The Holy See's official response to the so-called Third Secret of Fatima was released on 26 June in the form of a 40-page document. It was prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and carries the signatures of the Prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and Secretary, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone SDB. Included in the document is an introduction by Archbishop Bertone, the original texts of the first, second and third parts of the "secret", Pope John Paul II's letter dated 9 April 2000 to Sister Lucia - the sole survivor of the three children who witnessed the Fatima apparitions in 1917 - and a theological commentary by Cardinal Ratzinger (summarised on this page).
In his introduction, Archbishop Bertone points out that Sister Lucia has "personally confirmed" that John Paul II's consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1982 "corresponded to what Our Lady wished," and therefore this matter was closed.
The theological commentary on the Third Secret of Fatima by Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is divided into three parts: "Public Revelation and private revelations - their theological status"; "The anthropological structure of private revelations" and "An attempt to interpret the 'secret' of Fatima."
"The term 'public Revelation'," says the Cardinal, "refers to the revealing action of God directed to humanity as a whole and which finds its literary expression in the two parts of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments. It is called 'Revelation' because in it God gradually made himself known to men, to the point of becoming man himself, in order to draw to himself the whole world and unite it with himself through his Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. ... In Christ, God has said everything, that is, he has revealed himself completely, and therefore Revelation came to an end with the fulfilment of the mystery of Christ as enunciated in the New Testament."
On the other hand, he said, "Private revelation refers to all the visions and revelations which have taken place since the completion of the New Testament. This is the category to which we must assign the message of Fatima ... The authority of private revelations is essentially different from that of the definitive public Revelation. The latter demands faith." Private revelation, he says, "is a help to this faith, and shows its credibility precisely by leading [one] back to the definitive public Revelation."
Quoting the Flemish theologian E. Dhanis, Cardinal Ratzinger affirms that "ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation has three elements: the message contains nothing contrary to faith or morals; it is lawful to make it public; and the faithful are authorised to accept it with prudence. Such a message can be a genuine help in understanding the Gospel and living it better at a particular moment in time; therefore it should not be disregarded. It is a help which is offered, but which one is not obliged to use."
Cardinal Ratzinger adds that "prophecy in the biblical sense does not mean to predict the future but to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future."
The theological commentary then offers "An attempt to interpret the 'secret' of Fatima."
In the same way as the key word of the first and second part of the "secret" is to "save souls," Cardinal Ratzinger suggests that "the key word of this third part is the threefold cry: 'Penance, Penance, Penance!' The beginning of the Gospel comes to mind: 'Repent and believe the Good News.' To understand the signs of the times means to accept the urgency of penance, of conversion, of faith. This is the correct response to this moment of history, characterised by the grave perils outlined in the images that follow. Allow me to add here a personal recollection: in a conversation with me Sister Lucia said that it appeared ever more clearly to her that the purpose of all the apparitions was to help people to grow more and more in faith, hope and love; everything else was intended to lead to this."
The various "images" of the secret are then considered: "The angel with the flaming sword on the left of the Mother of God recalls similar images in the Book of Revelation. This represents the threat of judgement which looms over the world. Today the prospect that the world might be reduced to ashes by a sea of fire no longer seems pure fantasy: man himself, with his inventions, has forged the flaming sword."
The Church's path can be viewed as a "Via Crucis," as a journey through a time of violence, destruction and persecution. "In the vision we can recognise the last century as a century of martyrs, a century of suffering and persecution for the Church, a century of World Wars and the many local wars which filled the last fifty years and have inflicted unprecedented forms of cruelty. In the 'mirror' of this vision we see passing before us the witnesses of the faith decade by decade."
The Cardinal continues: "In the Via Crucis of an entire century, the figure of the Pope has a special role. In his arduous ascent of the mountain we can undoubtedly see a convergence of different Popes. Beginning from Pius X up to the present Pope, they all shared the sufferings of the century and strove to go forward through all the anguish along the path which leads to the Cross. In the vision, the Pope too is killed along with the martyrs.
When, after the attempted assassination on 13 May 1981, the Holy Father had the text of the third part of the 'secret' brought to him, was it not inevitable that he should see in it his own fate? He had been very close to death, and he himself explained his survival in the following words: '... it was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death' (13 May 1994). That here 'a mother's hand' had deflected the fateful bullet only shows once more that there is no immutable destiny, that faith and prayer are forces which can influence history and that in the end prayer is more powerful than bullets and faith more powerful than armies."
Cardinal Ratzinger concludes that the events to which the third part of the 'secret' of Fatima refers now seem part of the past. "Insofar as individual events are described, they belong to the past. Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed. Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity."
As for the famous expression "my Immaculate Heart will triumph," this means that the Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The 'fiat' [let it be done] of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world, because, thanks to her 'Yes,' God could become man in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God.
"But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: 'In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world.' The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise."