The Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 21st Century
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12. The Modernist Solution of Father Dhanis


THE cleverest, the most tenacious, and certainly the most effective offensive against Fatima was led, from 1944 on, by a Belgian Jesuit, Father Edouard Dhanis. Professor of theology at Louvain from 1933 to 1949, he then taught at the Gregorian University of Rome, where he was named Rector by Paul VI in 1963. With the passage of time, he appears today, on account of his apparent objectivity and prudent moderation, as the most unyielding and terrible adversary of Fatima. His role was decisive.

THE STAGES OF THE CONTROVERSY. He Opened the debate in 1944, with two long articles in Flemish, 1 entitled  : On the Apparitions and Predictions of Fatima. At the beginning of 1945, he published these two texts, with only slight alterations, in the form of a book  : 2 On the Apparitions and Secret of Fatima  : A Critical Contribution. Although expressed with a thousand precautions and apparent prudence, the principal thesis of the work comes out clearly  : Yes, the apparitions of the Virgin to the three little shepherds of Aljustrel in 1917 are undoubtedly authentic. This must be conceded, because he does not see how one can conclude otherwise… But as for what was added later on, all that is open to question and more than doubtful  ! There is nothing to compel us to believe in it, and it is better to stay with the “ original version ” of the message.

An initial response was made in 1946, by Father Jongen, a Dutch Montfort Father who, having had the favour of an audience with Sister Lucy, was already able to provide several interesting corrections. 3 But it was not until 1951 that the best specialist of that time, Father da Fonseca, himself also a Jesuit, refuted point by point the work of his colleague. 4

Father Dhanis, promoted in 1949 to professor at the Gregorian University, claimed he had been misunderstood. In an article published this time in French, Concerning “ Fatima and Criticism  ” 5 he tried to justify himself while accusing his colleague of distorting his thought.

The following year, the controversy revived. Father Veloso, S. J., in the same Portuguese review, opposed the too personal and superficial defence of Father Dhanis with the solid arguments of Father da Fonseca  : 6 Still Some Confusion and Errors on Fatima.

Invited finally by his superiors to put an end to the scandal of an increasingly bitter controversy between various members of the Society, Father Dhanis, to close the debate, published an embarrassed and confused article which sought, by a series of confused circumlocutions, to soothe the ire of his adversaries, while letting his friends know that he had renounced none of his criticisms against Fatima. 7 For we know from a reliable source, from the very mouth of one of his friends, a Jesuit in constant contact with him in Rome, that Father Dhanis never retracted any of his virulent criticisms against Fatima. We shall see later on what an uninterrupted series of promotions he received from the 1960’s onwards before dying in 1978, honoured by all as one of the men in whom Pope Paul VI had the greatest trust. 8


In any case, Father Dhanis became the obligatory reference, the official cover for all the enemies of Fatima. What a windfall for them  ! Who would suspect the good faith and orthodoxy of the eminent professor at the Gregorian  ? While the brilliant refutations of the Fatima historians appeared in the Portuguese review Broteria, and remained in the most complete oblivion, the studies of Father Dhanis had a wide circulation in the intellectual climate of the post-war era Numerous reviews praising his work were published far and wide. They graciously attributed to the Flemish original, which was not easily accessible, all the authority of a definitive and unanswerable criticism. An article of Cardinal Journet, in his review Nova et Vetera9 and repeated the same year in The Spiritual Life10 cannot pass unnoticed. Full of irony and violence against Fatima, it would gravely harm the cause of the apparitions. The future Cardinal, a great disciple and friend of Jacques Maritain, was also a friend of Msgr. Montini, who was then under-Secretary of State. Hence the importance of the debate for the future of the Church.

AT THE TIME OF THE COUNCIL. From then on, the word was spread within “ learned ” and progressive circles that the study of Father Dhanis, the only one with any “ scientific value ”, cast a legitimate suspicion on a whole part of the message. Thus Father Laurentin in 1961  : «  For Fatima, the attempt at a critical work by Father Dhanis, S. J., has provoked violent reactions (to discourage whoever might be tempted by an effort of the same nature). The intentions of Father Dhanis were loyal, his conclusions were essentially reserved  ; and as for his method, it was simply the same one that governs historical criticism in every domain, including Holy Scripture. Yet he was still treated as though he had written in an impious spirit.  » 11 And Father Laurentin, who like the majority of anti-Fatima progressives, had no doubt read nothing else on the subject besides the one article in the Nouvelle Revue Théologique, docilely parrots what he found there… Did not the negative conclusion of the learned Jesuit Dhanis dispense one from any serious and attentive examination of the documentation on Fatima  ? 12

DURING THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF FATIMA. After working on preparations for the Council, the Belgian Jesuit was named in 1962 consultor of the Holy Office, in 1963 rector of the Gregorian University  ; in September 1966 he was put in charge of the congress on “ the Theology of Vatican II ”, and in 1967 the Pope chose him to be “ special secretary ” of the first Synod of Bishops. At the moment of the great offensive against Fatima caused by the announcement of the pilgrimage of Paul VI on May 13, 1967, the authority of Father Dhanis seems to have increased still more. There is hardly an article which does not cite him without unlimited respect and admiration  : the I. C. I., 13 Father Laurentin, 14 Fesquet, 15 and Father Rouquette in the magazine Etudes, from which this excerpt gives a good example of the tone  : «  It is certainly regrettable that no serious study has been devoted to the events of Fatima, analogous to those of Louis Bassette on La Salette, or Father Laurentin on Lourdes… Only one critical essay has been attempted… it comes from a theologian whose orthodoxy is omni exceptione major (above all suspicion), Father Dhanis, an influential member of the Theological Commission of the Council, and consultor of the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith…  »

Apart from the work of Father Dhanis and some articles devoted to him, the abundant literature on Fatima supposedly designed for edification, is so poor that it drew these indignant lines, in 1948, from Cardinal Journet  : «  We are told there was a “ dance ” of the sun, a “ rain of flowers ”, and after that they tell us that “ the greatest miracle ”, the “ miracle of miracles ”, is the present flourishing condition of Portugal. For what do you take us, gentlemen  ? The imprimatur can protect you from heresies, but it cannot save you from foolishness. O great mysterious Virgin of the Gospel of Christmas and the Gospel of the Crucifixion  ! O great and blessed Theotokos, at once formidable and maternal  ! Shall Your faithful, in these days when they need You more than ever, have nothing more to breathe than these paper flowers  ?  » 16 What hatred, and what scorn  ! But let us recall here only the relevant part  : the decisive influence of Father Dhanis.

Father Rouquette quotes Cardinal Journet, who himself quotes an edition by Otto Karrer of the work of Dhanis… These critics always return there as to a great arsenal, a unique source of all the criticisms directed against Fatima within the bosom of the Church for thirty-five years. In May 1982, in an article on The Secret of Fatima, Father Laurentin again cites Father Dhanis as an authority on the matter. 17 By everyone’s admission then, Father Dhanis is the only Catholic critic seriously opposed to Fatima, or at least to the message in all its integrity. Those who followed him did nothing more than slavishly repeat what he had said, dwelling on his arguments, while more or less adding their own anti-Fatima passion.


We use the word “ thesis ” deliberately, in spite of all the disclaimers of the author. For if we read his articles on Fatima, in spite of all the interrogative turns of phrase, the hedged affirmations and the ever convenient shelter of a “ simple hypothesis ”, it appears that Father Dhanis maintains a thesis, although with great “ prudence ” (it was still under Pius XII, the “ Pope of Fatima ”  !) but stubbornly and obstinately. Thus we will lay aside all the vain circumlocutions and concentrate only on the real content of this thought, which is perfectly clear in his first article, 18 more and more camouflaged in later studies, but perfectly identical from 1944 to 1953… and thus until his death in 1978, since he never published the least retraction on this point.

THE APPARITIONS OF 1917 AND THE MIRACLE OF THE SUN. First of all, Father Dhanis professes to recognize as authentic the apparitions of 1917. He affirms it, without enthusiasm  : «  The visions of Our Lady which the three little shepherds claim to have had in 1917 indeed seem (sic) to have come from a supernatural intervention.  » 19 Likewise, he sees a true miracle in the solar phenomenon of October 13  : «  This miracle rests on solid testimonies and it is reasonable to see in it a miraculous sign.  » 20 This does not prevent him from quibbling over the grave discrepancies he claims to uncover between the various testimonies. The events must, he suggests, have been amplified and unduly enlarged later on. Thus, he takes exception to all statements of the following nature  : «  In a zigzag motion, the sun criss-crosses the skies, and everybody has the impression that it is about to throw itself down upon the crowd to destroy it.  » (Father Jongen) Dhanis thinks that it is affirming too much. Our Jesuit is more subtle  : «  Be that as it may ”, he writes, «  we have distinguished on the one hand the phenomenon of the descent of the sun and its going back up in a zigzag, which we have not dared to accept, and on the other hand the phenomenon of the tremors and beginning of the fall, which we have admitted.  » 21

All this useless quibbling – in which, moreover, he is mistaken due to lack of information – allows him to greatly minimize the importance and consequences of the prodigious miracle  : «  If we accept as a probable opinion that the miracle of the sun happened almost exactly as we have described it, must it be considered a divine sign, a miracle  ?  » 22 Father Dhanis leans to the affirmative. Yet he concludes in the most curious manner  : «  The most probable solution is to consider this miracle rather as a sign given to men by a supernatural power…. It is important that this miracle, promised as a confirmation of the divine origin of the apparitions, should really in fact guarantee them. Such a guarantee is useful because it is not clear how the visions of Fatima would of themselves indicate their divine origin. The signs favourable to the apparitions are not decisive (So then, the great miracle of the sun is not sufficient  ?); in opposition to them one can put forward unfavourable signs not found in recent authors.  » (Galamba, Barthas, da Fonseca.) 23 Father Dhanis then presents an almost exhaustive catalogue of all the difficulties raised by the Message of Fatima.


He bases all his objections on the very important fact that we stressed in the introduction  : the growth of the message that took place later on. Why did Lucy wait until 1936 to begin speaking of the apparitions of the angel dating from 1916, he asks  ? 24 Above all, why did the essential theme of the Immaculate Heart of Mary appear so late in the history of Fatima  ? Neither the great work of Formigao, The Wonders of Fatima, nor even the first editions of Father da Fonseca’s book make any allusion to it. «  It seems  », he concludes, «  that this theme is part of what we can call “ the new history of Fatima ”, which uses recent accounts of Lucy.  » 25

The thesis of Dhanis is clear  : there are in fact two different histories of Fatima, the “ old ” one which went up to the years 1938-40, and the “ new ” one, which was written from more recent accounts written by Sister Lucy from 1935 to 1941. We can call these two histories, so different in inspiration, Fatima I for the “ old history ”, and Fatima II for the “ new history ”. 26

The stakes involved in the debate are obvious, since the new elements concern not only the apparitions of the angel, but above all the very text of the great secret, and all the themes which constitute it. The whole basis of the critical edifice of Father Dhanis, of «  the general solution of the problem of Fatima  » that he proposes, rests on this dichotomy, henceforth affirmed as certain, between Fatima I and Fatima II.

THE MEMOIRS OF SISTER LUCY. To admit such a radical distinction almost necessarily casts a grave suspicion on Fatima II and on its unique source  : the Memoirs of Sister Lucy. «  These are moving accounts, and charm the reader with the innocence, piety and heroism of these little privileged ones of the Holy Virgin.  » 27 He also notes  : These accounts have made it possible to write «  an intimate history of the little seers, full of freshness and piety  ». 28 One senses, however, that conviction is absent, or rather one quickly realizes that these are “ poisoned ” compliments, for Dhanis deliberately denies them any value as historical witnesses  : «  All things considered, it is not easy to say precisely how much credence can be given to the accounts of Lucy… one may judge it prudent to use her writings only with circumspection.  » 29 In other words, they are pious imaginings. Why  ?


AN IMPOSSIBLE SILENCE. The principal argument advanced by Dhanis, and repeated by his followers, is that so long a silence was impossible for such young children. Dhanis develops this argument in relation to the apparitions of the Angel in 1916, concerning which the children said nothing. The words of Lucy, explaining that the very strong impression of recollection and physical prostration which the apparitions provoked in them moved them very powerfully to silence, does not convince Dhanis. «  Is this explanation valid for more than a passing silence  ? We cannot see how it would make really plausible a silence whose burden the children would carry through the years, which they did not break even when Francisco asked, in vain, to receive First Communion as viaticum, or when little Jacinta, so spontaneous in character, approached the time of her First Communion.  » 30

Psychologically this silence is inexplicable. The objection applies also to all the themes kept secret from 1917 to 1935 or 1941. Such an absolute silence of almost twenty years or more seems quite suspicious to Father Dhanis.

CONTRADICTIONS AND ERRORS. Moreover, Father Dhanis claims to discover an additional proof that the elements of the “ new history ” were in fact invented much later on and do not correspond to the original events, in the contradictions between the two versions. According to Fatima I, the secret would have been revealed in June, but in Fatima II, in July. According to the interrogations of 1917, the Virgin did not give Her name until October 13. In the great secret, She already says on July 13  : «  My Immaculate Heart will triumph.  » Dhanis concludes  : «  It must be admitted that the new history of Fatima does not harmonize well with the old one, which is rather disturbing.  » 31 All the more so since there are other motives for suspicion. The new version of the Message, according to Dhanis, is riddled with grave theological errors.

They concern first of all one of the prayers taught by the Angel to the three shepherds in 1916. The theology which it implies does not suit the taste of our author. We will respond carefully to the objection while commenting on the Message. Here the censor of Fatima highlights his condescending leniency  : «  One will note that our judgement on this formula was not severe. We called it neither heretical nor false, but inexact.  » 32 In fact, the objection against this prayer is so inconsistent that we find quite similar expressions in many of the writings of the saints, Gertrude the Great for example. It is perfectly justified even in its literal sense. But no matter, for Dhanis’judgement still falls immediately, and without appeal  : «  This however is enough to make it difficult to grant it the heavenly origin that Lucy attributes to it…  » 33

The vision of Hell that Lucy reports she had with Jacinta and Francisco on July 13, 1917, also raises serious theological difficulties, Apart from the fact that it appears only in the “ new history ”, it is impossible for Dhanis to take it literally. Father da Fonseca sums up perfectly the conclusion that every sensible reader inevitably draws from the long development of Father Dhanis, which as always is a succession of rash hypotheses that undermine the authenticity of the apparitions, and soothing circumlocutions, which hypothetically are very favourable. Dhanis continues  : «  The other difficulties concern principally the exaggeratedly medieval representation of the pains of Hell, and the critic asks how Our Lady could present it this way to the twentieth century.  » 34 Father da Fonseca is content to give, in response, the reference to some texts… of the Gospel and the Apocalypse in perfect accord with the vision of Fatima. That alone is sufficient, but we will come back to this point.

DOUBTFUL PROPHECIES  ? Along with miracles, true prophecies are always the most unquestionable mark of the supernatural. There are several prophecies in the famous secret of Fatima of July 13, 1917. Thus it announces the horrors of the Second World War if mankind did not convert in time. But Father Dhanis stresses, ironically, that the famous prophecy was not divulged until 1942  ! He makes the same incisive remark regarding the famous “ night illumined by an unknown light ”, presented as the herald of the divine chastisement. In short, our Jesuit insinuates, are not the prophecies of Sister Lucy simply a case of prophecies too easily made, post eventum  ? Or in any case the inventions of the seer  ? This explanation allows him to assume some very curious historical errors  : did not Sister Lucy predict, remarks Dhanis, that the war would begin “ during the reign of Pius XI ”  ? Yet we know that the Pontiff died on February 10, 1939, several months before the declaration of war, which only took place under Pius XII  !

A GROSS HISTORICO-THEOLOGICAL ERROR  ? The gravest error, in the eyes of Dhanis, touches on one of the essential themes of the secret  : The role which the Virgin attributes to Russia and the impossible remedy proposed. According to Lucy, the Holy Virgin requested in the Secret that the Pope consecrate Russia to Her Immaculate Heart. Dhanis alleges that such a request could not be fulfilled, saying  : «  There is no need for long reflections to see that it was practically impossible for the Sovereign Pontiff to make such a consecration.  » Our critic concludes that strictly speaking, it was not absolutely impossible. «  But in the concrete, things appear more difficult. Schismatic as a religious unity, and Marxist as a political unity, Russia could not be consecrated by the Pope, without this act taking on the air of a challenge, both in regard to the separated hierarchy, as well as to the Union of Soviet Republics. This would make the consecration practically unrealizable.  » Since such an impolitic and anti-ecumenical request was «  morally impossible by reason of the reactions it would normally provoke  », how could it come from Heaven, Dhanis asks, and his question, in spite of its attenuated form, leaves no doubt as to its answer  : «  But could the Most Holy Virgin have requested a consecration which, taken according to the rigour of the terms, would be practically unrealizable  ?… This question indeed seems to call for a negative response.  » 35

One can guess what conclusion Father Dhanis is able to draw from such a series of “ unfavourable indicators ”.


ONE WITNESS IS TOO FEW  ! First of all, Father Dhanis insists that on all the disputed facts Lucy is the only witness, and twenty years later at that. Francisco and Jacinta died in 1919 and 1920, without ever having said a single word about all that. Thus, all these accounts laden with the supernatural, all these disconcerting politico-religious revelations of “ Fatima II ” rest on just a single witness. Dhanis points this out in regard to the apparitions of the Angel  : «  Let us admit that, to hold with certitude to such extraordinary things, one would desire not to be dependent on only one witness, even an authoritative one.  » 36 In short, testis unus, testis nullus  : one witness is no witness at all – especially since according to Dhanis the testimony in question is very much open to doubt.

“ THE INSPIRATION OF LUCY ”. Lucy writes in her Memoirs  : «  It seems to me, Your Excellency, that in similar cases, I do not say or write anything of myself. I must give thanks to God for the assistance of the Holy Spirit which, I sense, suggests to me what I should write or say.  » Dhanis comments  : «  The validity of such an impression remains almost hopelessly subject to caution… in many cases, the feeling of writing under a supernatural inspiration is certainly illusory.  » In a footnote he then cites the famous text where Nietzsche relates the extremely vivid impression he had that he too was writing “ under inspiration ”. So it was an illusion  ! An illusion which was to have regrettable consequences  : «  We have observed  », notes Dhanis, «  that if a writer feels himself inspired, that does not seem to cause him to exercise very strict control over his use of the memory…  » 37 And he easily suggests that the remark applies to Sister Lucy, in whom he denounces the extreme assurance she had of herself, as well as the numerous inexactitudes, incoherent statements and flagrant errors he claims are found in her writings.

CONCLUSION  : LUCY DREAMED IT UP. «  All things considered  », concludes Dhanis, «  it is not easy to state precisely what degree of credence is to be given to the accounts of Sister Lucy. Without questioning her sincerity, or the sound judgement she shows in daily life, one may judge it prudent to use her writings only with reservations.  » Thus it is a question neither of a lie, nor an imposture, but an unconscious fabrication. «  Let us observe also that a person can be sincere and prove to have good judgement in everyday life, but have a propensity for unconscious fabrication in a certain area, or in any case, a tendency to relate old memories of twenty years ago with embellishments and considerable modifications.  » 38 There it is, Father Dhanis has written the two words which sum up his whole thesis  : “ unconscious fabrication ”. It is equivalent to saying that she «  modified, idealized, embellished her memories  ». What he had spoken about in general terms since the introduction, Dhanis attributes quite evidently to Sister Lucy  : «  Sometimes the deformation can be so strong that one will speak of a more or less pathological case…  » He also cites long passages from the treatise on mystical theology by Poulain  : «  Certain minds invent stories and persuade themselves that these things really took place. In their imagination, they are in good faith…, etc.  » 39

In this way, Dhanis would have us believe, Lucy imagined the apparitions of the Angel  : «  One cannot dare to absolutely discard the hypothesis of an account due in large part to the imagination, and one feels obliged not to take a position.  » 40


In this way Father Dhanis believes he has found a satisfactory solution to the only question really preoccupying him, the authenticity of the secret. If Lucy invented it, then this secret, so vexing and irritating to modern theologians, loses its whole value. That goes without saying. To undermine the secret’s impact entirely, Dhanis finds a simple explanation, apparently wise and moderate, exempt from all passion. «  Nevertheless we will not suppose that Lucy invented in this way the whole text of the secret, in her written version.  » No, Dhanis affirms unceasingly that he believes in the perfect sincerity of Lucy and her good sense in everyday life. Here is the elegant solution that reconciles everything  : the good faith of the seer, even her sanctity if you insist, with an invention of the imagination  : there was an enrichment, an amplification of an objective original kernel. «  We are led to believe then, that in the course of years, certain exterior events and certain spiritual experiences of Lucy enriched the original content of the secret, but we shall maintain also that the later version of the secret is still really an echo of the mysterious words confided to the little shepherds of Fatima.  » 41 «  The text of the message (he is speaking of the secret) has conserved a kernel which corresponds to the words heard in 1917  », but «  a “ shell ” of later elements has formed around it.  » Our critic now believes he has found his «  general solution to the problem of Fatima  ». He will even go so far as to suggest, for each of the great themes of the secret, an explanation which accounts for their genesis in the mind of Lucy. Let us follow our critic in this audacious reconstruction.


THE VISION OF HELL. After the uncritical exposition of the supposed objections against this vision, presumed too archaic and medieval, Dhanis formulates a question  : «  … Will we not have to conclude also that the vision of Hell related by Sister Lucy cannot have a supernatural origin  ?  » Our Jesuit is careful not to answer in the affirmative  ! «  This would be too hasty a conclusion.  » 42 Then, was the vision authentic and did it have a real, important significance  ? No again  ! Dhanis proposes two solutions  : «  The vision of Hell corresponds to the idea that the children had.  » In this case, did they invent it, purely and simply  ? No  ! Dhanis does not have the audacity to say that. The second solution completes the first  : «  The seers received a very intense knowledge of the horror of sin and damnation, and little by little this knowledge evoked a vision in their imagination.  » 43 Dhanis says that it was an intimate, inexpressible experience, which the children clumsily described according to the medieval ideas received from the catechism. For our part, he concludes, we must use our intelligence and not take their words literally  ; a whole process of interpretation must be done.

THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY. The theme of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was, according to Dhanis, also the fruit of a slow psychological elaboration, the later fruit of a long inner maturing of an initial perception that was much simpler and more mysterious. Here, the determining element was the influence of other “ apparitions ”. «  If we consider once again some more or less recent additions introduced into the secret, one is led to consider attentively a vision that Lucy had when she was still a postulant with the Dorothean Sisters.  » 44 Thus the Secret was “ enriched ” with the theme of the Immaculate Heart of Mary through the «  infiltration of certain elements coming from the visions of 1925-26  », at Pontevedra…

The trouble is that elsewhere Dhanis contests the supernatural character of these apparitions. «  On the one hand, the moral and practical qualities that the witnesses of the life of Lucy attribute to her are a favourable sign, but not decisive. For on the other hand, we become rather suspicious when we see the striking resemblance between the “ great promise ” that Lucy has transmitted and the “ great promise ” made by St. Margaret Mary  : the knowledge of the old promise could thus become the psychological origin of the new one.  » Here we see Lucy accused quite simply… of common plagiarism  ! Undoubtedly it is unconscious because Dhanis, of course, never calls into question the sincerity of Lucy  ! The important part is the conclusion, which undermines the essence of the secret, and the whole message of Fatima  : the revelation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, its requests, and its promises. «  Our readers will undoubtedly be disappointed to see that, in the secret of Fatima, the theme of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is not presented in such a way that all doubts on its celestial origin disappear. We dare to hope that in spite of their disappointment, which is ours as well (sic  !), they will be grateful to us for not having deviated from the sincerity which we owe to them, and to the religious subject that we are treating.  » 44

Thus Dhanis has us witness the progressive elaboration of the secret in the mind of Lucy. The essential theme is due to the influence of later visions that she had – or believes she had, for no doubt she received strong suggestions from the writings of St. Margaret Mary. «  The Secret of Fatima seems to have undergone considerable additions  », Dhanis continues. This is still saying too little, for other factors entered in, he explains, which perfectly explain all the other “ new themes ”.

THE PROPHECY OF THE WAR. After announcing that the First World War would end soon, the text of the secret goes on  : «  If men do not cease offending God, another worse one will break out in the reign of Pius XI.  » Is it truly Our Lady who pronounced these words on July 13, 1917  ? Dhanis does not believe so  : «  The mention of Pius XI, because of its extreme precision… seems to us rather to be an exception in the prophetic literary genre, and it seems plausible that it replaced a primitive expression where the Pope was not designated by name… Indeed it seems that the expression, “ under the next pontificate ”, would fit better than the words, “ under the pontificate of Pius XI ”.  » 46 It is Lucy herself who, while Pius XI was reigning, supposedly made «  this shift from the first expression to the second  ».

“ THE NIGHT ILLUMINED BY AN UNKNOWN LIGHT. ” Nor is Dhanis naive enough to believe that it was the Virgin Herself who foretold “ the night illumined by an unknown light ” as «  the great sign  » of the approaching war. He gives a much more rational hypothesis  : It is after having seen the aurora borealis of January 25, 1938, that Lucy integrated it under the prophetic form into the text of the secret. Of course our Jesuit, who always tiptoes carefully about his conclusions, does not say it so crudely. We do not have enough room to cite in extenso the choice morsel by which he comes, little by little – and with what subtlety – to formulate his true hypothesis  : «  Before the rare and mysterious phenomena of nature, simple people often experience presentiments of great calamities.  » It is “ a natural impression ”. «  It could be passed over if there were no other indications of the influence of certain recent events on the writing down of the secret  », but there are others. Thus, «  would it then be bold to ask if perhaps (what circumlocutions  !) the natural impressions of Lucy (who everybody knows is one pf these simple persons…) before the aurora borealis were not integrated into the secret, if they did not introduce the words on the unknown light, as the herald of the great chastisement  ?  » What a sentence  ! Read it over  ! It is phrased so as not to state what he clearly wants to say, namely  : Lucy attributed to the Blessed Virgin of 1917 her own impressions of 1938… Dhanis imputes without any proof the undue transfer to “ natural impressions… ” In any case Dhanis comes to this conclusion  : «  The announcement of the aurora borealis in the secret is grounds for suspicion.  » 47

RUSSIA, THE SCOURGE OF GOD. There remain the most shocking, and scandalous, words of the secret  : those which concern Soviet Russia. Is it possible that the Blessed Virgin Herself uttered them, in 1917  ? Surely not  ! She could not have asked for a “ practically unrealizable consecration ”. Nor could she have accused Russia of being behind the Second World War, as the text of the secret written down in 1941 seems to affirm. 48 What then is the explanation  ? Once again it is exterior events which have impressed the seer and led her to integrate into the prophetic form, emotional shocks received recently, attributing them to Our Lady in 1917. In this case, Dhanis suggests, it was the Spanish Civil War and frantic fear of communism resulting from it, which explains this whole aspect of the secret. «  The hardly objective fashion in which the provocation of the war is described in the secret is best explained by the influence the Spanish Civil War had on Lucy’s way of thinking.  » 49 A disciple of Dhanis, Father Martindale, develops his thought explicitly, maintaining that Lucy undoubtedly «  personalized the ideas of the primitive message, making “ evil ” in general a concrete incarnation in Soviet Russia, and converting the maternal love of the Virgin into the “ Heart of Mary ”.  » 50


The thesis of Father Dhanis. which seeks above all to reject the authenticity of the secret, can be summed up in three points, which are indissolubly connected with each other.

1. THE OPPOSITION BETWEEN FATIMA I AND FATIMA II. «  There exists a dichotomy, a real opposition between the primitive, or “ old ” history of Fatima, and the more recent, or “ new ” history  » 51, beginning with the Memoirs of Lucy.

2. FATIMA II IS THE FRUIT OF A FABRICATION. From 1944 until May 16, 1953, when he published his last article on the question in the Civilta Cattolica, Father Dhanis did not cease to veil and camouflage more and more his attacks on Fatima, to the point where, if we read only his last article, so confused and muddled, one would be totally mistaken on his true thought. Nor does his study published in June, 1952, in the Nouvelle Revue Théologique, give any more exact an idea of his thought. Therefore, to understand him one must go back to his texts of 1944-45, fundamental texts, of which he never agreed to retract the least line. There, in spite of the evasive style that he never departed from, his judgement on Fatima II comes out clearly.

Here is this text, which is little known, but of capital importance  : 52 «  The new history of Fatima, which rests on the accounts of Lucy, calls for more reserve. One may fear, without denying the sound judgement or sincerity of the seer, that certain fictitious elements slipped into the accounts. The apparitions of the Angel and the miraculous communion he is supposed to have given the children remain uncertain. The secret, recently published, presents a rather complex situation (sic). Its existence is known since 1917, and what the children very vaguely hinted about its contents corresponds to the text now published. Yet several points present real difficulties. The description of Hell may correspond to a symbolic vision given to the children. The messages of Our Lady, however, bear the traces of different additions. Thus, it hardly seems probable that Our Lady asked for the consecration of Russia or that She attributed the provocation of the present war exclusively to the atheistic propaganda of this country. The announcement of the aurora borealis provokes a certain suspicion  ; and the new theme of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is not presented in very reassuring circumstances, etc.  »

Apart from the two or three prudent concessions, and some attenuations which express doubts about the secret rather than outright negation (compensated by previous texts with affirmations of the contrary), there remains nothing, nothing at all, of the great message of Fatima. Reread the secret phrase by phrase, and not one has escaped from the corrosive criticism of Father Dhanis.

Was then our Jesuit a relentless enemy of Fatima  ? He did not wish to be considered so, and he feared above all that the hierarchy would accuse him of being one. Thus he was careful to defend himself… Moreover he believed himself perfectly protected from such an accusation, for did he not profess to accept “ all the essentials ” of the message of Fatima  ? This is the third affirmation of his thesis.

3. FATIMA I REMAINS AUTHENTIC. Yes, explains Dhanis, one can very well dissociate in the events and message of Fatima, the primitive, authentic kernel from everything that the imagination of the seer added later on  : «  Let the reader beware then of an exaggerated suspicion. These strong doubts attached to the apparitions of the Angel (and the secret) should not lead them to call into question the essential elements of the miracle of Fatima. For what are we presented with  ? On the one hand, we find accounts not easily believable in writings based on memories twenty years old. On the other hand, we find ourselves faced with facts which are well known from the beginning, which appear to be confirmed as supernatural by a great divine sign, facts which enjoy an ecclesiastical approval, and which became the source of a large torrent of graces. There is not sufficient reason to place these facts in the same category as the above-mentioned accounts.  » 53 «  All this ”, writes Dhanis in his general conclusion, «  has to do with what we call the old history of Fatima. This has its shadows too, but the light definitely prevails.  » 54 The final conclusion that imposes itself is that it is better to stick with Fatima I… and no longer speak of the rest  !


In spite of its appearances of prudence and wise moderation, is the solution of Father Dhanis tenable  ? Can we, at the same time, profess to accept Fatima I, that is, recognize the authenticity of the apparitions and miracles of 1917, and reject all of Fatima II as an artificial and spurious message  ?

The answer to this question calls for a twofold examination. The first would lead us to examine whether all the criticisms of Father Dhanis are solidly founded. To avoid tiresome repetitions, we will examine this question later on. 55

Nevertheless it is interesting, even before going into the maze of his objections and the responses – for let us say at the outset that there is not one of his criticisms which does not have a satisfactory refutation 56 – it is very interesting to judge the thesis of Father Dhanis simply from the point of view of its coherence. Is his in-between position, which pretends to stop half-way between the radical unbelief of the rationalists and complete acceptance of the supernatural origin of the facts, sustainable  ? We shall see that it is not. This twofold judgement, positive for the first half of the facts (Fatima I), and negative for the second half (Fatima II), is unjustifiable both from the point of view of Catholic theology and historical criticism. This is what we shall demonstrate in this chapter  : No, Fatima cannot lend itself to two evaluations so contrary to each other. It is impossible to say  : “ It is half true, half false  ! ”


Is it possible, solely by the light of Catholic faith, to accept Fatima I while rejecting Fatima II  ? The question is simple. It is a question of what is fitting on the supernatural level, and the answer depends above all on the conception we have of God and His Providence.

