- The Church has approved Fatima as worthy of belief, therefore I have no qualms with people who accept what the Fatima visionaries have to say.
- I accept the miracle of the Sun and other approved miracles.
- Taken with the right understanding, the Fatima message is important (see below).
Two Kinds of Revelation
Revelation can be divided up in a lot of different ways.
For instance, in coming to know about God, we can talk of natural revelation: "The heavens are telling the glory of God". We can discuss prophetic revelation, the books of Jeremiah or Ezekiel, for example. We recognize the best, and the only complete, revelation is God's own personal self-revelation: Jesus Christ, in which He reveals the Trinity through the Incarnation, His life and His Paschal Mystery.
What we know of Christ comes to us through Sacred Tradition, which has two forms: written and oral. The written form of Sacred Tradition is Scripture. The oral form of Sacred Tradition is the liturgy and the teachings of the apostles as handed down through the bishops and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. It can also include the lived example of the lives of the saints, approved by the Church for our imitation.
But there is another way to divide up revelation: public or private.
Public revelation is the Apostolic Teaching and Scripture which is the deposit of faith.
Apostolic Teaching and Scripture is the sum total of public revelation.
Public revelation = Apostolic Teaching + Sacred Scripture = the Deposit.
Public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle.
After the Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, he died.
There is no more public revelation.
So, where do things like Fatima, Lourdes, Knock, Akita, and dozens of similarly approved visions fall? These are private revelation.
I am not bound to accept private revelation.
I can be a perfectly good Catholic and get into heaven yet never believe or accept that Mary appeared at Fatima, Lourdes, Akita, etc.
I do not need private revelation to be saved.
I do not need to accept Fatima to be a good Catholic.
67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.
Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations".
Whether it be the vision of Fatima or the vision of Saint Faustina, it is private revelation. Even if the Church approves a vision as valid, the Church does not compel any Catholic to accept private revelation.
The vision may inform Tradition, it may exemplify Tradition, it may signify Tradition, it may perfectly express Tradition, but it ain't Tradition. Visions are not part of the deposit of faith.
A vision - even a vision accompanied by a miracle that is witnessed by 70,000 people - is private revelation. Nothing more.
I can, like St. Thomas the Apostle, distrust those 70,000 witnesses and, like St. Thomas, still be a saint.
A vision, even Fatima, even Divine Mercy, is not part of the deposit of faith.
At best, a vision is catechesis.
At worst, a vision is condemned.
But that vision is never part of the deposit of faith handed down by the Christ to the apostles to us. Never.
Visions are fun. Visions are interesting. Visions are buttered popcorn. The deposit is steak. Visions are not informative the way the deposit of faith is informative.
Having a visionary talk about his or her vision - even when it conforms with public revelation - is less part of public revelation than having any non-visionary teach the doctrines of the Church in CCD.
Catechesis means "to echo."
If I correctly teach the Trinity or the Eucharist to a bunch of second graders, my teaching is closer to being part of the deposit of faith than is the narration of any visionary who tells me s/he has personally received the Eucharist from an angel. What I say as I teach CCD echoes the deposit of faith. What the visionary says about angelic Eucharistic reception does not.
Public revelation has ALREADY been revealed.
The deposit of faith was completed before the last apostle died.
It is done. Finished. No more to add.
All we can do is explain it, repeat it.
Still, our teaching of public revelation, our teaching of the deposit of faith, is not itself part of the deposit. Our teaching is the echoing of the deposit.
Insofar as I faithfully echo what the Church says, I am a catechist. Insofar as I fail to correctly repeat and teach what the Church teaches, then I am not a catechist, I am instead someone who presents my own private opinion as if it were the teaching of the Church. That is, I am one who - whether intending to or not - mis-represents the Truth.
Insofar as someone receives a truly divinely inspired vision, like Fatima, Akita, Lourdes, Knock, etc., it is catechesis to the one who receives it. If that visionary decides to tell others about the vision, and does so accurately, then insofar as the repetition accurately represents the deposit of faith, it is catechetical to the ones who hear it.
But, even so, it is never more than private revelation.
Now, Antonio Socci apparently wrote a book in which he said about Fatima, "It is really impossible - after all of this - to continue to speak of a 'private revelation'."
Insofar as Socci is referring to the vision of Fatima, Socci is simply wrong.
It is the Church who says Socci is wrong.
Socci is wrong.
As I said before, insofar as the message content echoes Tradition, then we must believe the message content. But I don't need to accept the Fatima event in order to accept the message content, since Fatima does not, cannot, say anything other than what the Church has always taught.
If Fatima said something new, different, or in addition, it would not be echoing the deposit.
If it were something more than private revelation, then it would be public revelation.
If it "cannot be spoken of as private revelation," then the only thing left to call it is public revelation.
But it is not public revelation.
The three children were not apostles.
Fatima is only private revelation.
Socci is wrong.
Why Visions Make Bad Catechesis
One of the marks of bad formation is putting visions on par with doctrines. A badly formed Catholic puts private revelation on par with public revelation. He or she thinks private revelation is part of public revelation. The Church says private revelation is not part of public revelation.
