While in Fátima last month, I referred to Rick Salbato in my first blog post. Rick recently went to his eternal reward and I would like to take a moment to focus upon the life, work and person of Rick.
Salbato is the author two published books: The Miracle of Damascus (also a video) and The Tongues of Satan, both written under the pen name “The Publican.” The Miracle of Damascus focuses on Myrna Nazzour and her claims to be receiving private revelations and various mystical phenomena. The Tongues of Satan is, essentially, an autobiography of Salbato’s life prior to and just after his conversion. The book also features commentary on the Charismatic Movement. In addition to these books, Salbato founded the web site Unity Publishing.
In reading his writings (books or web site), one very quickly comes to see that Salbato was no stranger to controversy. Because of his topics, combined with a strong and oftentimes combative writing style, Salbato became a controversial figure, dare I say, persona non grata. He wrote often on the subject of private revelation and his writing style indicated a direct and gruff personality, one that was off-putting to some people.
While Salbato’s writings are many, few appear to have known much about the man and his person. It is no secret that Salbato and I knew each other for several years. He went to his eternal reward on February 24, 2016 surrounded by family in California. When he was alive I dared not write about him to respect his wishes. In death, I am no longer so bound.
My acquaintance with Salbato began in January, 2002. I was doing some research on the Internet when I came across Unity Publishing. Being extremely well read in Catholic thought and affairs, Salbato presented information in the light of Catholic teaching in such a way that I had not previously much considered (or, at least, valued). I wrote him an E-mail, an act which led to a more than a decade long correspondence and friendship.
Over the years as I continued my research into private revelation, Salbato continued to offer help and guidance here and there. In the summer of 2005, I was preparing for a trip to Europe and Salbato invited me to stay with him in Portugal as he was then living in Fátima. This invitation was significant because the visit afforded me a more in-depth opportunity to learn about the man, his character and personality. He was not just an “Internet friend” or a faceless avatar.[i] The time in Fátima was a blessing and a couple of events help to describe Salbato and his personality.
I wrote above that Salbato’s writings made him a controversial figure, especially for those on private revelation. His strong stances on specific cases made him unpopular, and, dare I say, a bane.[ii] What most people did not know about him, however, was that Salbato was rather well-connected, up to and including contacts in the C.I.A.[iii] The fact of his connections came out especially during and after my visit with him in Fátima.
Not a few people disbelieved Salbato when he claimed to have met Sr. Lúcia eleven different times. He spoke the truth and I can personally verify that he was on good terms with Sr. Lúcia’s convent. When I went to Portugal, Salbato was to pick me up at the airport in Lisbon. My baggage had not gone on the same flight with me—causing a delay—and I could not get word to Salbato. He left the airport to return to Fátima and he was gone by the time I was able to get out to the pickup area. When I finally got to Fátima, I went over to the information booth and sought help. Being a local, I figured someone had to know Salbato and how to contact him.
It turned out that the receptionist at the booth knew Salbato—except how to contact him. I mentioned that he knew Sr. [X] at the convent in Coimbra. This wonderful receptionist graciously called the convent and received Salbato’s number from one of the Sisters (Sr. [X], I believe). The receptionist wrote on the paper “Ricky” followed by the number. I went to a pay phone and, long story short, was able to connect with Salbato. If he was making up his claim about knowing the Carmelites in Coimbra, how did Sr. [X] know him well enough to use the diminutive for his name and provide his phone number?
The above question came in handy when, some days later, I met some good people who, regretfully, were among those who were quite skeptical of Salbato. They discussed with me his claim of having met Sr. Lúcia saying, “Kevin, Bishops come here [on pilgrimage] wanting to talk to Sr. Lúcia and not even they were able to do so. Why would Rick be able to meet her and not them?” Salbato had an advantage that these Bishops did not: he lived in Fátima and was friends with relatives of Sr. Lúcia. They visited her on a regular basis and he drove them to the convent.
I inquired of the above fact to him one day in private conversation. It is, after all, one thing to drive relatives to their visits with the famous surviving seer of Fátima; it is another thing to engage the seer in conversation. Salbato, respective of the family’s privacy (not knowing Portuguese helped tremendously), explained to me that he stood in the back and did not involve himself. Sr. Lúcia, however, motioned for him to come over and engaged him in conversation through a translator, thus began their visits.[iv] While I asked him to tell me the story, I never questioned Salbato and his claim. My time in Fátima showed me that he was telling the truth.
I recall four other things that Salbato discussed with me about Sr. Lúcia and/or her convent, three of which I shall mention here. The first was his explanation of how the Sisters choose a new postulant.[v] Second, that he had just helped the convent to purchase a computer so they could edit video footage of Sr. Lúcia around the convent.[vi] Third, and this might have been after my pilgrimage, he helped to coordinate the Sisters to watch a screening of The Passion of the Christ with Mel Gibson. On this last fact, Salbato himself wrote about it.
As I mentioned earlier, Salbato had a rather gruff personality—one that was very off-putting to anyone with a superficial understanding of him. If one were to read his autobiography present in The Tongues of Satan, they would see from whence came this gruff exterior. He was a sinner who had lived a hard life prior to his conversion, the details of which I leave for the leisure of the reader. There is one thing, however, that we discussed and which I believe will help people better appreciate the man and his work.