THE TRUTH OF FATIMA I. On the apparitions of 1917, we are in accord  : they are authentic. But what does that mean  ? God chose the three little shepherds, Lucy, Jacinta, and Francisco to make them witnesses of the apparitions of His Holy Mother at the Cova da Iria. Among all men, they were chosen by Him to see Her, to hear Her and faithfully transmit Her words. As a striking guarantee of the veracity of their witness, God multiplied the supernatural, physical, and even cosmic prodigies  : there were stupefying conversions, sudden healings which were inexplicable by natural causes, and from June 13 to October 13, incomparable cosmic miracles, seen and verified by hundreds, and then thousands of persons… marvels culminating in the unheard of prodigy of the great miracle of the sun, contemplated by seventy thousand witnesses seized with fright, or transported with holy joy. For three months, the seers had foretold it, specifying the day and the hour, and making it clear that Our Lady would accomplish it so that all might believe in Her word. All this is quite clear, and Father Dhanis professes to accept it along with us. 57 For to write that one believes in the supernatural origin of the apparitions is to say all this, or to say nothing at all  !

BUT LATER ON… LUCY INVENTED THINGS. Right after these marvellous events, Dhanis continues, and this is the negative part of his «  general solution of the problem of Fatima  », Lucy, who had in her temperament a regrettable propensity for «  unconsciously inventing things  », set about embellishing the initial supernatural events, inventing things and adding to them, and through sheer imagination or under the pressure of exterior events made up a whole immense message, quite new and of capital importance… which, since she is acting in all sincerity and good faith, she will without any scruple present as the very words Our Lady pronounced on July 13, 1917  ! All this we have already set out in detail. In short, although Lucy was always sincere and possesses a real talent for writing «  moving accounts full of charm, innocence and piety  », she does not enjoy perfect mental equilibrium. 58 She invented things, and distorted the true apparitions of 1917. That is what Father Dhanis holds as a plausible thesis, fully satisfactory to the eyes of faith.


In the light of true theology, that is, the supernatural knowledge that we have of God through faith, we must say that the thesis of Dhanis is unthinkable, unjustifiable, and even scandalous. A God who would have willed or simply permitted all this is perhaps the God of the vilest among the casuists, or perhaps the bizarre God of the Modernists. But this God who would guarantee, by such great miracles, the word of an unbalanced seer, prone to fantasies and unworthy of faith, has nothing in common with the veracious God of biblical revelation, with Jesus, “ the faithful witness ” who came to bear witness to the truth  ; and still less does He have anything in common with the God of Catholic dogma  ! For God would be lying if by these miracles he induced the crowd of witnesses, and the hierarchy right up to the Pope, to believe the word of unworthy witnesses. For the honour of God, it would be better to say with a Gerard de Sede that all of Fatima is simply a fraud, a vast exercise in deception, a scheme of the priests… For although men can be hypocrites, followers of their own interests, and liars, God Himself does not lie  ! This obvious truth seems to have escaped Father Dhanis and his followers.

AN UNTHINKABLE CRIME. In the eyes of faith, the two contrary judgements on Fatima I and Fatima II are irreconcilable. We can say a priori that if all the miracles attested are true miracles, that is, as Dhanis himself explains, «  divine signs, authenticating the apparitions  », 59 it is impossible that Lucy, the principal witness, have so little credibility. God could not have permitted that she then spread within the Church, with impunity, a new history of Fatima which is radically false and entirely of her own invention. It is impossible that at the very moment when the Bishop of Fatima, on October 13, 1930, officially recognized the authenticity of the apparitions of Fatima, the seer had already lost her mind several years before and would bother her confessors, and soon the whole world, with fraudulent messages. It is impossible that a false secret, which was simply the fruit of her diseased imagination, deceive thousands of the faithful with the blessing of Pius XII, who published it in 1942, and made known his approval on many occasions… And all this because of the spectacular miracles which took place according to the words of the three seers in 1917. If Lucy deceived the world for half a century, it is God Himself who is first of all responsible. For how could He have tolerated such a dereliction on the part of the witness He chose for Himself, and let such a scandal happen  ? Without giving to His Church any clear sign of the lapse and betrayal of His messenger  ? After having backed up her words with miracles, He permitted her to deceive the Church – and to what a degree – without showing any sign, either natural or supernatural, in all clarity, that she had betrayed her function  ? This is impossible.

HOW GOD GUARANTEES THE VERACITY OF HIS WITNESSES. When God has a great mission to be accomplished in history that involves special charisms, He is wise and powerful enough to choose and prepare for Himself adequate instruments, and without doing violence to their liberty, He gives them the gift of fulfilling by His grace the essential mission to which He has destined them from all eternity. This does not mean that He must render them infallible in all domains or impeccable in their whole life. In the very exercise of their mission, He sometimes allows them to show some secondary shortcomings  : for the transmission of a Heavenly message, some passing forgetfulness, or a very minor error on some date or detail. In this He leaves them to their human powers, especially when it concerns statements that can be verified perfectly well by other witnesses. Thus Lucy erroneously thought that Our Lady appeared on August 15, after the return from Vila Nova de Ourem, when in reality it was on the 19th. But in similar questions of fact, clearly there is nothing which allows us to call into question the solidity and fidelity of the testimony of the seers.

SOME QUESTIONABLE PRECEDENTS. Granted, Father Dhanis is relying on the authority of Poulain’s scholarly treatise on mystical theology in invoking some precedents  : certain saints themselves, he says, have been mistaken in relating and commenting on some of their visions, «  The authentic supernatural  », writes Dhanis, «  can very well be found with the counterfeit… It can happen that in a given case one may hold as supernatural certain revelations, while others related to it appear suspect or are clearly false. From this point of view, the saints themselves were not always exempt from all error…  » 60 A fortiori Sister Lucy  !

This general affirmation does not impress us. In fact, if one goes back to the text, the long exposition of Poulain, which cites haphazardly St. Bridget and Catherine Emmerich, St. Catherine of Siena and Mary of Agreda, St. Vincent Ferrer and the Venerable Holzhauser… is not fully convincing. 61 Each case would have to be carefully examined, taking into consideration the degrees of authority of the persons invoked, which are so diverse, and the particular type of revelation under consideration. Although it is undoubtedly not absolutely impossible that such or such a saint distorted or related in an ambiguous manner some revelation or supernatural light that he received, not all apparitions are to be put on the same level and the possibility of error is not equal in every case.

REVELATION, PRIVATE REVELATIONS AND PUBLIC REVELATIONS. There is a custom of confusing all revelations, and placing them in the category of “ private revelations’’, to distinguish them from the primary, essential and sufficient Revelation  : the total Revelation accomplished in Jesus Christ and closed on the death of the last of the Apostles, who passed it on to us infallibly. This being quite clear, we can add that not all subsequent revelations are identical among themselves  : «  What we must revise in the classical vocabulary  », R. Laurentin justly notes in a study on The Status and Function of Apparitions, «  is the designation of all subsequent revelations as “ private revelations ”. In fact, some of them are private, but some of them are public. The revelations of St. Bridget or the message of Lourdes were destined for a very large audience. One should therefore speak of particular revelations, some of them private (for example the three secrets St. Bernadette received for herself alone, and which did not concern anyone else); and others public, such as the twelve words which constitute the message of Lourdes.  » 62 Although there are apparitions which are destined first of all and principally for the personal sanctification of the beneficiary, there are others whose primary end is directly apostolic or ecclesial, through the transmission of a public message, the foundation of a great pilgrimage or the accomplishment of an extraordinary mission such as that of Joan of Arc, always for the good of souls and the realization of a great providential design.

AUTHENTIC “ PUBLIC REVELATION ” EXCLUDES INVENTIONS. This distinction is illuminating  : Is it then possible that saints whose mission involved a special charism were deceived precisely on the very object of their providential vocation  ? Would Joan of Arc be a saint if she admitted that she completely invented the heavenly voices that told her to “ boot the English out of France ”, to deliver Orleans and have the Dauphin anointed at Rheims, she who murmured even to her executioner  : “ No, my voices have not deceived me  ! ” Would St. Margaret Mary be an authentic saint if she had imagined, by unconscious autosuggestion, and after reading the works of St. Mechtilde or St. Gertrude, all her supposed apparitions of the Sacred Heart (the schema of Dhanis can easily apply to all known revelations  !), thus deceiving the Catholic world who believed her and the Pope who canonized her  ? And St. Catherine Labouré  ? And St. Bernadette if she imagined the apparitions of Lourdes  ? And St. Therese of the Child Jesus if the Virgin Mary did not really smile to her  ? The question is absurd for a Catholic theologian  !

