The Latest Neo-Catholic Propaganda Offensive

The Latest Neo-Catholic Propaganda Offensive

Written by Christopher A. Ferrara
11/29/17

A Newly Arrived “Fatima Scholar” Claims to Set the Record Straight on the Third Secret, but says absolutely nothing of consequence…

A fellow named Kevin Symonds, whom I debated regarding the Third Secret at the annual conference of the Society of Saint Pius X, has achieved considerable notoriety by trumpeting his own “findings” on the controversy surrounding the completeness of the Vatican’s disclosure of the Third Secret. In fact, as we will see here, he has found nothing of consequence and adds nothing to the debate over the Secret except a few more insults for traditionalists, albeit delivered in the professorial tone of someone who purports to be an objective scholar but is clearly intent on defending, no matter how implausibly, the Vatican’s “official account” of the Secret, which, to quote a colorful phrase of Antonio Socci’s, “leaks water from every part.”

To recall the broad context of this debate, the official account claims that the Third Secret consists of nothing more than an ambiguous vision, published at a Vatican press conference June 26, 2000, some forty years after Pope John suppressed the Secret, which was to have been revealed to the world in that year. The vision depicts a “Bishop dressed in White,” evidently a future Pope, who is executed by soldiers on a hill outside a devastated city filled with the dead.

We are expected to believe that the Blessed Virgin, who explained everything else in the Message of Fatima with perfect clarity, offered not a single word in explanation of this obscure post-apocalyptic scenario. Cardinal Ratzinger, in his simultaneously published commentary on the vision, called it “difficult to decipher,” repeatedly citing an “interpretation” by none other than the Vatican Secretary of State at the time, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. A corrupt Vatican bureaucrat who covered up the Father Maciel scandal for years, Sodano seems a rather unlikely Fatima Oracle to “decipher” what we were told is some sort of riddle the Mother of God left behind for us to unravel in the midst of the worst crisis in Church history. According to Sodano, the vision depicts nothing more than 20th-century events culminating in the failed attempt on the life of John Paul II in 1981. That is, according to Sodano, a Pope being executed by soldiers outside a devastated city littered with corpses signifies John Paul II escaping death at the hands of a lone assassin in the intact City of Rome. The only appropriate response is laughter.

That something is missing—i.e., the Virgin’s own explanation of the vision—is all but self-evident. Nevertheless, my book on the subject, endorsed by no less than the late papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, presents an exhaustive examination of the mountain of direct and circumstantial evidence for the existence of a text pertaining to the vision wherein the Virgin explains how the scenario in the visional aspect of the Third Secret comes to pass in the context of ecclesial and world historical events, just as she does with the first two parts of the Message of Fatima.

Symonds has burst onto the neo-Catholic scene with elaborate claims about how his supposedly groundbreaking research into source documents has undermined the “Fatimist” case for the existence of a missing explanatory text accompanying the vision. An interviewer for Catholic World Report goes so far as to declare that Symonds has “formed a picture that offered an alternative view to that of [Father] Gruner and the Abbé [de Nantes].”

Symonds’ claims do not bear close scrutiny. Having read his lengthy book on the subject, which is heavy with appendices and footnotes of no great import, I found that he has contributed nothing of substance to the Third Secret controversy, although he has a knack for writing and speaking portentously even if he not saying anything particularly important. Symonds’s tediously elaborated 400-plus pages fail to refute (and in most cases even to address) the key arguments in my book or in Socci’s work based on the overwhelming evidence that there exists a text in which the Virgin explains the meaning and import of the vision, without which the Third Secret would be a pointless enigma causing endless contention in the Church.

While Symonds effects the style of objective scholarship, his substance, such as it is, amounts to a determined apologia for the Vatican’s account. During the aforementioned interview with Catholic World Report, referring to his debate with me, Symonds said: “I was reluctant to engage Chris’ polemics during the debate. I opted for a simple ‘just the facts’ approach. Several people came up to me afterwards to express their gratitude for my approach!” But it was plainly evident that Symonds is not at all interested in “just the facts.” On the contrary, he is interested in explaining away the facts—every one of them—in order to salvage a Vatican narrative riddled with holes, inconsistencies, contradictions, inadvertent disclosures and the contrary testimony of numerous reliable witnesses. A fairly complete adumbration of the compelling reasons to doubt the completeness of the Vatican’s disclosure of the Secret is found here.

Like evolutionists, Symonds does not see what he can find, but rather finds what he already sees: that the Vatican account must be credible because we must trust “Church authorities”—unlike those perversely suspicious traditionalists, who actually believe that nowadays the pronouncements of “Church authorities,” especially those in the Vatican bureaucracy, are too often simply not worthy of belief. Three examples of Symonds’s contrivances, in connection with the SSPX-sponsored debate, will suffice to demonstrate that he is no objective scholar but rather a polemicist with a predetermined aim in view.

