Sister Lucia was asked by her bishop to write down the 3rd Secret of Fatima. She did so and placed it in a sealed envelope with the instruction that it was to be opened by the Pope of 1960 which had been the express instruction given Lucia by Our Lady. Instead, in the latter part of August 1959, Pope John XXIII opened the letter and read it during that stiflingly sticky and exceptionally hot summer.
It has long baffled commentators as to why Pope John XXIII opened it in August of 1959. Could he not have waited four more months ’til the dawn of 1960? For that matter, why had he waited ’til August? John XXIII had been Pope for 9 full months. Why, all of a sudden, did he want to read it quite urgently? Some have said this was disobedience on the part of the Pontiff and the fact he did not wait for the time specified by Our Lady to read the 3rd Secret spoke to his mistrust of the Fatima apparitions. And how could he ask the masses to follow Our Lady of Fatima when he failed himself? The apparitions had been ratified 29 years earlier by Pope Pius XI, and John XXIII was as free as any Catholic to doubt private revelation as he may have seen the messages given the seers, in spite of the miracle of the sun which was so public an event, people argue that Fatima cannot be couched so comfortably in the realm of the merely private.
This October marks 60 years since “good Pope John” opened the Second Vatican Council, and while he’s in the news again, this seems a good time to analyze why he rushed to open the 3rd Secret in August 1959.
If I may invite you to step back in time with me to Italy, 1959. The faithful are expecting the imminent death of a beloved priest: Padre Pio. This was the highpoint of Pio’s life in terms of reputation and good standing; the scandalous rumors that would haunt him in the 1960s and give rise to his persecution were yet to happen, instead he had enjoyed the favor of Pope Pius XII throughout the 50s and the faithful were totally accepting of him. Ah, but in April, the best doctors surrounding the stigmatist had pronounced that he was going to die because of a malignant tumor embedded deep in his lungs.
This meant that ordinary Italian Catholics did not know how to spend their vacation time, which many scheduled so they could take a pilgrimage to see Pio. If their sainted Pio died, how would they get the time off work to go to his funeral? The whole nation of Italy had one shared obsession; Pio and his demise as diagnosed by his doctors. Bear in mind that this was happening in the early months of John XXIII’s pontificate and the new Pope was not garnering the same attention as Pio. While he was very popular, something he courted, he was not held up as this wonder-working Saint who people were already openly grieving.
At the same time, a Jesuit priest was touring Italy with a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Simultaneously, John XXIII’s other plans were being overlooked and instead the focus was on whether or not he would reveal the 3rd Secret. Pio’s illness began when Our Lady of Fatima arrived in Italy and lasted ’til she left; almost as though his time on the doorstep of death was to last for her stay in Italy. Pio was to spend 4 months bed-bound, unable to offer Holy Mass and hear confessions. In August, he was still imprisoned in bed, and the statue of Our Lady of Fatima came to San Giovanni Rotondo. While she was in the helicopter, flying over his cell, about to leave for good, Pio launched a desperate plea for Our Lady to heal him. The moment he asked, he was totally and miraculously cured. He was able to get out of bed, walk and resume his normal activities, which meant 19 hour days.
Imagine the delight of the faithful, they were so ecstatic that their “second St Francis” had defied death, and that Our Lady of Fatima had cured him! This happened on August 5th. Pio’s miraculous cure was the hot news all over Italy, even hotter than the weather. People made plans to go to San Giovanni in droves, those who had regretted not going sooner, were not going to waste their opportunity to see the sainted stigmatist. Two weeks after Pio’s cure, Pope John XXIII opened the 3rd Secret of Fatima.
Is it purely coincidental that in the same month Pio loudly proclaimed he was healed when Our Lady of Fatima interceded for him, that John XXIII opened the 3rd Secret?
Pio’s miraculous healing had crossed the mind of John XXIII, maybe it dominated his thoughts as it dominated the news. It is highly likely that it was already known in papal circles that Pio had been given the 3rd Secret by Our Lady when he was still a young priest. It is in the bounds of possibility that John XXIII felt himself on the back foot and wished to remedy his lack of knowledge sooner rather than later.
Something that has been firmly impressed on me, and I’ve steeped myself in this time, is that John XXIII felt there was something of a competition between his catholicism and that of Pio. This is not about whether you are a foe or a fan of John XXIII. Even those who love John XXIII and hail him as a saintly reformer (I’ve known many people who do) admit that the his view of the church was at odds with that of Pio and his followers. Only one vision could win out. And John XXIII knew it. He wanted the message of Fatima to be further in the past, and egged on by the recent explosion of interest in Our Lady of Fatima in Italy, he opened the 3rd Secret ahead of time, so that he could put it to bed as soon as possible.
John XXIII held a most negative view of Padre Pio, he later called him, “an idol of straw” and demeaned him on the basis that he had been born in Southern Italy. It is also possible that his view of Our Lady of Fatima was colored by his nasty view of Pio. I, in my limited way, can deduce one thing, John XXIII collapsed both Padre Pio and Our Lady of Fatima into the same category as that which he did not want to present to the faithful as being true. The lack of credibility afforded Sister Lucia as one of the “shepherd children” was the stated reason the 3rd Secret was kept secret. According to a Vatican release of February 1960, “Although the Church recognizes the Fatima apparitions, She does not desire to take the responsibility of guaranteeing the veracity of the words the three shepherd children said that the Virgin Mary had addressed to them.” Essentially, Sister Lucia’s witness was thrown in doubt.
I do not usually request this, I let people take ideas from my posts quite freely, without a request that they link to me. We’re only here a short time on earth and if anything I write is a help, then I am glad for people to share it. But if you wish to make known this theory, in any variety of media such as blogs, articles, videos etc., please of your charity, give a link to this blog. My reason is that this post is derived from so much research that I did for my forthcoming book, Padre Pio and You, wherein the above theory is cushioned by much greater analysis of the relationship between John XXIII and Padre Pio, including many chapters devoted to the dire persecution visited upon Pio under John XXIII. I do not lay the blame so neatly at John XXIII’s feet, rather Pio had certain enemies, most keenly among his own friars, and I would like that anyone who is interested in learning more, be able to follow the publication of my book, read it and have a full account of how I arrived at my conclusion that John XXIII opened the 3rd Secret in the same month as Padre Pio was cured because he felt himself to be in something of a competition with the stigmatized friar.
Mary’s Blog: thanks for your research about a saint and a pope (also a saint).