Of course we know that sanctity never consists, by its nature, in extraordinary gifts, miracles, visions or revelations, but resides entirely in the heroic practice of charity and the other virtues. But it is no less certain that true sanctity can never be found with illusion or fabrication, and still less with a deceitfulness which would be the cause of an immense and lasting scandal for the whole Church.

In short, it is untenable to say that Lucy could, in all sincerity and good faith, totally distort through unconscious fabrication, an authentic message received from Heaven, to be transmitted to the whole Church.


So obvious is the incoherence of Father Dhanis’thesis that he judged it necessary to answer the objection himself. Once again we must quote here the important conclusion of his study, while adding our comments  : 63 «  There might perhaps be a tendency to reproach our solution with being insufficiently coherent. The invention, however innocent it might be, that we attribute to Lucy cannot be presumed, it is said, in a confidante of Our Lady. The whole history of Fatima is therefore compromised by accepting such an invention.  » Such is quite exactly the decisive objection that we propose when faced with the whole critique of Father Dhanis. Hence his answers have the highest significance for us.

«  We avow  », he continues, «  that the inventions in the accounts of Lucy are not precisely a recommendation for the apparitions of Fatima.  » Note well  : for once our critic, who is always dissimulating, does not camouflage his true thought. He will have his hands full defending himself later on  : «  I never said  », «  I did not mean to say  », «  It was a simple hypothesis  »…, here, the accusation is clear, denuded of any oratorical precautions. The crafty equivocations of his second article 64 shall no longer fool us.

«  But let us repeat what we have already said  : (the inventions of Lucy) are not a sufficient reason to reject the authenticity of the intervention of Mary.  » It is this affirmation that we have denounced as untenable. By what arguments would our theologian justify it  ? Here they are  :

1. THE UNFATHOMABLE DIVINE WISDOM. «  Must we recall that the ways of God are not our ways, and that in governing God takes account of many things that escape us, and thus it is very risky to judge, according to our limited wisdom, what choice he should make  ?  » God can very well choose as a witness a child of no great mental stability, prone to fabrications… For His designs are unfathomable, and His wisdom is not ours. That line of reasoning is bewildering, at the very least  ! In His divine wisdom, Christ seems to have acted quite otherwise in the choice of Peter and the Apostles.

2. THE FATAL REPERCUSSIONS OF THE APPARITIONS. «  We can however add here other, more precise considerations.  » How fortunate  ! «  It must be remarked all the same that the visions of 1917, along with everything that preceded and followed them, were no small shock or insignificant trial for the psychology of a child. Would many children have been able to undergo what Lucy did, without suffering more or less fatal repercussions  ? If not, then the objection that Heaven could not have chosen Lucy loses most of its force.  » Let us make sure we understand  : if Lucy made things up after 1917, it is because of the shock of the apparitions and their aftermath. She could not bear the “ trial ”; the “ repercussions ” were fatal to her. But few children, adds Dhanis with condescending kindness, were capable of bearing the same “ shock ”. Thus, God could not have acted otherwise.

Do we really have to point out the presumptuousness of this idea  ? Was not God, in this case, wise enough to understand that instead of choosing a child, unsuited by nature to the mission He wished to confer on her, He should have addressed Himself to a wise and level-headed adult  ? Why not to Father Dhanis  ?

Dhanis’answer to the objection is grotesque. If Our Lady at Lourdes, at Pontmain, at Fatima, chose children for witnesses, it was because of their greater purity, but also because of the unimpeachable, irrefutable character of their testimony. The “ repercussions ” of the apparitions were not “ fatal ” for any of the children, who were chosen precisely for their natural calm and equilibrium. Dhanis cannot give the slightest indication that there were any fatal repercussions for Lucy.

3. PIETY IS BETTER THAN GOOD SENSE. Dhanis continues  : «  On the other hand, we must admit in Lucy, from what we know of her, an elevated spiritual life and profound piety. Compared with that, certain psychological defects were no doubt of little importance in the eyes of God.  » Let us consider once more the insult, the gratuitous calumny dealt out to Lucy  : she is stupid and inclined to make up stories, but pious, and that is enough for God to have chosen her as His messenger. What an insult to God, as well  ! Was He then incapable of finding, of creating and preparing for Himself just one child who would be, at the same time, endowed with a profound piety and perfectly sound in mind  ?

The arguments of our theologian, a future expert at the Council, lead us from one degree of stupefaction to another. Let us go on to the last one.

4. A PROVIDENTIAL FABRICATION. To quote Father Dhanis again  : «  Moreover, the obscure points in the history of Fatima can also result in good consequences, and precisely for that reason have found a place in the dispositions of God.  » What does that mean  ? That God willed “ the obscure points ” of Fatima, in other words, the fabrication of Sister Lucy, to draw “ good consequences ” from this evil.

Dhanis continues  : «  We must find the principal reasons for consecrating ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, on the one hand in the spiritual value of this consecration, and on the other in the appeal of the representative of Christ. The invitation made by a particular revelation should only influence us secondarily. But would not a good number of the faithful, drawn by extraordinary events, have a tendency to judge otherwise  ? There, however, one would depart from Catholic good sense.  » In other words, the too extraordinary apparitions of 1917, with their spectacular miracles, presented in themselves… a grave peril for the faithful  : the danger of tainting their purity of intention  ! Dear God  ! What a twisted mind our Jesuit manifests and what tortuous procedures he attributes to You  ! For here is his grand conclusion  :

«  The obscure points that accompany the message of Fatima can help our weakness to avoid this deviation. If then we are careful to retain the exact sense of the order of motives that must guide our piety, the conclusions of our study will, for their part, perhaps render them purer, far from diminishing the fervour of our consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  » There it is, we have finally got it. The cat is out of the bag. God has willed the fabrications of Sister Lucy so that – no doubt thanks to the intelligent denunciations Father Dhanis would make of them – the whole Church would avoid falling into the trap of having too much confidence in a simple private revelation  ! This is how our author reconstitutes the great design of God… in which he usurps an honourable role.

«  Thus, our conclusions (according to which Lucy invented half the message  !) open wide the door to devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. It is certain that the pilgrimage of Fatima has become a great source of grace for the Church of Portugal  ; it indeed seems (sic  !) to have originated from a miraculous intervention of the Mother of God  ; ecclesiastical authority encourages it  ; what more do we need to venerate Our Lady of Fatima with all our heart  ?  »

In 1952 and again in 1953, Father Dhanis will continue to make similar declarations of intense devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, all the while continuing to accuse Lucy of having invented the Secret and the whole of Fatima II. Is our critic sincere  ?… In any case, to the extent he is sincere, in making such declarations without ever having retracted the least line of his harshest criticisms, his attitude can only be justified on one hypothesis…


To not be shocked by such incoherent affirmations, one must think and act as a Modernist. Indeed from this perspective, the incoherence disappears and the thesis becomes once again plausible, sustainable.

If the content of the faith is not an objective deposit of the intelligible order, but a vague, subjective, ineffable religious sentiment, its verbal expressions will never be anything more than pale, imperfect symbolical approximations, all dependent on the socio-cultural milieu and the more or less sound mental structure of the subject. For the Modernist, it is in the very nature of the religious experience, of which apparitions are only an example, to be continually transfigured, reinvented and more or less distorted by the subject.