Similarly, one of the marks of bad catechesis is extensive reliance on private revelation, visions and miracles. A catechist who is not good at teaching the Faith will rely extensively on private revelation to pass on the Faith because he or she doesn't understand the doctrines well enough to rely on the deposit of Faith as should be done.
Before you howl with outrage, listen.
A true catechist relies on the deposit of faith and nothing else because that is all the Church gives a catechist. Insofar as a catechist teaches something other than the deposit, the person is not acting as a catechist. He may still be a teacher. He is not a catechist. The person is not echoing the Church's teaching.
I absolutely believe in miracles.
But I believe because I already trust God and the Catholic Church.
I believe because I studied the deposit.
I do not believe because I studied the private revelation.
Insofar as private revelation led me to believe, it is because the private revelation echoed the deposit.
In order for the Church to approve a miracle or a vision, She has to spend years investigating the event with panels of experts at her side to advise her on the intricacies of the event.
If the Church needs years and years and dozens of investigative experts to rationally reach the conclusion that a single miracle or vision is real and worthy of belief, then why would we expect anyone else to require less time and less resources than the Church to reach the same conclusion? Personally, I would expect it to take a lot more time for other people to rationally reach the same conclusions, assuming they had access to the same evidence, which they don't.
The deposit of faith is accessible in a way that private revelation is not. When I teach Catholic faith on the basis of events which are not part of the deposit of faith, I'm essentially expecting my audience to surrender their rational faculties and simply trust me on the details, which even I probably don't know.
So why would they trust me? Especially when we remember that I am a fallen man who will get details wrong even with the best of intentions.
Sister Lucia says Amelia (a childhood friend) will be in Purgatory until the end of time. The Church doesn't say this. Sister Lucia says it. Is Sister Lucia right? Even Sister Lucia doesn't know for sure. She may have mis-heard. She may have misunderstood what she did properly hear. The Church doesn't say Amelia is in Purgatory until the end of time.
Someone says whistling makes the Mother of God sad. The Church doesn't say this. Someone says dancing makes the Mother of God sad. The Church doesn't say this.
Someone (many someones) says the sun danced at Fatima. The Church doesn't say this.
The Church says that my salvation is not affected by what I think about the sun dancing at Fatima. My salvation is also not affected by what I think about evolution, gravity or the unified field theory.
I must believe in the miracle of the Resurrection.
It doesn't matter what I believe about the miracle of the sun at Fatima.
The Church expects me to study the deposit.
The Church does not expect me to study visions.
The Church guarantees the deposit of faith as necessary for salvation. As part of that deposit of faith, She guarantees that I do not need private revelation. So why would I rely on what is guaranteed to be unnecessary in order to pass on what is necessary?
If I want to pass on the Faith, I'm better off sticking to the propositions of the Faith, reasoning things out through extensive use of the documents. The individuals who have trouble with my explanations can check the documents themselves, check with other catechists, etc. But how could anyone check for what is the correct understanding of a vision?
Catholics need to understand:
Public revelation is the norm which norms all other norms.
It is the touchstone against which everything else is tested.
Fatima, no matter how holy the participants or how pure the vision, is not a touchstone.
It is a consequence, an application, a catechesis.
Fatima, like every true vision, is God inculturating the Gospel to a specific time and circumstance. The Fatima vision, like other visions, may have resonance today, but insofar as it does, that is only because our time and circumstance happen to correspond in relevant ways to 1917 or to 1973 or to 1879, etc.
And for every way in which it does correspond, there are doubtless other ways in which it does not. And for every way in which the circumstances of the Fatima vision do not match our own, Fatima is not helpful. Indeed, it may be seriously problematic.
Why lay out obstacles to understanding?
And make no mistake - just as private revelation eases some minds, private revelation can most definitely present obstacles to understanding to other minds. Even under the best circumstances, private revelation is not a shotgun anyone should fire into a crowd.
You can fire the deposit of faith at any crowd without fear for the deposit carries with it its own grace, the self-revelation of God. Private revelation carries no such grace.
As long as one does not distrust what Sacred Tradition teaches, it is not a sin to put small weight on any particular non-Scriptural vision. Indeed, the Church permits us to entirely discount any non-Scriptural vision.
Can Fatima be a useful teaching tool?
For those who accept the idea that the vision occurred, for use in small settings, sure.
But it is not a necessary teaching tool.
America doesn't need Fatima.
Portugal needed Fatima.
That's why Portugal got Fatima.
If you want to insist that America needs a specific vision, then America apparently needed Champion, Wisconsin.
But America did not need Champion, Wisconsin because the Church says Catholics do not need private revelation at all. Catholics need public revelation, the deposit of faith.
America does not need Fatima.
America needs the Gospel.
Insofar as Fatima is useful to promoting the Gospel, then sparing use may be warranted in certain circumstances.
But it should not become the centerpiece.
Fatima is not the Gospel.