it."

When he was prefect of the doctrinal congregation, Pope Benedict XVI wrote the Vatican's commentary on the secret and insisted that what was published in 2000 was everything. In a book marking the 90th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, he said publishing the text "was a time of light, not only because the message could be known by all, but also because it unveiled the truth amid the confused framework of apocalyptic interpretations and speculation."

He said he had written the commentary "after having prayed intensely and meditated deeply on the authentic words of the third part of the secret of Fatima, contained on sheets written by Sister Lucia."

Archbishop Capovilla does not disguise his reservations about the cult of Fatima, not least, he says, because it was "sometimes exploited a bit for political ends."

During the Cold War, many interpreted the Virgin's prophecy that Russia would "convert" as foretelling the fall of the Soviet Union. But Archbishop Capovilla says he considered those words to mean merely that Russia would embrace Christianity, which he suggests did not exclude the survival of communism.

"I have known people in perfectly good faith who were communists, but they weren't atheists," he says.

The archbishop's reservations about Fatima extend more generally to the phenomenon of Marian devotion.

"A cloistered nun who has visions — here we underscore one aspect of the Christian life," he says.

Amid the enthusiasm for ecumenism that animated Blessed John's papacy and the Second Vatican Council, he recalls, "it was concluded, as far as Marian devotion was concerned, that perhaps it would not be appreciated by the Protestants."

An excessive focus on Marian devotion also runs contrary to the express wishes of Mary herself, he says.

Imagining himself receiving an apparition of Mary, Archbishop Capovilla says he would tell her: "Lady, you were present at the wedding at Cana; you said words that remain eternal, 'Do what Jesus tells you.' You come now to tell me to convert, to do penance. But he already said all of this; it's in the holy Gospel."

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