THE THIRD SECRET. By Steven Berry. Ballantine Books. 400 pages. $24.95.
The Catholic hierarchy opened itself up to suspicion and low regard with its stonewalling on the pedophile priest issue, leaving the faithful and the not-so-orthodox to imagine other things church bureaucrats may be keeping a lid on. And what complex and fruitful imaginations are out there!
Dan Brown s The Da Vinci Code is one such example. This novel was out nearly two years before hierarchal orthodoxy began to try to refute it.
Expect more of the same, and sooner, as this Steven Berry tale of suspense gains cachet, all the while making the point, as the Rev. Andrew Greeley has done in so many of his novels, that truth is the healthiest route for any individual or organization.
There s no way around it, secrets and the Vatican no doubt has plenty of them are erosive of personal and institutional integrity.
Berry has fashioned a chronicle of murder, blackmail, connivance, secrets with their own lives, papal suicide, and the assertion that the revealed third secret of Fatima was only partially released in 2000. It is a belief with its own life in the real world as well as in the novel.
Pope after pope sat on it, this saga posits. One revealed part of it. All held Sister Lucia, a Carmelite nun and the last of the Fatima seers, to her vows of obedience. She was ordered to say nothing and she didn t.
Now, what if Mary delivered the same message in all her major appearances at Fatima, at LaSallette in the French Alps, at Medjugorge in Bosnia? What could they possibly say that curial types find so disruptive?
The possibilities are stunning in their essence and their likely effect.
Father James Michener, a survivor of one of the Irish birthing centers where pregnant and usually poor unmarried Catholic girls worked in penury and gave up their young for adoption, is in the thick of the mystery. He is secretary to Pope Clement XV, a German, who wonders aloud if the church teaches the Word of God, or whether men like himself and Michener punish people for violating clerical dogma, not the tenets of the Almighty. Orthodox churchmen consider the two the same, and in Clement s eyes, that will prove their undoing.
Born Jakob Volkner, this pope is obsessed with the third secret. He makes frequent visits to the Vatican s secret archives. He finds out who else through the years has looked at the Fatima file, and under what circumstances. Unbeknownst to anyone else, the Virgin herself tells him how to proceed. He has Michener talk to the priest who translated Sister Lucia s report of the secret into Italian. The man asks each new pope why the lies continue.
Clement s antagonist, Alberto Cardinal Valendrea, hopes to succeed him. This man has been building a path to the papacy for years, with duplicity, subterfuge, secret listening devices, and worse. When he is pope, he hopes to return the old glories of Vatican prominence in the world, and a papal tiara for himself.
Through his service to an earlier pope, he knows what the third secret says and, awash in his own arrogance, wants to destroy all proof it ever existed. But he has a prophecy from St. Malachy about the 112th pope named Peter to contend with.
The breathtaking endgame and the Marian revelations are too explosive to even hint at. Suffice it to say that the fast-paced action in this lollapalooza of clerical intrigue comes to an unimaginable climax, with faith in God restored to doubters, and justice doled out to those deserving of it, and, alas, certain secrets maintained.
Eileen Foley is a former Blade associate editor.