The Church's Obligation to Believe  and Obey
Our Lady of Fatima: Part 1

by Father Nicholas Gruner, S.T.L, S.T.D [Can.]

Recently an informal survey was taken of a number of lay persons and priests, as well as bishops and Cardinals, regarding the obligation to believe and obey Our Lady of Fatima. Not surprisingly, even among people who are self-proclaimed experts on the subject, there are dangerous ideas. Since the topic is crucial for the eternal salvation of millions of souls and furthermore, it is absolutely essential for world peace, we present here an edited version of the talk Father Gruner gave at the 2001 Bishop's Peace Conference in Rome.

We will now talk about the obligation to believe and to obey the Message of Our Lady of Fatima. There are several theological positions regarding the Church's obligation, and our own individual obligation, to believe and obey Our Lady of Fatima.

   First, let me briefly point out that there are those who say that Fatima is a "private revelation", and, therefore, we do not have to believe in Fatima, nor are we or even the Pope obliged to obey it. You can, so these people say, believe it if you like, and fulfill the pious exercises it promotes if you like, but you cannot tell anyone that he is bound to believe and obey.

There are priests and Fatima organizations who claim to love Our Lady, who say such things. Their position, although widely held, is erroneous, is dangerous and could lead many who hold this position ultimately straight to Hell.

   Why is it false, dangerous and bad? We will see by examining the other two theological positions which both directly oppose the position outlined above.

Part I
Fatima is in Biblical Prophecy

   The first position upholding the Church's obligation to believe and obey Our Lady of Fatima is as follows: the Message of Fatima is contained in Sacred Scripture by way of prophecy. And that if it is contained there, it is part of the Deposit of the Faith. And if it is part of the Deposit of Faith, then we're bound to believe it with Divine and Catholic Faith.

   In other words, according to this position, the Fatima Message is part of public revelation, guaranteed by the Holy Ghost in Sacred Scripture. This theological position is clearly directly opposed to those who say "Fatima is a private revelation."

   To many, even the pious as well as priests and theologians, this position (let us call it "Fatima is in the Bible" position) is indefensible, extremist and much too radical. I don't hold this position as a certitude, but as you will see, it is very useful to understand: first, because it could be true and might one day even be the teaching of the Magisterium; and, secondly, it helps us understand better the second position to be described below, which also upholds our obligations to believe and obey.

     Opposing Theologian Silenced

   Now regarding the "Fatima is in the Bible" position, let me explain by way of a theological discussion I had with a professor of Theology. It was publicly in class in Rome many years ago in the Marianum. He suggested to me that we did not have to believe at all in Fatima. And I said to him, "How do you know that it is not a fulfillment of biblical prophecy? Can you affirm categorically and absolutely it is not then part of the Faith?" And although he was totally opposed to my position, he could not refute it. He had no answer and acknowledged it.

   Why did the Professor concede, even though he was opposed? Simple. Because the argument is very simple, direct and logical. To understand the force of it we need to review some basics.

   What is it that we must believe by our profession of the Catholic faith? What is of the Faith? St. Thomas tells us it is all that God has revealed. What is of the Catholic Faith? Everything that's in Sacred Scripture. Everything that's in Catholic Tradition. That's the Catholic Faith.

   St. Thomas points out in his Summa Theologica that if you know that Scripture tells you David had seventy sons, then you must by Divine and Catholic Faith believe it. That is why a theologian is held to a higher standard of belief than the average lay person.
   To be saved, St. Thomas says, all persons must believe the 12 articles of the Apostles' Creed. But a theologian must believe much more than that because there's much more that has been defined and taught and passed on in the Deposit of Faith. [St. Thomas Aquinas, Pt. II-II, Q. 2, Art. 6]

   St. Thomas says that if you know that in Scripture David is said to be the son of Jesse, you must believe it with Divine and Catholic Faith, [St. Thomas Aquinas, Pt. II-II, Q. 2, Art. 5] because God revealed it. The essence of the theological virtue of Faith is that one believes not because his opinion coincides with God's, but because one accepts what God has revealed.

   We know that God, Who is all Holy, cannot lie. We know that God, Who is all knowing, cannot be mistaken. If God tells us something, then we have to believe it. Otherwise we blaspheme God because in that case we are either calling Him a liar or we're denying His capacity to know all truth. A non-believer may not explicitly intend to blaspheme God, but he is blaspheming by his very act of disbelief.

A Mortal Sin to Deny the Faith

    That is why it's a mortal sin to deny one article of the Catholic Faith. The Church has taught this for centuries, as the Scriptures themselves do. St. Paul says in Galatians 1: 8, "though we, or an Angel from Heaven should preach a gospel to you besides that which you have received, let him be anathema." (Which means let him be cut off, let him be cursed, let him go to Hell for all eternity.)

