Fátima and Zavala

Hello Everyone! Summer is winding down but life is still as busy as ever!

I want to write about the book El secreto mejor guardado de Fátima by the Spanish writer José María Zavala. Earlier this summer, Zavala received some publicity from the famous Italian journalist and vaticanista Marco Tosatti. I have seen that Zavala’s work is being discussed in various circles and decided to take a look at the book. The present post is not intended to be a strict book review. Rather, I want to highlight some things that are of interest.

In summary: I am not a fan of El secreto mejor guardado de Fátima.

Zavala attempts to talk about Fátima, matters pertaining to the famous third part of the secret are a special focus. I am reluctant to say that Zavala has a mind for conspiracy, but neither does he shy away from it. In fact, he adds to the headache of existing conspiracies with the introduction of a letter attributed to Sr. Lúcia and dated 1 April, 1944.[1]

This document gives a much sought after “interpretation” of the third part of the secret of Fátima. Zavala came across the document, found it interesting, and provides the conclusion(s) from a professional analysis of the handwriting in the back of his book (297-320). Zavala earlier prefaced the report in his book with an entire chapter (10) entitled La carta (233-268). I believe the document to be a fraud and I state my belief unequivocally.[2] I will here explain my reasons.

The biography of Sr. Lúcia from the Carmelites of Coimbra, Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria, goes a long way to offer some answers on this matter. Zavala was clearly aware of the biography. He cites it in his own book (pgs. 266-267) and included it in the bibliography (p. 321). Critical to my discussion is the fact that the biography provides us with an account from Sr. Lúcia about how the third part of the secret was written. I have written elsewhere on this history.

For our purposes here, Our Lady made a key distinction between the vision and its meaning (significado). She ordered that the vision be written, but not its meaning. This fact was previously unknown to the larger public until 2013 and helps to address some discrepancies that have arisen over the years. Nevertheless, Zavala evidences that it is apparent that the biography has yet to take firmer root in people’s understanding of Fátima.

As the above pertains to Zavala’s book and the alleged letter of Sr. Lúcia, I wish to point out a couple of things. First, notice the date of the letter: 1 April, 1944. The date is just shy of three months from the January 3rd, 1944 apparition of Our Lady to Sr. Lúcia. If the 1 April letter is authentic, what was the point of Our Lady telling Lúcia not to write down the meaning of the vision only for Sister to write it down less than three months later? Zavala does not ask this question (and other related questions), much less answer it.

Secondly, notice how the text of the document is 20-25 lines. The number of lines plays right into the argument from Frère Michel (FM) that Sr. Lúcia’s text was probably (probablement) comprised of 20-25 lines. I demonstrated in my book (chapter 2) that FM appeared to be giving his own interpretation to something Bishop Venâncio had told him. FM provides no quotation marks, thus there is difficulty in discerning the exact words of Bishop Venâncio from the interpretation of Frère Michel.

The fact that the alleged letter of Sr. Lúcia plays right into the above fact as well as it not being in harmony with the distinction between the vision and its meaning tells me that this alleged letter is fraudulent. I wish to point out one other consideration in Zavala’s book. On page 62, he discusses a famous hypothesis in support of a second text: the difference in dates between January 3 and January 9, 1944. Zavala asks, “Why did Lucia wait six full days to inform the Bishop of Leiria that she had already fulfilled his petition?”[3]

The Carmelites answered the question in their biography: Lúcia was permitted to write letters on Sundays.[4] Since January 3, 1944 was a Monday, Sister wrote down the vision in a non-epistolary style document. January 9, 1944 was a Sunday, hence the letter (in epistolary form) to Bishop da Silva. Either Zavala missed this reference or he addresses it later in his book and I missed it. One thing is for sure: in the section, wherein he raises the question, Zavala does not present the Carmelites’ answer. He finishes out the section with a discussion about the new vision afforded to Sr. Lúcia on January 3, 1944.