It is this fundamentally subjectivist conception of Revelation that Father Dhanis transposes, applying it to the revelation of Fatima. In this way, we will recall, he explains the terrible vision of Hell which constitutes the first part of the secret  : «  The seers received a very intense horror of sins and damnation, and little by little this knowledge evoked a vision in their imagination.  » 65

The interpretation is the same for the rest of the secret. To be sure, there is still an original event which constitutes the kernel of the message divulged later on. But the initial contents underwent such transformations and additions in the mind of the seer that it is practically impossible to find it again in its original purity. And yet, it continues to conserve a certain link with the «  mysterious words  » confided to the three shepherds in 1917. 66 Once again, here is an extract from the conclusion of Father Dhanis  : «  We admit that the text of the message retains a kernel which corresponds to the words heard in 1917; but a “ shell ” of later elements that formed around it appears considerable to us. It is probable that from the beginning great punishments were announced, and thus quite obviously it deals with a means of salvation against these evils. But an attempt at reconstructing the primitive text would give too uncertain a result. The written version of Lucy remains precious for us (sic  !) because, however scrambled it is, it still conserves the echo of the blessed words of Mary.  » 67

There we have it  ! The secret presented by Sister Lucy as the authentic account of the precise and exact words pronounced by Our Lady, is for Dhanis only a faraway echo (and with what distortions) of the “ mysterious words ” that it is practically impossible to reconstruct, except in a vague and general way. Are we not reminded of some Modernist dissecting the text of the Gospel, to explain that the words attributed later on to Our Lord by the Evangelists evidently do not come from Him, but are only the fruit of a symbolic elaboration of their religious experience  ?

Let us remark only that the Modernist explanation is no more acceptable for the message of Fatima than it is for the Gospel. The Modernist critic can only distinguish between the authentically revealed initial message and its later expression, disfigured by errors and later additions, by implicitly appealing to the primitive revelation, known through the source itself… and which he alone understands  ! The presumption is obvious, and condemns this method, founded as it is on the most arbitrary assumptions.

The conclusion cannot be avoided  : However we look at it, the thesis of Father Dhanis cannot be sustained from the point of view of the Catholic faith.


To be sure, it is very convenient to dissect at will the message of Fatima, willingly accepting as true whatever has nothing disturbing about it, and unscrupulously rejecting as spurious, or invented later on by the seer, anything upsetting, anything that contradicts the opinions of our own school of thought, ideological prejudices, or political passions… This severe selectivity in the themes of the message, this merciless “ pruning ” of the words of Our Lady by Father Dhanis, must rest on some solid, objective and incontestable criterion… This is not the case.

We can show that his two part thesis is just as untenable from the viewpoint of historical criticism as from the theological point of view. The flaw is the same  : a fundamental incoherence which makes his solution purely arbitrary.

According to Dhanis, as we know, there are two histories of Fatima  : the “ old history ”, which is authentic, and the “ new history ”, which is a pure invention. Yet, for both the one and the other the principal witness is Lucy. So we must affirm that although Lucy was perfectly reliable in 1917, she was no longer so in 1941, when she wrote down the text of the secret. A priori this is possible, but in this case one would have to say why. There lies the difficulty  : this implies that one would be able to distinguish between these different testimonies during the course of time, to discern those which are credible from those which are not. Lucy is always sincere, Dhanis tells us, but unconsciously she made things up… The accusation is terrible. And the insoluble problem is in managing to limit the implications without at the same time ruining the authenticity of Fatima I, which he is supposedly safeguarding  : thus we must know how long she had been inventing things, and demonstrate it in the name of objective criteria.


If her mental equilibrium had deteriorated, we would still need to have testimonies to prove it, a serious medical diagnostic. Of all this, Father Dhanis does not provide the slightest indication. On this point, all the accounts of those who met Sister Lucy agree  : they all admit that she had great common sense and perfect psychological health, to which her letters and various writings also bear witness, as we shall have occasion to see several times.

Dhanis himself does not «  call into question the good judgement she shows in everyday life.  » However, that is not enough for him. He adds  : «  A person can be sincere and show good judgement in everyday life, but have a propensity for unconscious fabrication in a certain sector, or in any case have a tendency to relate old memories from twenty years ago with embellishments and considerable modifications.  » 68

The formula that Dhanis applies to Lucy is a beautiful masterpiece of calculated ambiguity. Sister Lucy modified, and enriched her old memories from twenty years before. Very well  ! That should be easy to verify  : her Memoirs are filled with descriptions, little facts, precise recollections of which she was not the only witness. On every page they involve her parents, her brother and sisters, and the inhabitants of Aljustrel. If Lucy were pathologically afflicted with this unfortunate tendency to make things up, the historians and journalists who made their own investigation at the village would have uncovered her flagrant errors long ago. But no, every witness agrees and all recognize that the memory of the seer was uncommon… and exact.

Dhanis himself is well aware of it… he has foreseen the objection  : no, Lucy did not make anything up in her ordinary memories, she only invented things «  in a certain sector  »; in other words  : in what concerns the apparitions. And the ruse succeeds  ! This time the suspicion is irrefutable. After all, she is the only witness of the apparitions.

TOO FACILE A METHOD. Who can fail to notice the enormity of the sophism  ? Dom Jean-Nesmy points it out very well  : «  First of all, nobody has ever noticed anything in Lucy’s temperament which would denote, in other areas, a penchant for mythomania, and still less lying. To pretend that what she says is precisely the proof of this mythomania would be admitting as a proof precisely what has to be proven  : in other words, it is a textbook example of reasoning in a vicious circle, which consequently proves nothing.  » 69 Here Father Dhanis commits an enormous methodological blunder  : since the question is whether or not we can trust an account of an apparition, we must establish in some other area the mental illness of the seer which would sufficiently explain her inventions.

This rule, formulated by a specialist, Henri Ey, is as valid for inventions of the imagination as for hallucination  : «  To ask if St. Therese, John Tauler, or Bemadette Soubirous had hallucinations (one could just as well say  : “ if Sister Lucy fabricated things ”) is to go back to the only problem, which difficult as it is, can be resolved  : were these mystics mentally ill  ? Because of course, what the validity of the judgement of reality and illusion depends on in this case, is the diagnostic we can apply to the psychopathological nature of the consciousness and of the existence of the visionary.  » 70

In other words, was Sister Lucy mentally ill  ? This is the only question that matters. Dhanis does not supply the slightest beginning of a proof that would allow us to say so. This completely destroys the across the board accusation of fabricating that he brings to bear upon the secret in general, and against the Memoirs of Sister Lucy.


On the other hand, his thesis is incoherent because it cannot be confined only to the rejection of Fatima II… He is necessarily led, little by little, to contest the whole of the apparitions and message of Fatima I. In 1941, he says, Lucy was fabricating things to the point of inventing, under the influence of recent events, the principal themes of the secret which she dared to attribute to Our Lady in 1917  : the aurora borealis as announcing the war, the role of Russia as the scourge of God, and the beginning of the war “ in the reign of Pius XI ”. But according to Dhanis, she had begun much earlier to distort the message by her imaginary additions. Since 1937 she had described in detail the whole scenario of the apparitions of the Angel, which Dhanis strongly suggests is «  an account due, in great part, to the imagination  ». Nor is there any reason to stop so early… We have seen that since 1925-26 Lucy claimed to have visions of the Immaculate Heart of Mary which seem quite doubtful to our censor… The “ apparitions ” of Pontevedra would be simple plagiarism – always unconscious, of course  ! – of the revelations of Paray-le-Monial.

When all is said and done, the whole of Fatima I rests only on that short period when the testimony of Lucy was still credible  : from 1917 to 1925. If this is the case, we would find Father Dhanis quite imprudent to rely on such a seer… But there is a better refutation at hand  : Lucy could not have entirely invented the apparitions of the Angel in 1936 because they already figure in the interrogation of the children by Canon Formigao, on October 19, 1917. Later on we will go into all the necessary details  ; here let us concern ourselves only with the hypothesis of Dhanis  : «  Did our three shepherds have a sort of hallucination, about seven months before the cycle of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin  ?  » 71 And again  : «  Can one say that, at the moment when the angel gave the children the miraculous communion, they had a banal hallucination  ?  » 72

Possibly a hallucinator in 1916, and a fabricator from at least 1925, the witness of the great authentic apparitions (  !) of 1917 would have enjoyed only a brief moment of lucidity  ! The very year of the apparitions of Our Lady is not exempt from all suspicion  : Dhanis seriously brings up the hypothesis that the children were perhaps influenced by the history of La Salette, which Lucy’s mother had read to her children  : «  It is normal then to ask if the story of La Salette, with its famous secret, did not provoke the hallucinations.  » 73 In the end he seems to discard the accusation, but as always with Dhanis. it is replaced only by other hypotheses which are not any more solidly founded, and thus allow the doubt to subsist.