Prior to his conversion, Salbato would find it difficult to go to bed at night without the company of a woman. As he began his conversion, one of the things that he had realized was the miracle that takes place in the womb of a woman (and her concurrent dignity). He told me that once he realized this miracle, he immediately stopped treating women like objects. His book The Tongues of Satan indicates how well he lived this at first as he struggled to reform his life and grew in the grace of God.
Salbato was a devoted Catholic who spent much time reading, studying, and praying. Towards the end of his life especially, he worked for the betterment of his family.[vii] When talking to people about the Faith, he would take a no-holds barred approach and tell the truth to people whether they liked it or not. He was a defender of justice for the “little guy” and we talked about this in Fátima through a story he gave from his younger years. In short, he hated injustice. If he saw a smaller guy being beat up, Salbato would immediately intervene.
This “defender” theme carried over into Salbato’s work on private revelation, He would not brook any error against Holy Mother Church. If a claim to a private revelation contradicted the teaching of the Church, Salbato would examine and weigh the facts. He then marshaled these facts to formulate reasons and proceed to tell it as he saw it. In the fourteen years of our friendship, few who disagreed with Salbato were ever able to refute him.[viii] To my knowledge, when he received criticism from people who respected his work, these remarks were largely based upon his tone and tenor in communicating the information.[ix] This observation, admittedly, is one to which I also subscribe and any disagreements were handled with dignity and respect.
Salbato was reluctant to allow people to defend him in the public forum. In this, he lived the spiritual work of mercy to bear wrongs patiently. I state before the bar of history that although he had a gruff exterior, if people looked past said exterior, they would have found a man who was a very serious and faithful Catholic. Salbato understood what it meant to practice the Faith. I do not say he practiced it perfectly, but I aver that the man tried not only to live the Faith as he understood it but to defend it as well. He was devoted to God and to the Blessed Virgin Mary in such a way that nowadays is rare to witness.
There are many stories that could be said of Richard Salbato by those who knew and loved him. I am but one writer who is graced with some ability to capture, albeit poorly, something of the man. His life and work with upholding orthodoxy and orthopraxy with private revelation now prepares to be passed to the pages of history.
For now, I bid a fond farewell to a man from whom I have learned much and can truly say was a mentor to me. He was my friend, and I pray that if he has entered into the eternal beatitude of God that he remember us who yet languish in this vale of tears. If he be found guilty of sin and in need of purgation, then join me in prayer for the repose of his soul.
Requiem aeternam, dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis!
[i] The pilgrimage to Fátima was also significant that year because Sr. Lúcia had died three months prior. The place was abuzz with the news and after-effect of her death. Salbato even gave me two holy cards that were printed for her funeral and which he had obtained during the ceremonies that February.
[ii] I remember being on a retreat shortly after returning from Europe in 2005. The priest leading the retreat talked to everyone about a very famous case of alleged private revelation. He believed the claim and was telling about people who, he believed, taught lies about it. To this effect, he specified Rick Salbato and Unity Publishing. He was unaware of my friendship with Rick and just having spent ten days with him. I waited to speak with this priest about his mischaracterization until a more opportune and private moment.
[iii] In my book Refractions of Light, I discussed in endnote 97 Salbato’s claim to me that he had indeed verified a famous quote attributed to Pope Urban VIII. I constructed my discussion in that endnote and the Q&A (#127) very carefully because I would not go against him unless I possessed absolute certitude, hence why I qualified my words.
[iv] I recognize that this act might contradict the idea that Sr. Lúcia was forbidden to speak to anyone outside of those approved by the Holy See. I call attention to a simple and terribly overlooked fact in the history of Fátima. The public, to the best of my knowledge, has never seen a copy of a specific written and official document that gives the exact terms of who was and was not allowed to see Sister and under what terms. There are bits and pieces of information scattered throughout a number of sources, but never is an entire document provided. Moreover, a new biography on Sr. Lúcia indicates that it was not a “gag order” placed on Sister by Rome, but rather her own wish to be hidden from the prying eyes of the world and curiosity seekers. It is in the light of these considerations (and perhaps others) that one must weigh Sister’s beckoning to Salbato.
[v] This selection is a story about which I do not believe prudent to reveal without the permission of the Sisters, which I do not have.
[vi] I am not sure what became of this project, though if memory serves it became a DVD that was published.
[vii] Rick moved back home to California in order to be with his family. I pray the family does not mind if I reveal that he told me that his motives were, at least in part, because, “my grandson needs me.” It betrayed a great love that Rick had for his family.
[viii] Attempts were made in various places to discredit Rick but in fourteen years I never saw a whole-scale rebuttal. I believe these remarks to be largely from people with little to no grasp on the person of Richard Salbato, and, in some cases, no firm understanding of Church doctrine and practice.
[ix] I should be clear to state that it was not impossible to argue a point with Salbato. I myself had done so, but, as stated above, only when there was absolute cause to do so.