In conclusion, Zavala appears to have a good desire to examine a matter of interest to many people. Regretfully, he does not appear to see the problem(s) with his presentation despite the fact of the evidence staring him straight in the face. I applaud him for going to the trouble to obtaining a handwriting analysis. It appears, however, that he did not exercise the same caution when it came to checking the information against the known facts and history of Fátima for any potential inconsistencies that questioned his presentation.

Overall, Zavala provides a speculative discussion that cobbles together various sources involving the usual suspects (Socci, Frère Michel, Tornielli, Tosatti, et al.). To Zavala’s credit, he does go back to some of the earlier sources (for example: Canon Barthas). This fact, however, does not save his discussion from becoming a hodge-podge of speculation that employs all sorts of sources in what strikes me as being somewhat indiscriminate. Zavala has an eye for mysticism, not as a theologian but more so as a journalist. This deeply impacts his presentation and runs a serious danger of imparting to people the wrong idea about Fátima.


[1] Tosatti noticed this letter and it appears to be one of the things that drew him to Zavala’s book.

[2] I do not believe that Zavala is the originator of the hoax. In fact, he clearly explains how he came across the letter (p. 233). He received it from an anonymous source in the spam folder of his E-mail account. I have no reason to doubt his account. Besides, this 1 April, 1944 letter has circulated around in the Internet in the past.

[3] ¿Por qué aguardó Lucia entonces seis días completos para comunicarle al Obispo de Leiria que ya había concluido su petición?

[4] Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria (1st edition), 274.

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Humanae Vitae and Medjugorje

Over a decade ago, when I was still at University studying Theology, I remember learning about Pope Paul VI’s last Encyclical Humanae Vitae. The document was rather interesting between its history, teachings, and reception.

Concerning the history of this document, I learned that there was quite the lead-up to its publication. Pope John XXIII had established a study group to look at the question of Catholic doctrine on artificial contraception. John died, Paul VI succeeded him, and retained the study group. Meanwhile, there was a lot of buzz within the Catholic world that the Church was going to change its doctrine on artificial contraception. I was even told that priests were telling people in Confession to expect a change in the doctrine (with the obvious logical consequence that it was no longer a sin to use artificial contraception).

The findings from this group were to be drawn up in a dossier and sent to the Holy Father. In short, the study group recommended that the Church allow the use of artificial contraception. Unfortunately, we know that this was the recommendation from the study group because the dossier was leaked to the press (which greatly angered Paul VI, I recently read). The genie, as it were, was out of its bottle and people’s belief that the Church was going to change its doctrine on artificial contraception was reinforced.

Then came the publication of Humanae Vitae wherein Paul VI essentially rejected the study group’s recommendation and upheld the Church’s perennial teaching. Massive revolt ensued which, I was told, was the reason why Humanae Vitae was the last Encyclical written by Paul VI. The Church had a serious pastoral problem on its hand, the effects from which, arguably, we are still reeling.

What, you may be wondering, does the above have to do with Medjugorje?

The news has been all abuzz recently with Pope Francis’ recent revealing of the “guts” of the Ruini Commission’s findings. It was reported at the time that the Commission believed the first 7 apparitions were authentic, but not the later ones.

This morning, I read a news article dated July 23 (to which I shall not link lest I give any credibility to the site) that focused upon the Commission’s alleged recommendation that pilgrimages to Medjugorje be permitted. The July 23 article argued that if the Vatican had concerns about the later apparitions, then it would have to exercise caution about travel to Medjugorje.

The parallel lesson that I wish to make with Humanae Vitae is simple: don’t jump the gun. Consider the following:

  1. The Holy Father has issued no official judgment on Medjugorje,
  2. The 1991 Zadar Declaration is still in effect,
  3. Pilgrimages that presume a supernatural origin to the Medjugorje phenomenon are still not allowed.

We are Catholics, bound to obedience. If we violate that obedience then we sin and could very well imperil our eternal salvation. At the very least, we displease Our Lord Jesus Christ who we claim to serve.

Let us remember what Our Lady said at Fátima:
Do not offend our Lord God any more, for He is already much offended.”

-Kevin J. Symonds