   The Church, in Her mercy and in Her love for souls, has made it clear that certain things must be believed in order to be saved. That's why She's made solemn definitions. Whoever says or believes that which is contrary to a  solemn definition, let him be anathema. Let him be cut off.

    Now in our time many people in the Catholic Church are losing that sense of dogma, according to the Third Secret. (See the article on this point, HERE.) But no man is excused from believing the truths of the faith simply because many others have lost their sense of dogma. Dogmatic Faith is required for salvation. Not everyone knows all the dogmatic teachings of the Magisterium, but all are held to believe explicitly those things they know the Church has solemnly defined as being of Divine and Catholic Faith.

    Certainly theologians have the obligation to know them and believe them more than lay persons.

    But even a lay person, once a dogmatic teaching has been brought to his attention, has the same solemn obligation to believe as explicitly as a theologian. St. Augustine tells us that not everyone has the same gift of understanding, and that those of us who are less gifted, because we have less intelligence, have lesser obligations. But the essential obligation is the same for everyone; that is, that one must believe what God teaches. A refusal to believe what God teaches is enough to damn you to Hell for all eternity.
    And so the chief argument of this position is that the appearance of Our Lady at Fatima is contained in Sacred Scripture, because it is foretold in the Apocalypse Chapter 12. In other words, if Our Lady's appearance at Fatima in 1917 is in fact foretold in Sacred Scripture then we are bound to believe it as a future event predicted that has now come to pass. And as such, it is part of the Deposit of Faith. Remember I do not hold this position as certain; however, I respect it and I have no argument against it.

    We Must Not Follow the Blind Leaders Who Say You Can Ignore Fatima

    Now, if it is true that Fatima is indeed contained in prophesy in Sacred Scripture, we now, living today, most solemnly have very special obligations. For each of us right now may be facing eternal truths that will determine our eternal destiny. We cannot simply put this aside, ignore it or not reflect on it. We cannot simply let others, even so-called experts, decide for us like many did in Our Lord's time.

   The Pharisees were blind and leaders of the blind and both fell into the pit of Hell. Let us reflect here for a moment on the parallel with Our Lord's life. Our Lord's arrival was foretold in the Old Testament. And the Pharisees of the Old Testament claimed they had the Scriptures, so what need had they to listen to this "ignorant" Carpenter from Nazareth? What they forgot was that their own Scriptures contained prophecies and those prophecies talked about that Carpenter from Nazareth. And so they themselves fulfilled their role as villains in the very prophecies they claimed to be the keepers and masters of. And it's because they did not really believe God, and they did not believe in the miracles that Jesus did (although they claimed to believe in God), that they were

   The coming of Our Lord was predicted in the Old Testament by many prophets. And Christ came at the time predicted. [Daniel 9: 24-26] What He would do; how He would die; [Isaiah 53: 2-12 and the other prophecies throughout the Old Testament] many, many facts about Him were predicted.

   And although the Pharisees claimed to be faithful to the Scriptures, they themselves were guilty of crucifying Christ. (This is not to ignore that all sinners in some way crucify Christ, but we're talking now about the physical death of Christ in time, and it was predicted.) The Jewish leaders claimed to have God for their master, but our Lord said to them, "If you had God for your Father, then you would recognize Me, because I am the image of the Father." "I and the Father are one." [John 10: 30] "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do." [John 8: 44]

And as Saint Padre Pio once said, there are people who, in the name of upholding Scriptures, deny evident miracles in their own time, and they will fall, little by little, from that to denying even the miracles that Christ worked in the Scriptures.

   How do these facts concern us here and now? Very simply. If Our Lady's coming at Fatima is predicted in Sacred Scripture, just as the coming of Christ is predicted in Sacred Scripture, then the biblical prophecy must be believed when it is fulfilled. And the Pharisees' refusal to believe in Christ when they were given the great miracles He performed, made them guilty.

   Their claim to believe Sacred Scriptures as their excuse to refuse to believe the Prophet God the Father had sent did not excuse them. [John 3: 1921; 5: 23, 36-47; 10: 24-26] They died in their sins.

     Two Popes Tell Us!

When did Our Lady of Fatima come? When was She predicted in Sacred Scripture?
   Well we have two Popes in the last thirty-seven years telling us that it is Our Lady of Fatima who is indicated in Chapter 12 verse 1 of the Apocalypse. Both Popes clearly indicate that it is not just Our Lady-----and certainly it is Our Lady-----but it is not simply Our Lady, it is Our Lady of Fatima that fulfilled the prophecy that is contained in Chapter 12 verse 1 of the Apocalypse. Now where do we find these statements of the Popes? We find it first of all in the opening paragraph of Paul VI's encyclical Signum magnum, [May 13, 1967] which translated from the Latin is "Great Sign"; and in Latin, Ch. 12, verse 1 of the Apocalypse starts off "Signum magnum apparuit in caelo"-----that is, "A great sign appeared in the Heavens." And Paul VI clearly does not define or say that this is absolutely Our Lady of Fatima, but he clearly wants to suggest that it is.