First, during the debate I confronted Symonds repeatedly with the undisputed existence of an envelope containing a text pertaining to the Secret on which Msgr. Loris Capovilla, personal secretary to John XXIII, wrote his own name, the name of the cardinals who had read its contents, and the dictation of Pope John that he would leave the contents to his successors to judge, after which Pope John suppressed the Secret rather than revealing it in 1960 as the Catholic world expected. That envelope, whose contents were originally located in a wooden safe in the papal apartment during the reign of Pius XII, was kept in a writing desk in the papal bed chamber called Barbarigo (because it was the very desk of Saint Gregorio Barbarigo). The vision published in 2000, on other hand, was maintained in what was then the Holy Office archive. The “Capovilla envelope” was reopened by Paul VI, when Capovilla informed him of its location in the Barbarigo desk, and then resealed after Paul, like his predecessor, declined to reveal the contents.

The Capovilla envelope has never been produced. Unable to explain its non-production during the debate, Mr. Symonds finally declared to the audience that it doesn’t exist! But it most certainly does exist, as confirmed in detail by Capovilla during a televised interview presented by none other than Cardinal Bertone, Sodano’s successor as Vatican Secretary of State, with Capovilla even specifying the number of drawers in the Barbarigo desk where the envelope was kept. I discuss these facts here.

What sort of “Fatima scholar” denies the existence of evidence that indisputably exists?

Second, as attested by then papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Pope John Paul II read a text of the Third Secret in 1978, within days of his election. Yet the official account claims he never read the Secret until 1981, while recovering in Gemelli Hospital following the assassination attempt. In speaking with me after the debate, Symonds did not deny that John Paul II read a text of the Secret in 1978 (likely the one in the papal apartment, not the vision, which, again, is lodged in the archive of the former Holy Office). Nor did he deny that the Vatican has failed to explain this discrepancy. Symonds’s laughable attempt at an explanation is that the Vatican did not mention the 1978 reading because it did not wish to embarrass John Paul II by letting it be known that he was “imprudent” in wishing to read the Secret immediately after his election. Utter nonsense, but it will do when it comes to explaining away every inconvenient fact under the guise of being a dispassionate “Fatima scholar.”

Third, during the debate Symonds placed heavy reliance on the Vatican’s publication of a passage from a purported letter from Sister Lucia to John Paul II in 1982, wherein we read in the Portuguese original: “the third part of the Secret, which you are so anxious to know, is a symbolic revelation…” There is no addressee and no signature by the seer, only the cropped passage. But the passage as published makes no sense, for how could John Paul II had been “so anxious to know” the Third Secret in 1982, given that he had already read its contents in 1978 (a reading concealed by the Vatican’s account) and 1981?

Catch Chris Ferrara’s regular column in the print edition of The Remnant!

Tellingly, the phrase “which you are so anxious to know,” which casts doubt on the provenance of the letter as one addressed to John Paul II in 1982, was systematically excised from every one of the translations provided by the Vatican and even from the Portuguese typeset reproduction of the original epistolary fragment, as I show here, so that the phrase reads: “the third part of the Secret [deleted words] is a symbolic revelation…” The Vatican did not even use ellipses to indicate excision of the problematic phrase.

When I confronted Symonds with this evidence of the Vatican’s systematic deception, he ludicrously contended before the audience that the Vatican translators were merely correcting Lucia’s bad grammar! Our “Fatima scholar” thus revealed himself as a Fatima cover-up artist.

Furthermore, the same cropped passage goes on to state: “And if we have not yet seen the complete fulfilment of the final part of this prophecy, we are going towards it little by little with great strides.” Going towards what little by little? What exactly is “the final part of this prophecy”? Sister Lucia knew the answer, of course, because Our Lady told her. But that vital information has been withheld from us ever since it found its way to that wooden safe in Pius XII’s apartment back in 1957 (and from there to the Barbarigo desk). When I asked Symonds after the debate what Lucia was talking about here, he had no answer. But it seems he doesn’t care that he has no answer and that, as the evidence shows, the answer has been hidden from us. He does care, however, about finding ways to explain away that evidence.

The interview with Catholic Word Report is similarly revealing of Symonds’s polemical intent. While the introduction declares that his book “offers a scholarly challenge to those who claim the existence of a yet-unrevealed text of the third part of the secret of Fatima,” Symonds fails to present any details of this “scholarly challenge,” there being none of any import in his book, which I have read from digital cover to digital cover. He offers only a few conjectural opinions of what he thinks some of the evidence means, without negating any of the evidence itself, the vast bulk of which he simply fails to address at all.

He also calumniates traditionalist Catholics, and me in particular, referring to our supposed “conspiratorial understandings of the third part of the secret” and our “hermeneutic of suspicion and conspiracy…” Offering no reasoned argument whatsoever, Symonds sniffs that Father Gruner’s claim that a second text pertaining to the Secret has been withheld is “sensational propaganda of scandal and Vatican intrigue, real cloak-and-dagger stuff, that played upon the sympathies of Catholics concerned for the state of the Church.”