While he is at it, Dhanis equally also casts suspicion on the testimony of Jacinta  : «  As we can see  », he writes, «  the child is confused and she invents things.  » Concerning one of her prophecies, he waxes ironic  : «  One might also ask if the imagination of the sick little child was not perhaps the only cause of this supposed revelation.  » 74

Once words like “ hallucination ”, and “ unconscious fabrication ” are introduced, how can their application be limited  ? Father Dhanis, in spite of his claims, shows himself incapable of doing so. Father Alonso remarks that using the most miniscule evidence, «  Dhanis has forged a hypothesis as great as a cathedral, which can undermine not only the history of the apparitions of the Angel, but also – for why shouldn’t we take the hypothesis to its logical conclusion  ? – absolutely the whole history of Fatima.  » 75 In the final analysis, this dichotomy according to which Fatima I is credible and Fatima II is not, appears entirely artificial and a pure fantasy. If Fatima II is so unreliable, then neither can Fatima I be any more reliable. Thus, the whole structure of Father Dhanis’critique falls like a house of cards.

THE DISCIPLES OF DHANIS  : FATIMA I DISPUTED. The ultimate proof that the in-between position of Dhanis is untenable is supplied by the imposing succession of disciples that it created. All of them understood quite well the obvious meaning of his study, and leaving aside without scruple the jesuitical circumlocutions of their mentor, they passed openly to the attack, wrongly transforming all their suspicions info solid conclusions, as if they were well established by historical criticism. Nor do they embarrass themselves any more with the prudent reserve of Dhanis on the subject of Fatima I… No, it is against Fatima as a whole that they direct their critiques, their abuse, their sarcasm.

The stupefying review of the work of Dhanis by Cardinal Journet, in his periodical Nova et Vetera76 must be read. It is an indictment full of passion, ill-temper and scorn against everything even remotely touching on Fatima. Nothing is neglected  ; even the most fragile hypotheses of Father Dhanis are presented, through and through, as so many unimpeachable accusations. On reading it, nothing would remain of Fatima  !

Nor was Journet alone. Father Alonso, in Fatima y la critica, gives an impressive list of all «  the copy cats  » of Dhanis. 77 They are legion, and in almost every country of Europe  : Otto Karrer, Schazler, Brennikmeter, de Letter, Martindale, Stahlin, Karl Rahner, Kloppenburg, Baumann, Bernardus. The list is not exhaustive  ; others will soon follow  : Jacquemet, Fesquet, Rouquette, etc.


In spite of the certain fact, surprising at first glance, of the progressive revelation of the message, Fatima forms an indissociable whole which the critique of Father Dhanis attempted in vain to separate. Neither historical criticism of the witnesses, nor Catholic theology allow us to establish such a rupture. It is all or nothing. The in-between thesis is untenable because it is fundamentally incoherent. It rejects too much for what it accepts, and accepts too much for what it contests.

Thus, only two solutions remain. If Fatima II is false, then Fatima I is equally false, and the whole thing is false from beginning to end. This is the thesis of the rationalists  : following in the footsteps of the original opposition, the freemasons and republicans who violently campaigned against Fatima, their successors add on, as a new proof of the fraud, the later development of the message. Compared to the thesis of the progresso-Modernists, one must recognize for their thesis at least a certain frankness and a greater logic. For the authenticity of Fatima II depends entirely on that of Fatima I  ; they saw that and we must agree with them.

In the end, there is one decisive question  : Were there, in 1917, true apparitions and authentic miracles. or was it a huge fraud  ? We are confined to one or the other of these alternatives, and on this depends the message of Fatima in its totality.


(1) Bij de Verschijningen en de voorzeggingen van Fatima. Revue Streven, 1944, p. 129-149; p. 193-215.

(2) Bij de Verschijningen en de voorzeggingen van Fatima, Brussels, 1945.

(3) The text of this conversation, which took place in February 1946, can be found in Testimony on the Apparitions of Fatima, by Father De Marchi, p. 341-347.

(4) “ Fatima and Criticism ”, published in the Portuguese review Broteria, May 1951, p. 505-542.

(5) Nouvelle Revue Théologique, June 1952, p. 580-606.

(6) Broteria, February 1953, p. 170-191.

(7) “ A Look at Fatima and Evaluation of a Discussion ”, La Civilta Cattolica, May 16, 1953, p. 392-406.

(8) See the article by Giacomo Martina, Osservatore Romano, February 20, 1979, p. 9.

(9) May-August 1948, p. 186-188.

(10) p. 537-539.

(11) Cahiers Marials, January-February 1961, no. 25, p. 29 – Lourdes, an Authentic History of the Apparitions, p. 14.

(12) In the same issue of Cahiers Marials, the enormous blunder on p. 41 is significant  : our critic presents Canon Formigao, the first and most celebrated historian of Fatima, and his pseudonym, “ Viscount of Montelo ”, as two different persons  !

(13) May 15, 1967, p. 31.

(14) Le Figaro, May 10, 1967.

(15) Le Monde, May 11, 1967.

(16) Les Etudes, July-August 1967, p. 81-82.

(17) “ The Secret of Fatima ”, Historia, May 1982, p. 44-56.

(18) “ On the Apparitions and Predictions of Fatima ”, Streven, 1944.

(19) Streven, p. 213.

(20) p. 213, p. 132-140.

(21) “ On Fatima and Criticism ”, Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 1952, p. 583-584. (Henceforth this journal will be referred to as NRT.)

(22) Streven, p. 136-137.

(23) Ibid., p. 138.

(24) NRT, p. 587.

(25) Streven, p. 206-207.

(26) NRT, p. 598.

(27) Streven, p. 143.

(28) NRT, p. 582.

(29) NRT, p. 589.

(30) NRT, p. 588.

(31) NRT, p. 599.

(32) NRT, p. 590.

(33) NRT, p. 590-591.

(34) Fatima and Criticism, p. 528-529.

(35) NRT, p. 595.

(36) NRT, p. 589; cf. Streven, p. 147.

(37) NRT, p. 603.

(38) NRT, p. 589.

(39) Streven, p. 130.

(40) De Marchi, p. 138.

(41) Streven, p. 201.

(42) NRT, p. 592.

(43) Streven, p. 197.

(44) NRT, p. 600.

(45) Streven. p. 209.

(46) NRT, p. 596.

(47) NRT, p. 597; Streven, p. 204.

(48) Streven, p. 201.

(49) Streven, p. 203.

(50) Alonso, Fatima I and Fatima II, p. 80; cf. Fatima and Criticism, p. 414-415.

(51) Alonso, Fatima I and Fatima II, p. 81.

(52) Streven, excerpt from the general conclusion, p. 213. (Emphasis ours.)

(53) Streven, p. 148.

(54) p. 213.

(55) Cf. Chapter III, and the whole second part dealing with accounts of the apparitions.

(56) To reassure readers who believe in Fatima, and perhaps are unsettled by such a stream of objections, reported objectively and with their full force, let us say right away that for the most part they are based on a flagrant lack of documentation. Father Alonso shows this easily in his study  : Fatima and Criticism (see his conclusion on page 407  : “ The critical thought of Dhanis seems essentially conditioned by his lack of documentation on the subject of the critical sources. ”) Such ignorance may possibly have been excusable in 1944, but not in 1952…

(57) See for example Streven, p. 213.

(58) Dhanis explicitly repeats this accusation  ; Streven, p. 213; NRT, p. 589.

(59) NRT, p. 582.

Besides his hypocrisy, this phrase alone abases our author to the level of the rationalist of the Documentation antireligieuse which contented itself with saying  : «  The Portuguese are a merry bunch.  » This is absurd.

(60) Streven, p. 131.

(61) A. Poulain, S. J., Des Graces d’Oraison, p. 318-335, 1906.

(62) In True and False Apparitions in the Church, p. 163.

(63) Streven, p. 213-214.

(64) NRT, June 1952.

(65) Streven, p. 197.

(66) p. 201.

(67) p. 213.

(68) NRT, p. 589.

(69) The Truth of Fatima, p. 169.

(70) Henri Ey, Treatise on Hallucinations, Vol. II, p. 1190, Masson, 1973.

(71) NRT, p. 585; Streven, p. 138.

(72) Streven, p. 146.

(73) NRT, p. 584.

(74) Streven, p. 138; p. 194.

(75) Fatima and Criticism, p. 403.

(76) May-August 1948, p. 186-188.

(77) p. 407-435.

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