   This is not to say that the Magisterium has said Our Lady of Fatima is the Woman clothed with the sun. However, Paul VI, in his encyclical, clearly intends to convey that message. It's very subtly worded, but it is clear that's what he intends. Moreover, John Paul II also gave the same indication, and I think even more forcefully, in his sermon at Fatima on May 13, 2000. [NOTE 1] There, he made the same suggestion, but he was even more definitive about it. It's most noteworthy that the two Popes who have gone to Fatima have made it their business to suggest, to state, to indicate, that Our Lady of Fatima's appearance is the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy of Chapter 12 of St. John's book of biblical prophecy.

   If it really is the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy, then the argument could be made that it's not just a public prophetic revelation, which I will explain to you in a moment, but it is, in fact, part of the Deposit of Faith.

    A Pope Could Define It!

    "Fatima is in the Bible" is a respectable theological position-----even if it is not widely held. I do not say that this position is definitive, that would take the true Magisterium, more exactly, the Pope to make a solemn pronouncement intending to bind the whole Catholic Church to this position to make it binding on all Catholics. Nevertheless, up to now, there is no one who can prove that it is not exact and true. Especially when two Popes have very publicly, very clearly indicated-----quite possibly on the basis of the full Third Secret, which clearly has not yet been fully released-----that Our Lady of Fatima is indeed the fulfillment of this biblical prophecy. I can tell you that those in the Catholic Church who oppose Fatima, (and there are many, from modernists, to progressives, to liberals, to conservatives, to even some "traditionalists") have no arguments against the position that "Fatima is in biblical prophecy". I have no arguments either.

   I would leave the option open for this position, if the Church should ever define it, which it could. In fact, on this very point, the Fifth Lateran Council-----which met around the year 1512-----defined that the Pope alone defines on matters of prophetic revelation. [Father M. Laffineur, Star on the Mountain, (published with permission of ecclesiastical authority, November 20, 1967, Newtonville, New York) p. 70]  Not the Cardinal Secretary of State, not the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but the Pope alone. And we're talking about the Pope in his official capacity as teacher, not as private theologian.

Some Necessary Clarifications

In this respect, there's not a large difference between a Pope and a judge. Take the example of a judge. His wife asks him at night, halfway through a murder trial, "Well, is the defendant guilty or innocent?" And the judge could say to his wife in the privacy of his home "I think he's guilty." But that opinion of the judge does not constitute an official statement of the judge. It is his opinion. And the Pope similarly can have opinions about various things going on in the Church. But the expression of those opinions, even in a public place, does not constitute the expression of the Magisterium. It does not, as such, constitute a Magisterial definition or statement.

    There are certain precise requirements for something to be Magisterial on the part of the Pope. I'm not talking only about solemn definitions, but even the exercise of his ordinary and universal Magisterium. That's a whole other discourse, but it is needed because there's a lot of confusion on that point today. What I'm getting at is simply that in these matters of prophetic revelation, the Pope is the final, sole judge. But until that time that he pronounces magisterially, we have the right to our own opinions. St. Augustine tells us that "in essentials there must be unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity." And so we have a right to hold our opinion so long as we hold it sincerely, that is, after having weighed the evidence and done the best to understand what's at stake.
NOTE 1. "According to the Divine plan, 'a woman clothed with the sun' (Apoc. 12:1) came down from Heaven to this earth to visit the privileged children of the Father. She speaks to them with a mother's voice and heart: She asks them to offer themselves as victims of reparation, saying that She was ready to lead them safely to God.  . . .

   "Later Francisco, one of the three privileged children, exclaimed: 'We were burning in that light which is God and we were not consumed. What is God like? It is impossible to say. In fact we will never be able to tell people'.

God: a light that burns without consuming. Moses had the same experience when he saw God in the burning bush.  . . .

   " 'Another portent appeared in Heaven; behold, a great red dragon' (Apoc. 12:3). These words from the first reading of the Mass make us think of the great struggle between good and evil, showing how, when man puts God aside, he cannot achieve happiness, but ends up destroying himself.  . . .

   "The Message of Fatima is a call to conversion, alerting humanity to have nothing to do with the 'dragon' whose 'tail swept down a third of the stars of Heaven, and cast them to the earth' (Apoc. 12:4)." From Pope John Paul II's sermon of May 13, 2000.