“My book,” Symonds announces grandly, “challenges this narrative.” Actually, his book utterly fails to challenge this narrative. I was, in fact, rather amazed at how little he has to say in his voluminous tract, whose paucity of evidential analysis reveals that he hasn’t done nearly enough study even to grasp this fact-intensive controversy in full, much less address its major elements based on the evidence rather than cheap insults. Beyond the usual empty pejoratives that litter the neo-Catholic polemic against traditionalists, the Symonds interview presents no serious effort to engage with what he airily dismisses as “mostly circumstantial evidence.” His principal contribution to the discussion is puffery about the value of his own work.

Yet Symonds manages to refute himself when he points out, as if it were some groundbreaking discovery of his, what the “Fatimists” had already widely published: that in a recent biography of Lucia published by the sisters of the convent in Coimbra, “[t]hey revealed a previously unknown command of Our Lady to Sr. Lucia from January 3, 1944—that she was to ‘write what [her superiors] command you,” regarding the contents of the Third Secret, “but not that which is given to you to understand of its meaning.” Thus, Symonds concedes to his interviewer: “Apparently, there was some prophetic insight into the third part that had been given to Sr. Lucia by 1944 but which she was not allowed to communicate to others.”

From this Symonds deduces “the impossibility of Sr. Lucia giving an accompanying explanation to the third part of the secret when she wrote it down in 1944,” meaning that, according to him, the Mother of God imparted the vision to the three seers but then instructed Lucia not to provide its explanation to anyone, thus leaving the Church in the dark forever about the vision’s meaning. In which case, what is the point of the Third Secret of Fatima? Symonds, a most incurious “Fatima scholar,” seems uninterested in that rather basic question.

Having failed to provide his interviewer with anything of substance, while creating the impression that he is a deep thinker on Fatima-related matters, Symonds summed up my entire case during the debate as follows: “Chris prefers the hermeneutic of suspicion and conspiracy with the rhetoric of a lawyer.” In the end, our “Fatima scholar” resorts to a sleazy ad hominem attack in the hope that no one will notice he has nothing of consequence to say on the merits of the case. When your opponent in a debate happens to be a lawyer and you have no argument, you can always denounce him for being a lawyer!

Lady of FatimaNear the end of the interview, Symonds demonstrated yet again the inventiveness with which he explains away evidence under the guise of sober scholarship. In 2010, during his voyage to Fatima, Pope Benedict, answering a pre-selected question on the contents of the Third Secret, revealed that it concerns “realities involving the future of the Church, which are gradually taking shape and becoming evident… sufferings of the Church [that] come precisely from within the Church, from the sin existing within the Church,” which “is something that we have always known, but today we are seeing it in a really terrifying way: that the greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church…”

None of this is depicted in the vision, which shows only an apparent future Pope being executed outside a devastated city by enemies without, not within, the Church. Antonio Socci rightly declared that with this revelation Benedict had “reopened the dossier” on the Third Secret and demolished the Sodano “interpretation” that the Secret pertains only to 20th-century events, which clumsy invention Benedict had endorsed in 2000 when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger.

So, what does Symonds have to say about this? He flatly denies that Benedict said that “the secret is still [his emphasis] playing out before us, contradicting what he said in the year 2000.” Ignoring the plain meaning of the Pope’s words, which address what is happening in the Church today and what will happen in the future, Symonds declares that “Pope Benedict did no such thing. He maintained that the events prophesied in the third part were fulfilled in the 20th century. His position in 2010 was built upon a theological distinction he made between 2000 and 2010 that had been overlooked at the time of his apostolic voyage.” That is just gobbledygook.

Just as Symonds denied the existence of the Capovilla envelope, which indisputably does exist, so also does he deny that the words “today” and “future” as spoken by Pope Benedict meant today and the future. This sort of “Fatima scholarship” would be well received in Orwell’s Oceania. It also quite appropriate to the neo-Catholic bubble wherein the ecclesial crisis has nothing to do with ruinous novelties imposed from above since Vatican II, the Vatican apparatus is entirely trustworthy, Francis is a humble reformer Pope, there is nothing wrong with Amoris Laetitia, and Catholics who have simply continued believing and practicing the Faith of our fathers, while prescinding from the post-conciliar regime of novelty they have absolutely no obligation to embrace, are “schismatics.”

Symonds, in short, is just the sort of “Fatima scholar” the neo-Catholic establishment needs to continue its relentless defense of the indefensible as the ecclesial crisis enters its most acute and ruinous phase. Hence his sudden rise to prominence based on the rhetorical equivalent of tinted steam—something that appears substantial but, like life itself, is “a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away.” But the truth will outlive us all.

Did You Miss Chris’s Outstanding Talk at the Catholic Identity Conference? Here are a few highlights:

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One comment on “The Latest Neo-Catholic Propaganda Offensive

  1. I was sure Chris Ferrara would demolish the CWN report boosting Symonds’ book, posted here on AQ recently.

    He did. And neatly so.

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